November 16, 2012
Stott's Influence (1): A British Anglican in American Evangelicalism
On November 15, 2012, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "John Stott's Influence Through Publishing." I offer it here in five installments.
To separate John Stott's influence through publishing from his influence through other avenues is almost impossible. The emphases in his preaching, teaching and worldwide pastoral ministry were entirely consonant not only with his publishing efforts but also with his own institution building through the Langham Trust and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as well as his deep involvement in other institutions from the Lausanne Movement to the Tearfund to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students--not to mention the Church of England.
So while the thoughts presented here are not unique to his writing, let me begin with the easiest way to consider John Stott's influence in North America through publishing in particular--that is, with numbers. And numbers are ready at hand. Over a 55-year span, Stott published over 70 single- or dual-authored books, many in multiple editions--over 40 of which are still in print. Worldwide his books have been translated into over sixty languages. He also edited seven additional volumes and six other series of books and pamphlets, including the New Testament portion of the Bible Speaks Today series. Further, he contributed chapters to over sixty other books.
The vast majority of these titles originated with UK publishers. While InterVarsity Press in the U.S. originated some, because of transatlantic arrangements, IVP-US published over fifty books by Stott, more than any other publisher, which have in aggregate sold over six million copies in North America.
Here I want to briefly consider five qualitative ways in which this substantial quantitative corpus has had an effect North American.
First, Stott brought the sensibilities of a British brand of evangelicalism to North America, a brand that did not define itself as being fundamentally in conflict with the broader culture. One of the key reasons for this was that evangelicalism in the U.K. never went "through the fundamentalist-modernist controversy as U.S. evangelicals did, nor did it ever experience a landmark event like the trial of John Scopes in July 1925 for teaching evolution in a public school. In general, British evangelicals, with their strong ties to the established Anglican Church, to Oxford and Cambridge, and to the robust teachings of well-educated Dissenters, did not become . . . anticulture in the way their American counterparts tended to."*
In this way Stott influenced InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Urbana Missions Conventions (at which he spoke six times in the sixties and seventies) as well as InterVarsity Press. This form of evangelicalism did not see itself as an adversary of culture but as a reforming participant in culture. Obviously, Stott saw plenty to reform in the culture, taking strong and clear stands against modern views of same-sex relationships and of global North-South economic inequality such as in his Issues Facing Christians Today (first published in 1984). But he was always comfortable operating in the larger culture showing great respect to everyone he met including those he disagreed with. His dialog with self-styled liberal David Edwards in Evangelical Essentials (published by IVP in 1988) was a model of this. Christianity Today characterized this book as a case of the coauthors reaching "a genuine understanding of and respect for each other's positions."
As Stott said, "We must not set secular fashion and the Holy Spirit over against each other, as being always and inevitably incompatible. Public opinion isn't always wrong. What is wrong is to bow down before it uncritically, like reeds shaken by the wind. Why should the Holy Spirit not sometimes use public opinion to bring God's people into line?"
Next Installment: Stott's Influence (2): The Life of the Mind
* Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. pp. 31-32.