November 27, 2012
Stott's Influence (3): World Christianity
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. The first installment can be found here.
This leads to Stott's third influence. In addition to encouraging respectful engagement with the culture at large and encouraging the life of the mind, John Stott promoted an understanding and appreciation of world Christianity. In fact, Stott was a World Christian long before it was fashionable to be a World Christian. I already mentioned the many university missions around the world. He had made over 15 trips overseas to dozens of countries before the Berlin '66 Congress on World Evangelization where he gave three plenary Scripture expositions.
By the Lausanne Congress in 1974 he was clearly looked to along with Billy Graham as a prominent worldwide leader of the evangelical movement. He brought the best of Christian scholarship in the West to the Majority World but also let the passions and commitments of the church in the Majority World guide his message back to the West. In the 1980s alone he traveled to six continents, making twenty trips to North America which ranged from several days to several weeks. Dean Borgman at Gordon-Conwell characterized Stott this way, "He was much more a global thinker and teacher than he was just a British star, and much more an Evangelical than an Anglican."
Stott had learned what he came to call double listening--listening to the Word and to the world. And while the world would not have a determinative influence on belief, it would help guide how he understood the Word and how the Word should be applied to the world.
The result of his own double listening brings us to the fourth influence I want to mention briefly--the marriage of evangelism and social action. In 1963, at age 42, Stott confronted Proverbs 29:7, "The righteous person cares about justice for the poor; but the wicked have no such concern." Because he was a person who listened intensely to the Word, he decided it was about time he paid attention to this verse. Having listened to both the Word of God and to Christians from six continents, he advocated at Lausanne 74 for holding evangelism and social justice together. As he said there, "If we truly love our neighbour we shall without doubt tell him the Good News of Jesus. But equally if we truly love our neighbor we shall not stop there . . . Love does not need to justify itself. It just expresses itself in service wherever it sees need."
Because he had listened to the world, he knew how it should be applied. Stott clearly articulated his dual commitment in Christian Mission in the Modern World (published in 1975). He summarized his views in a 1996 Christianity Today interview when he said, "God is interested in and concerned about more than religion: God is the Lord of creation and the covenant. God is the lover of justice, one who protects and champions the oppressed: this is God's nature. If this is the kind of God we have, then clearly God's people have got to be the same."
Next Installment: Stott's Influence (4): Common Ground