Today John Stott is 86 years old. Today also marks the day when Uncle John will formally retire from public ministry. It is for the rest of us a sad day – but for him perfectly right, reasonable and proper. He certainly deserves the rest from the public eye!
Last Sunday (22nd April), he read the Bible reading at our 11.30 service at All Souls, Langham Place (a church he has been associated with since his birth, quite literally). It was a very moving moment – he is of course frail (not surprising at 86 and after a fall and hip replacement last August) and needed help to get into the pulpit which he dominated for so many years. But his voice – unique and unmistakable – was as strong, crisp and clear as ever. There was clearly no way he could sustain it for long so it is no wonder he’s cutting back. But there is no doubting the commitment, conviction and passion that still remain despite the frailties – which is why he is determined to speak at the Keswick Convention this year as the one exception to his public retirement.
I’ve been trying to think of the things that i most appreciate about him and his ministry (even though I’ve only recently got to know him a little bit having only met a few times before joining the All Souls staff). This posting is not hagiography, guru-worship nor a form of evangelical papism! He is the first to deplore from such thinking and is quite open about being fallible and flawed – and inevitably there are issues about which people disagree with him. But there are some things that are simply undeniable and that need articulating because he is such a wonderful role-model for us younger Christians:
- A profound love for God and love for people whatever their backgrounds and nationalities
- Clear biblical convictions combined with a wide generosity of spirit (especially to those with whom he disagrees)
- Academic and scholarly rigour combined with pastoral sensitivity
- An enviable crystal clarity of thought coupled with the ability to communicate engagingly and relevantly (and often with remarkable precision and brevity)
- A teachability and hunger to learn (which is still present) coupled by a fascination and love for a huge breadth of interests (not just birds!)
- A seriousness about the things that matter but a twinkle in the eye when humour is required to deflate the puffed up or the intense. In fact only last week he described me as an ‘ignorant fool’ for having the temerity to describe all gulls as ‘seagulls’ in a sermon and for not being able to discern which are the ones that we can hear from our central London home every morning.
During our time in Uganda, it was clear John Stott was still hugely influential even there. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most influential Christian leaders in Africa in the 20th Century – despite never actually having lived anywhere outside W1, London (unless you count boarding schools and university)! As a result of his international travel and personal friendships, his speaking and writing, he truly has a global family – which is why he is universally known as Uncle John – a way of showing respect in many countries while also showing huge affection and friendship.
This photo was taken in 2003 (at High Leigh conference centre) at a consultation for those involved in setting up Langham Preaching conferences around the world. I was there almost by accident really (was back from Uganda for a couple of weeks anyway) – yet it was one of the most extraordinary and special 48 hours i’ve ever experienced. 25 people from India, Lebanon, Egypt, USA, UK, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Philippines, Hong Kong – all of whom owe so much to Uncle John (by his example, encouragement and for many there, through the Langham Scholarship programme enabling them to do PhDs). Now Langham Preaching is operating in many other countries as well, headed up by Jonathan Lamb, far left. (Before anyone comments, I’ve absolutely no idea why i’ve got my eyes closed – it was in February and not exactly bright – ho hum)
Despite slowing down, he’s not stopped thinking. And last year his wonderful series of Quiet Time notes (Through The Bible Through The Year ) was published, and his 50th Book The Living Church is out any minute! Can’t really say much about it yet because i’ve not read it! But i’ve no doubt that it’s worth a read.
But let me finish by quoting from someone who knows him far better than I do – Timothy Dudley-Smith.
To those who know and meet him, respect and affection go hand in hand. The world-figure is lost in personal friendship, disarming interest, unfeigned humility—and a dash of mischievous humour and charm. By contrast, he thinks of himself, as all Christians should but few of us achieve, as simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father; an unworthy servant of his friend and master, Jesus Christ; a sinner saved by grace to the glory and praise of God. (Who is John Stott? – All Souls Broadsheet – April/May 2001)
I hope and pray I’m like that when i grow up. Happy Birthday Uncle John!
Here are some Links to find out more about him:
John Stott’s Life:
- Langham Partnership – Profile of JOHN STOTT
- Wikipedia profile of JOHN STOTT
- Timothy Dudley-Smith’s Biography – Vol 1 (The Making of a Leader) & Vol 2 (A Global Ministry)
John Stott in the pulpit:
You can download 100s of John Stott’s sermons from the All Souls church website for FREE (though any donations are gratefully received). Click here for Uncle John’s talks and see what you can dig up. There’s a lot to choose from – the recordings go back 40 years to 1966 (when England actually won the World Cup!).
NB You have to register on the site (requiring just an email address and password) before you can download a maximum of 30 a month (to protect our servers). After all, that is still one a day if you stop to think about it!
John Stott in the public eye:
- New York Times Op-Ed – WHO IS JOHN STOTT (Nov 30 2004) by David Brooks
- Time 100 – JOHN STOTT – TEACHER OF THE FAITH (2005) by Billy Graham
- Awarded C.B.E. in 2006 New Year’s Honours’ List
- Tim Stafford Interviews John Stott in Christianity Today (Oct 2006)
John Stott in print:
- A Comprehensive Bibliography – Timothy Dudley-Smith’s mammoth reference work for everything he’d written before 1995
- Timeless Classics – To see a list of some of his key books still in print with his favourite publisher – IVP. Many of these will be read for decades to come. My favourites are:
- The Cross of Christ
- The Incomparable Christ
- Calling Christian Leaders
- Evangelical Truth
- 2 Timothy & Ephesians (Bible Speaks Today)
A fuller list can be found at Langham Partnership’s site