John Stott, 1921-2011

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You may have heard that John Stott passed away this week. There is an extensive obituary and appreciation of his long career as pastor, teacher, writer and Christian activist in Christianity Today. Stott is best known in this part of the world, I think, for his book Basic Christianity. I remember reading this in my late teens—high school or college, can’t remember which—and being struck by the simplicity of its presentation and by a depth in it that I could not quite name or explain. Along with C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Dietrich Bonheoffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, and maybe Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, it was one of those books that shaped many of us in Evangelical circles here in California in the 70s, and earlier and later.

That quality that I could not explain is fully portrayed in the Christianity Today articles. Stott served at All Souls Church in London, among a mixed congregation. He served as a leading Evangelical in the Church of England. He wrote about and championed evangelism while working for social justice which he understood to be central to Christian teaching and practice. There was no “hole” in his gospel. He echoed in his teaching Reformed themes and in his practice much of what the Mennonite tradition emphasizes. He wrote with simplicity about the teaching found in the Bible, and spoke at universities around the world. He united elements of our faith that we too often see broken apart.

I remember reading his simple presentation of the Christian faith, and neither reflecting on its simplicity as lacking depth, nor thinking that nothing else was needed. Instead somehow, and again I couldn’t name it at the time, it inspired me to pursue the understanding of this faith we share in greater depth. I assume many have had this experience from similar sources. I have kept my old copy Basic Christianity and will find some time to enjoy it again. Perhaps it will remind me of how exactly it inspired me thirty-five years ago. Let’s say a prayer of thanks for John Stott.

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