Sunday, 31 July 2011

RIP: John Stott

Elaine Storkey
Theologian and president of Tearfund
"I think the biggest impact for me, was that once John understood the justice of an issue, once he understood the biblical nature of an issue, he was all for it. And the way he got involved with the whole gender issue, the way he saw the issue of justice for women, and how much of our patriarchal culture had been a barrier to women, both in terms of their own progression, but even more in terms of hearing the Gospel, acknowledging God as 'Father,' etc.- once he saw that, he just went for it. And so here you had a pillar of the church, coming from a very conservative stable, actually opening up the feminist doors wide so that a new generation of women could go through them

Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
"Without ever compromising his firm evangelical faith, he showed himself willing to challenge some of the ways in which that faith had become conventional or inward-looking. It is not too much to say that he helped to change the face of evangelicalism internationally, arguing for the necessity of 'holistic' mission that applied the Gospel of Jesus to every area of life, including social and political questions. But he will be remembered most warmly as an expositor of scripture and a teacher of the faith, whose depth and simplicity brought doctrine alive in all sorts of new ways."
 A very good obituary of John Stott in Christianity Today (see below). Although my Christian tradition was quite different from John Stott's, I could see that he was prepared to engage with other Christian traditions and even other faiths, and not demonise them or say they were not "true Christians" - like some Christians I met at University.

In particular, I admired the way in which he broadened the hitherto more narrow conservative evangelical tradition to engage with social issues:

Stott was every inch an evangelical, but a reforming evangelical. He recognized that evangelicalism could and sometimes did sink down into mere piety, whereas the Bible spoke of a robust transformation of the world brought about by God's people engaged in mission. As a London pastor, Stott increasingly recognized the need for evangelicalism to reclaim its heritage of engagement with the social issues of the day. As he told an interviewer years later, "In the early 1960s, I began to travel in the Third World, and I saw poverty in Latin America, Africa and Asia as I had not seen it before. It became clear to me that it was utterly impossible to take that old view." The "old view" was that preaching was always a Christian's preeminent task, and that deeds of compassion were strictly secondary. As Stott probed the Scriptures, he came to believe that Jesus' Great Commission commanded Jesus' servants to carry on his entire mission, which included practical concern for life and health.

And of all the paragraphs in the obituary, this one anecdote is an wonderful acted parable, and one that I particularly like:

Latin American theologian Rene Padilla remembers vividly one of his early encounters with Stott. "On the previous night we had arrived in Bariloche, Argentina, in the middle of heavy rain. The street was muddy and, as a result, by the time we got to the room that had been assigned to us our shoes were covered with mud. In the morning, as I woke up, I heard the sound of a brush-John was busy, brushing my shoes. 'John!,' I exclaimed full of surprise, 'What are you doing?' 'My dear René,' he responded, 'Jesus taught us to wash each other's feet. You do not need me to wash your feet, but I can brush your shoes.'

The full obituary can be read at:

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