John Stott (1921-2011): Model Missional Pastor-Theologian

Yesterday, John Stott died at the age of ninety. Stott was one of a handful of men who helped bring about an evangelical renaissance in North America and the British Isles during the middle years of the twentieth century. Of that generation of giants, Billy Graham and J. I. Packer are the only two who haven’t yet departed to be with their Lord.

Numerous tributes have already been written about Stott; no doubt many more will follow. By God’s grace, he accomplished much for the kingdom during his long life. In this post, I want to focus on one aspect of Stott’s ministry that I hope continues to be replicated among my peers who are serving in pastoral ministry. John Stott was an exemplary model of a missional pastor-theologian.

Unlike his friend Packer, Stott never served as a professor in a theological college or seminary. Stott was a Church of England clergyman who served for thirty years on the pastoral staff of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. He became a model for consecutive expository preaching, and along with his older contemporary (and sometimes rival) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Stott helped bring about a renewed interest in expositional preaching among evangelicals. His ministry was also marked by a healthy marriage of intentional evangelism and cultural engagement, along with a burden that the gospel be preached to the uttermost parts of the earth. These emphases are reflected in the many books Stott wrote and the ministries he launched in the years following his retirement from full-time pastoral ministry.

Stott was a prolific author who wrote or edited fifty-two books and contributed hundreds of articles to other books and periodicals. Among his better-known books are numerous biblical commentaries, each of which evidence the fruit of his own expositional preaching ministry. Most of his commentaries were published in IVP’s widely used The Bible Speaks Today series; Stott edited the New Testament volumes. Along similar lines, he also wrote an excellent preaching textbook, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Eerdmans, 1982). No serious preacher of God’s Word should leave this book unread.

One of his most influential books is Christian Mission in the Modern World, first published in 1975. In 1974, Billy Graham convened a meeting of 2700 evangelical leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland for an International Conference on World Evangelization. Stott delivered a plenary address and chaired the committee that drafted the Lausanne Covenant, one of the most important documents produced by evangelicals in the past half century (read Stott’s commentary on the Lausanne Covenant). Christian Mission in the Modern World further expounds upon the vision of the Lausanne Covenant by arguing for a vision of missions that weds bold proclamation and sacrificial service, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Stott continued to be a leading advocate of global missions in the years following his retirement in 1975. For example, he founded Langham Partnership International, known as John Stott Ministries in the USA. Langham Partnership is a ministry devoted to serving Christians in the Majority World through training pastors in expositional preaching, translating and distributing evangelical literature, and providing scholarships for gifted Christian scholars to pursue advanced theological training. He also continued to link missions with Christ-centered cultural engagement, especially through the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which Stott founded in 1982.

Stott also taught two generations of Christians about the gospel. His book Basic Christianity, first published in 1969, is considered an evangelical classic. I’ve met several individuals who either came to Christ of were first taught the core beliefs of the Christian faith through this important book. Undoubtedly his most important theological book is his classic The Cross of Christ, first published in 1986. The Cross of Christ is a robust defense of penal substitutionary atonement, a doctrine that Stott well understood is at the heart of the biblical gospel. Stott challenges the ever-popular notion that alternative models of the atonement (some of which are also biblical) should replace the biblical truth that God’s just wrath against human sin was poured out on Jesus Christ when he offered himself as our sinless substitute.

John Stott was by no means perfect. I strongly disagree with his sympathies for annihilationism and I’m not convinced he was right in his famous debate with Lloyd-Jones on the question of whether or not evangelicals should separate from the Church of England (I go back and forth on the latter). Nevertheless, on the whole I believe Stott is an excellent role model for young pastors who desire to wed expositional preaching with a commitment to global missions and cultural engagement. I pray the Lord will raise up a new generation of pastors who will write books, articles, and blog posts that help the church reflect on these issues. There would be no more appropriate way to honor John Stott, a brother who was arguably the most important missional pastor-theologian among evangelicals in the last fifty years. Thank God for his life and ministry.