The story of 20th century evangelicalism can be summarized by the life and ministry of two men, Billy Graham and John Stott. One was known for his preaching of the Gospel and the other for his interpretation and application of the Gospel as reflected in his writing.
John Stott, who died on July 28th at the age of 90, was a pastor, teacher, theologian, author and mentor to Christian leaders world wide. One of the founders, along with Graham, of the Lausanne movement that sought to bring together evangelicals throughout the world to advance the cause of global evangelism, he was the principle author of its 1974 landmark document, The Lausanne Covenant. In 2005, Time magazine named Stott one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Stott was insistent that Christians must engage in what he called “double listening.” “The phrase “double listening” has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.”
Many, but certainly not all, of John Stott’s 50 books are in my library. Last year, when he released his final book, The Radical Disciple (InterVarsity Press, 2010) I immediately purchased a copy and eagerly ripped open the box from Amazon when it arrived only to be somewhat disappointed by the physical contents. It was a small book-small in actual size. It was also a quick read but true to Stott’s style, he packed great wisdom and truth into its 137 pages. When I heard the news of his death, I felt compelled to re-visit his final teaching as he considered eight characteristics of Christian discipleship “that are often neglected and yet deserve to be taken seriously.”
In answer to the question of why radical discipleship, Stott says the answer is obvious. “Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective: choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.”
Non-conformism, the first characteristic, relates to “one of the major themes of the whole Bible, namely that God is calling out a people for himself and is summoning us to be different from everybody else.” A second characteristic, Christlikeness, means that we are to be like Christ in his incarnation, his service, his love, his patient endurance, and his mission. Stott was also concerned with our contemporary desire for growth at any cost but without the corresponding Maturity, his third characteristic.
The care of our created environment or Creation Care is the fourth characteristic of radical discipleship. We often forget the third part of God’s established trilogy of relationships-with him, with each other and with the good earth and its creatures. The fifth characteristic is simplicity in relation to the whole question of money and possessions. Balance in our identity as disciples is essential and the sixth characteristic. We are called to both personal and corporate fellowship. We are called to both worship and work and we are called to both pilgrimage and citizenship. “We are both individual disciples and community members, both worshippers and witnesses, both pilgrims and citizens.”
Dependence on God for his mercy and continuing grace and dependence on others is the most characteristic attitude for the radical disciple. Finally, the eighth and last characteristic is Death and the radical disciple sees death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life in all that they do and experience on earth and in heaven.
The concluding words of John Stott in his last book and in his life point to Jesus as Lord. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. (John 13:13) Basic to all discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles but to follow his teaching and obey his commands.”
John Stott died early on the morning of July 28 with his family and long time aides at his bedside reading Scripture and listening to Handel’s Messiah. Surely all of Heaven rejoiced at his arrival.
Stott was known for his succinct use of language, both in his sermons and his writings. The Christian Post, in their reporting of his death, elected to cite “a few of his lasting words.” Here are five examples.
Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.
Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.
Social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion. It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor.
The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are “under” people as their servants rather than “over” them (as their leaders, let alone their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders, he insisted, is humility not authority, and gentleness not power.
We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.
Among the many online obituaries and tributes to John Stott, here are four of the best.
Byron Borger, the founder and owner of Hearts and Minds Books, is known for his insightful and reflective reviews of Christian books. Click here to read an excerpt from his most recent blog in which he remembers Stott and describes his top 15 John Stott books.