JOHN STOTT: A Summary of his Teaching
By Ted Schroder
P Quant editions, 157pp
Available at Amazon on Kindle $9.68
Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
October 4, 2021
It is a rare privilege when you are among handful of disciples to get a front row seat with one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century — John Stott – a man described by NY Times columnist David Brooks as a man who could have been America’s Protestant pope.
Another who had a front-row seat was New Zealand-born Ted Schroder, who was John Stott’s assistant in 1967. Ted stayed a personal friend until Stott’s death in 2011. Schroder has a long and distinguished ecclesiastical career of his own. he authored this volume as a summary of Stott’s teaching, or ‘Uncle John’ as he was affectionately known.
Naturally, the book begins with a chapter on God. Stott works through the Trinity, dealing in turn with Humanity, the Cross, Holy Scripture, Salvation, The Church, Preaching, (Stott was the master preacher), The Sacraments, Mission, Discipleship, The Kingdom of God, Ethics, the Last Things and Orni-Theology (Stott was a life-long bird watcher).
While Stott did not write a systematic theology, his theological approach was consistently biblical, evangelical, and comprehensive over the years of his ministry. He took his cue from Charles Simeon, the renowned vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, who rejected systems of Christian theology.
Stott was a solid, unapologetic, Anglican evangelical who was comfortable sitting down with Billy Graham or with Martin Lloyd Jones with whom he publicly disagreed over leaving the Church of England. Graham and Stott’s friendship was foundational for the First International Congress on World Evangelization in July, 1974. Over 2,400 participants from 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, for what TIME magazine described as ‘a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held’. I was privileged to attend this gathering with Malcolm Muggeridge, England’s celebrated Christian journalist.
A life-long bachelor, Stott spent his life in the Word, flinging his knowledge from pulpit and stadium, doing it with humility and grace, rare among preachers, where pride creeps in so easily. Stott was deeply committed to the word, but he was not out of touch with the world where he read widely. His book, Facing Issues Today: new perspectives on social and moral dilemmas kept him firmly grounded.
Preaching was his forte. He had few if any equals. Before he died, Rick Warren, a famous American preacher told me he journeyed across the Atlantic and whispered in Stott’s ear as he lay dying, that he learned everything about preaching from him.
Stott was not interested in methodology, the techniques that some homiletic department of seminaries taught. He was a convictional preacher.
Stott claimed that expository preaching is extremely rare today. He set himself the task to convince his readers of the necessity of conscientious biblical preaching. He sought to relate the gospel to the modern world. His I Believe in Preaching was published in the same year in the US as Between Two Worlds: the art of preaching in the twentieth century. In the Contemporary Christian, Stott addressed the question of how to apply God’s word to the concerns of the present time. It requires entry into the worlds of thought and feeling of our contemporaries. If we believe that the gospel of Christ is the answer to these questions, we must preach Christ, the contemporary Christ, he said.
Was it all smooth sailing? No. In 1964, Stott was forced to deal with the controversial subject of “The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy spirit.” He confronted the “recrudescence of ‘Pentecostalism’ in non-Pentecostal churches which rejoiced some and bewildered or alarmed others.
Stott began by arguing that the full purpose of God is to be discerned in the Scriptures, not in the experience of particular individuals or groups, however true and valid these experiences may be. The didactic parts of Scripture should govern our understanding not the historical parts. The purpose of God should be sought in the teaching of Jesus, and in the sermons and writings of the apostles, and not in the purely narrative portions of the Acts.
As a result, he lost one of his staff members, Michael Harper who left All Souls to found the Fountain Trust, which promoted charismatic renewal in all churches.
In one other area Stott experienced significant change. A vigorous evangelist, Stott always maintained the priority of evangelism, but years later in Christian Mission in the Modern World, Stott expressed himself differently. While maintaining the priority of evangelism, he wrote that social responsibility was among the things Jesus commanded. “The actual commission itself must be understood to include social as well as evangelistic responsibility, unless we are to be guilty of distorting the words of Jesus.” Stott went on to develop the relationship between evangelism and social action.
Stott gave five reasons for the evangelical renunciation of social responsibility in the twentieth century: (1) a reaction against theological liberalism; (2) a reaction against the so-called social gospel that sought to transform humanity into the kingdom of God; (3) the widespread disillusion and pessimism that followed World War I; (4) the spread of premillennialism through the Scofield Bible that saw no point in trying to reform the world; (5) the growth of the middle class and their identification of Christianity with their culture. It is ironic that these prevailing issues still exist.
The one and only occasion I had the privilege of ministering alongside Stott was in Madras (now Chennai), India. This happened at the anniversary of the SALT Institute, a ministry to young people founded by the late Roopsingh Carr, another disciple of Stott’s. I prayed and Stott preached.
In a chapter on The Last Things, Stott parted company with those who believed in the eternal torment of the damned (J.I. Packer et al). Psychologically, he could not handle it, arguing that the annihilation of the wicked was preferable. “Those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God.” Stott’s teaching on hell is an example of Charles Simeon’s “moderation on contested and doubtful points of theology. [which] contributed to his ultimate success.”
On the issue of the Last Things, Stott was a model of restraint. He would have had no truck with American evangelical apocalypticists and so-called “prophets of doom” with their timetables and details about destinations.
John Stott was a lifelong bird watcher. In his travels throughout the world, he always took his binoculars with him to observe birds. He claimed, in his book The Birds our Teachers, that he had seen about 2,500 species.
While there is significant biographical material on the life and ministry of John Stott, I consider this the best encapsulation of his teaching extant. Ted Schroeder has done both Stott and the broader Anglican and evangelical community a great service in writing this slim volume. It should be in every preacher’s library.
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