The historian Adrian Hastings described John Stott as ‘one of the most influential figures in the Christian world’ and ‘the recognized senior theologian and thinker of world evangelicalism’. In 2005, Time magazine named him as among the 100 most influential people in the world.
In this book Roger Steer has provided a popular and extremely readable biography. John Stott, of course, is still alive, approaching his ninetieth birthday, and a new book of his has just appeared, so there is more biography yet to come! Nevertheless, many will be glad to read the story so far.
Inside story is popular in style, well-written and full of interest, as well as having touches of humour. The fact that there are 31 chapters in under 300 pages indicates the chapters are short and can be read at one sitting. The contents pages have a useful timeline with important dates.
The author gains a sense of immediacy by using direct speech, but on occasions this left me wondering how the rest of the conversation went! In reading the story of John Stott we learn a great deal about the history of evangelicalism over the last 80 years.
The overwhelming impression is that the consuming passion of John Stott is the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing else can explain his dedication and prodigious labours.
From the time of his conversion not long before his seventeenth birthday, right up to the present, his love and service for Jesus Christ are a consistent testimony to the life-changing power of the gospel.
Granted that Stott had exceptional abilities and a privileged start in life, and recognising that few could ever live and serve quite as he has done, his life is nonetheless an inspiration and challenge. This is by far the most important value of this book.
Those who cannot remember before the 1960s are likely to be surprised at the rather superficial understanding of conversion amongst evangelicals in those days, and probably even more surprised at the elitism of ‘Bash’ (Rev. E. J. H. Nash) – whose evangelistic success was nonetheless remarkable and highly significant.
The chapter on Stott’s disagreement with Dr Lloyd-Jones in 1966 really needs some background, as it has to be
understood in the light of the ecumenism of that period, and in the context of the later movement of evangelical Anglicans out of their ‘ghetto’ into a new commitment to the whole Church of England. This took place at Keele in 1967, but was being prepared for in earlier years.
I do not think the issues underlying that disagreement have disappeared. The way things are going in the Church of England at present, they may yet prove important.
Other controversial areas are Stott’s insistence that social action is ‘part of evangelism’ and his equivocation over eternal punishment or eventual annihilation. Mention needs to be made of these, for they are serious matters, especially the latter, but they must not be allowed to obscure his positive contribution to world evangelicalism.
John Stott belongs to the Church of England. Indeed he must be almost unique, in that All Souls, Langham Place, in London, has been his church throughout his life. But a great deal of his ministry has also been inter-denominational and international.
The range of his ministries and the extent of his travel are breathtaking. Stott has been a major influence in the lives of many Christian leaders around the world.
His numerous books are referred to and listed, some with brief résumés. They include Issues facing Christians today and The cross of Christ, which are two of his most significant books.
This volume is entitled Inside story. It is the portrait of Stott himself, built up from those who worked with and knew him well, which is so fascinating. In him there is a rare combination of ability and grace, humility and conviction, discipline and forbearance.
One of his great strengths is that his mind controls his emotions, but it is a mind seeking to be submissive to his Lord speaking through Scripture. It would not, I think, be unfair to describe John Stott as quintessentially English. But it is the best English qualities, softened and moulded by grace, that have made him so remarkably effective.
For over 50 years his secretary was Frances Whitehead (surely something of a record) and Stott’s work owes a great debt to her ability and diligence. She must know this bachelor as well as anyone else, so what she says truly counts: ‘He is what he professes. He wants to please God and that’s all he cares about – doing God’s will, living for his glory, being faithful’.
In future days John Stott’s influence and legacy will be more objectively evaluated, but there can be no doubt that it has been great.
Paul E. Brown
Inside story – the life of John Stott, by Roger Steer, is published by IVP (287 pages, £12.99; ISBN: 978-1-84474-404-6).