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Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement

By Alister Chapman
March 2013 | Review by Robert Strivens

Synopsis

British theologian John Stott was one of the most influential leaders of the evangelical movement during the second half of the twentieth century. Called the pope of evangelicalism by many, he helped to shape a global religious movement that grew rapidly during his career. Millions bought his books and listened to his sermons. In 2005, Time included him in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Alister Chapman chronicles Stott's rise to global Christian stardom. The story begins in England with an exploration of Stott's education and involvement in the Church of England, then his ministry to students, his work at All Souls Langham Place, London, and his attempts to increase evangelical influence in the Church of England. By the mid-1970s, Stott had an international presence, leading the evangelical Lausanne movement that attracted evangelicals from almost every country in the world. Chapman recounts Stott's struggles to help evangelicals forsake conservatism and anti-intellectualism, showing his role in a movement that was as dysfunctional as it was dynamic. Godly Ambition is the first scholarly biography of Stott. Based on extensive research drawn from his personal papers, it is a critical yet sympathetic account of a gifted and determined man who did all he could to further God's kingdom and who became a Christian luminary in the process.

  • Publisher: OUP
  • ISBN: 978-0199773978
  • Pages: 222
  • Price: 35.00
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Book Review

Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement

Alister Chapman

Oxford University Press,

222 pages, £35.00

ISBN: 978-0-19-977397-8

Star Rating: 4 stars

 

On any reckoning, John Stott is a central figure in twentieth-century evangelicalism. Following his death in July 2011, it is inevitable that analysis of his life and work will begin in earnest, building on the two-volume biography by Timothy Dudley-Smith (IVP, 1999-2001). Alister Chapman, history professor at Westmont College in California, is one of the first into this field with this book, which appears to be based on his PhD research and for which it seems he had access to papers not available to Dudley-Smith.

Chapman has attempted neither another biography of Stott nor a full-scale assessment of his life. His focus is on Stott’s work in the English context. He presents his subject as the product of the top tier of the British establishment — and as committed to that establishment throughout his career. He highlights the influence of Eric Nash on the young Stott, with the former’s laser-like focus on reaching the highest echelons of British young men for Christ. He tracks Stott’s evangelistic efforts with university students and then in the parish of All Soul’s, Langham Place, in central London, where he argues Stott tried but failed to break the upper-middle class dominance of his congregation by reaching the council estate residents at the other end of the parish.

Chapman notes Stott’s allegiance to the establishment as a constant note in his ministry, in the form particularly of his commitment to the Church of England. Chapman argues that this commitment perhaps unwittingly led Stott away from some of the more conservative and fundamentalist positions that he had taken in his younger days, under the pressure of his desire to maintain a clear evangelical force within the established church.

In the end, Chapman argues, Stott’s battle to see a true revival of Christianity in the nation, through this top-down focus on the establishment, was quashed by an increasing secularism. The desire to see Britain as a Christian nation once more could not, it seemed, be realised. Stott turned then to the wider world and his later years of ministry are marked by an international emphasis which resulted in an extraordinary fruitfulness to an extent that he never saw in his own country.

This book is testimony to the determined pursuit of an ambition, the ‘godly ambition’ of the title, to see the cause of the gospel triumph. If that ambition was not realised to the extent desired, we can nevertheless be thankful to God for the great things that were accomplished for the cause of Christ throughout the world through his servant John Stott.

 

Robert Strivens,

London Theological Seminary

 

Tags:
John Stott

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