John Robert Walmsley Stott was born on 27 April 1921 in London, England, to Sir Arnold and Emily “Lily” Stott (née Holland). His father was a leading physician at Harley Street and an agnostic, while his mother had been raised Lutheran and attended the nearby Church of England church, All Souls, Langham Place. Stott was sent to boarding schools at eight years old, initially to a prep school, Oakley Hall. In 1935, he went on to Rugby School. While at Rugby School in 1938, Stott heard Eric Nash (nicknamed “Bash”) deliver a sermon entitled “What Then Shall I Do with Jesus, Who Is Called the Christ?” After this talk, Nash pointed Stott to Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Stott later described the impact this verse had upon him as follows:
Here, then, is the crucial question which we have been leading up to. Have we ever opened our door to Christ? Have we ever invited him in? This was exactly the question which I needed to have put to me. For, intellectually speaking, I had believed in Jesus all my life, on the other side of the door. I had regularly struggled to say my prayers through the key-hole. I had even pushed pennies under the door in a vain attempt to pacify him. I had been baptized, yes and confirmed as well. I went to church, read my Bible, had high ideals, and tried to be good and do good. But all the time, often without realising it, I was holding Christ at arm’s length, and keeping him outside. I knew that to open the door might have momentous consequences. I am profoundly grateful to him for enabling me to open the door. Looking back now over more than fifty years, I realise that that simple step has changed the entire direction, course and quality of my life.
Stott was mentored by Nash, who wrote a weekly letter to him, advising him on how to develop and grow in his Christian life, as well as practicalities such as leading the Christian Union at his school.
At this time, also, Stott was a pacifist and a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship. In later life he withdrew from pacifism, adopting a ‘just war’ stance.
Stott studied modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with double first-class honours in French and theology. At university, he was active in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, where the executive committee considered him too invaluable a person to be asked to commit his time by joining the committee. After Trinity he transferred to Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge, to train for ordination as an Anglican cleric.
Stott was ordained as a deacon in 1945 and became a curate at All Souls Church, Langham Place (1945–1950), then rector (1950–1975). This was the church in which he had grown up and where he spent almost his whole life apart from a few years spent in Cambridge. While in this position he became increasingly influential on a national and international basis, most notably being a key player in the 1966–1967 dispute about the appropriateness of evangelicals remaining in the Church of England. In 1970, in response to increasing demands on his time from outside the All Souls congregation, he appointed a vicar of All Souls, to enable himself to work on other projects. In 1975 Stott resigned as rector and Michael Baughen, the then vicar was appointed in his place; Stott remained at the church and was appointed rector emeritus.
In 1974 he founded Langham Partnership International (known as John Stott Ministries in the US until 2012), and in 1982 the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, of which he remained honorary president until his death. During his presidency he gathered together leading evangelical intellectuals to shape courses and programmes communicating the Christian faith into a secular context. He was regularly accompanied by a leading paediatrician, John Wyatt, and the institute director, the broadcaster Elaine Storkey, when they spoke across the country to large audiences on “Matters of Life and Death”. Following his chairmanship of the second National Evangelical Anglican Congress in April 1977, the Nottingham statement was published which said, “Seeing ourselves and Roman Catholics as fellow-Christians, we repent of attitudes that have seemed to deny it.” This aroused controversy amongst some evangelicals at the time.
Retirement and death
Stott announced his retirement from public ministry in April 2007 at the age of 86. He took up residence in the College of St Barnabas, Lingfield, Surrey, a retirement community for Anglican clergy but remained as Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church.
Stott died on 27 July 2011 at the College of St Barnabas in Lingfield at 3:15 pm local time. He was surrounded by family and close friends and they were reading the Bible and listening to Handel’s Messiah when he peacefully died. An obituary in Christianity Today reported that his death was due to age-related complications and that he had been in discomfort for several weeks. The obituary described him as “An architect of 20th-century evangelicalism [who] shaped the faith of a generation.” His status was such that his death was reported in the secular media. The BBC referred to him as someone who could “explain complex theology in a way lay people could easily understand”. Obituaries were published in The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times.
Tributes were paid to Stott by a number of leaders and other figures within the Christian community. The American evangelist Billy Graham released a statement saying, “The evangelical world has lost one of its greatest spokesmen, and I have lost one of my close personal friends and advisors. I look forward to seeing him again when I go to heaven.” The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote:
The death of John Stott will be mourned by countless Christians throughout the world. During a long life of unsparing service and witness, John won a unique place in the hearts of all who encountered him, whether in person or through his many books. He was a man of rare graciousness and deep personal kindness, a superb communicator and a sensitive and skilled counsellor. Without ever compromising his firm evangelical faith, he showed himself willing to challenge some of the ways in which that faith had become conventional or inward-looking. It is not too much to say that he helped to change the face of evangelicalism internationally, arguing for the necessity of “holistic” mission that applied the Gospel of Jesus to every area of life, including social and political questions. But he will be remembered most warmly as an expositor of scripture and a teacher of the faith, whose depth and simplicity brought doctrine alive in all sorts of new ways.
Stott’s funeral was on 8 August 2011 at All Souls Church.
- Born: 27 April 1921, London
- Died: 27 July 2011, Lingfield, Surrey
- Family: He didn't marry. He said, "The gift of singleness is more a vocation than an empowerment, although to be sure God is faithful in supporting those he calls."