The Death of John Stott: Passing the Torch of the Gospel

written by John Roekeman, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff member

A couple of summers ago I worshipped at a large Southern Baptist church in Austin, TX.  The Texas pastor surprised me by quoting John Stott, an Anglican preacher and British author. When I spoke with the Southern Baptist pastor after the service, his eyes watered as he expressed his deep appreciation for the impact of John Stott on his life.

David Brooks, who is not Christian but Jewish, in an October, 2004 New York Times editorial commented that if evangelicals were forced to elect a pope, they would choose John Stott   There are at least two reasons numerous key Christian leaders throughout the world hold John Stott in high regard:

First, John Stott had a remarkable gift for bible exposition, making clear what the Biblical texts say.    Stott strengthened, clarified, encouraged the faith of many during the last fifty years of preaching and writing.  After reading a paragraph by Stott, you often have the feeling of “Why, of course!  It’s clear to me now.”  Or, “yes, that’s exactly what I thought but could never state so clearly.”  Sometimes I’ve read a paragraph by Stott and said, “I could never write that paragraph if I had a hundred years to try.”  Stott was especially good at succinctly summarizing teaching before going on to a new section of Scripture.

Stott has so many outstanding lucid and “spot-on” paragraphs and sentences, it’s likely a publisher will someday compile a book of his memorable lines.

Secondly, Stott shared our ministry passions, doctrinal loyalties as evangelical Christians.  He was totally an evangelical in mind and heart: for the intellectual defense of the gospel; for the demands of courage, suffering and witness for the gospel; for building up the body of Christ; for world missions.  Another Stott book I read as an undergraduate was Christ The Controversialist.  The purpose of the book was to explain why evangelicals were evangelicals because of their loyalty to Jesus.

I read several tributes for John Stott after his death in late July.  At least two authors ended with the well-meaning words of blessing, requiescat in pace, “may he rest in peace.”  It made me wonder how well the writers were acquainted with Stott’s evangelical and Biblical instincts. “The proper epitaph to write for a Christian believer is not a dismal and uncertain petition, ‘R.I.P.’ (requiescat in pace, ‘may he rest in peace’) but a joyful and certain affirmation ‘C.A.D.” (‘Christ abolished death’)…” Guard the Gospel, p. 40.

The first Christian book handed to me as an undergraduate was the compendium of talks from the Urbana 1967 missions conference.  John Stott was the Bible expositor of 2 Timothy.   In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul spoke about his imminent death:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”   Here is Stott’s exhortation to us from Urbana ’67 but apropos as a word from God to us at the passing of John Stott:  “Our God is the God of history.  He is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.  He buries his workmen and he carries on his work.  The torch of the gospel is handed down from one generation to the next.  As the leaders of the former generation die, it is all the more urgent for the next generation to rise up, to step forward bravely, and to take their place.”

May God give us grace to courageously step up in our day, in our generation.