Even as I welcomed our new baby girl into the world with much thanks to God last Wednesday, He was taking out of the world one of the most celebrated Christian leaders of all time—John R. W. Stott. Men and women greater than myself have, and will continue, to put out thoughts and reflections of this great man of God. I would encourage you to read them, even as I offer my thoughts on his impact on my life and ministry.
John Stott’s influence on my life has been pervasive. Yet there are three specific times in my life when that influence was especially pronounced. The first was in college when I took my first preaching class. I was raised in church and had heard preaching all my life. Frankly, though, I had no idea how to prepare and write a sermon. So, I was eager for this class and one of the books assigned was called, Between Two Worlds. It was amazing. In a way that helped you feel the weight and joy of the task, here was laid out the biblical mandate for preaching as well as the practical instructions needed to succeed. As the title implies, Stott sees the preacher as standing between two worlds—the biblical world and the modern world. The preacher’s calling is to bridge the gap between the two cultures, both bringing modern people into the world of the biblical text, while applying the biblical text in appropriate ways to the world and lives of modern people. I was hooked. Stott inflamed in me a passion to preach the Word of God and provided a steady hand in showing how to do so ensuring that the Word was honored and Church was built up.
A few years later, as I was in seminary, I began picking up on the rumblings of many against the notion of penal substitution through the atoning work of Christ. One of the books I kept seeing quoted and being referenced in footnotes was a book by Stott called, The Cross of Christ. I bought it from the seminary bookstore and began to read it. Again, my life was changed. Here was not just right thinking about God’s word, but theology that applied to life. While displaying his skills as an exegete of the biblical texts, Stott also drew together the threads of biblical theology to show both the logic and the undeniable fact of penal substitutionary atonement in the cross of Jesus Christ. But he went further and was clear in how a right understanding of the cross should lead to right living in light of the cross. Again, he was modeling well the work of a pastor for me.
Finally, as I was ending my time at seminary and acquiring resources for preparing sermons and Bible studies, I found the treasure that is Stott’s commentaries. Always sane, always insightful, John Stott showed how to walk through a book of the Bible, chapter-by-chapter, paragraph-by-paragraph, line-by-line, drawing out the truth of God’s word and applying to Christians’ lives in the modern world. It was clear that no matter how learned or popular Stott was, he had a pastor’s heart and a love for the church.
In all of this, then, John Stott has been my constant companion in life and ministry. I would not be the pastor, preacher, or Christian that I am today without the life and ministry of John Stott. Both his reputation of evident godliness and his pastorally-driven scholarship have been used by God to set the tone and direction of my own living and learning. I am grateful for the legacy that John Stott has left us and am confident he heard the sweet words of his Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Cross of Christ remains a classic work on the work of Christ atoning death and its implications for the Church’s life and mission. This book is probably Stott’s finest work. As others have said, I also believe that every Christian should read this book. In addition to the inexpensive paperback, it’s also available as a hardback, audio cd set, and downloadable mp3 files.
Many books are published on preaching, seemingly all the time. Several goods ones have been produced in the last ten years alone. And though those recent works have been very helpful for myself and others who would proclaim God’s word, Between Two Worlds is still my favorite book on preaching. Stott lays out the task with clear vision and practical advice. Of the latter, my favorite is this: It doesn’t matter how long you preach, it should feel like twenty minutes.
Basic Christianity is exactly what it sounds like: a book on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. that may sound dry, but this is anything but that. It has been used by God to bring many people to faith in Christ over the years since Stott first wrote it (here is a testimony of one such man). Buy a copy of the book and give it away to someone who doesn’t know Chris. Or, buy a copy and read it for yourself to be reminded of, and encouraged by, the faith in which you have believed–a faith rooted in Jesus Christ.
Here are some other works by Stott that I have found particularly helpful: