Theology & Church

The grace and truth of John Stott – by Paul Blackham

This week marks a 100 years since the birth of John Stott (27 April 1921 – 27 July 2011) the eminent Church of England minister and theologian. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world.

The three things that mean the most to me about John Stott are:

1. His book “The Cross of Christ”

“At the Cross, in holy love, God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself.”

I still think The Cross of Christ is by far the best book of the past century on the atonement. It is not a polemic or a narrow view but is a deep, wide ranging and fundamentally Biblical book, that takes us right down to the heart and foundations of what Jesus did in His death.

It shows us all the different things that are achieved by the death of God. And right at the centre of it is the concept of substitution.

Evil is horrible and vile and any reaction other than anger is corrupt. The Living God must first express His visceral hatred for evil, injustice and corruption before He can forgive, cleanse and reconcile.

We cannot endure such a judgement on ourselves. So the Living God Himself bears our transgressions, takes responsibility for our evil and faces Hell itself for us on the Cross.

It could be argued that those who are uncomfortable with this are perhaps too comfortable with evil.

2. His genuine godliness and humility

I have seen, up close, all kinds of Church leaders and “celebrity Christians”. Very few are in private what they pretend to be in public. That is true for most of us.

But I honestly think that John was pretty much just the same humble and godly man in private that he was in public. The more I go on, the more I appreciate how vital that is.

There was an authentic “humanity” about him. He took the Bible very seriously – but also listened to what the world around was saying. He was not one of those merely academic lecturers or closed-minded ranters.

The best way to demolish the wisdom of the world is to listen to the Word of God, then listen to the words of human wisdom…and then bring the two into meaningful, relevant collision and encounter with each other.

3. His word of rebuke was the most powerful I have ever heard

Once John asked me to come over to see him in the week.

When we met, he first graciously told me what he thought were my strengths – and he did that with no flattery or flannel. He showed me that he valued some of what I had tried to do in ministry.

But, then, John spoke very accurate words of challenge to me:

  • about how I tried to contend for the truth
  • about the need to treat an “enemy” with love and respect
  • about the need to speak with integrity and accuracy rather than passion and pride.

Each word in those minutes hit home – because they were spoken with SUCH truth and love. When I left, I stood on the pavement in Weymouth Street and cried my eyes out.

I’m not saying that I have embodied all the truth and wisdom he spoke to me in those minutes, but no pastoral conversation has struck me so deeply ever since.

Paul Blackham is Minister at St Crispin’s Church in London and is involved in the Jesus at the Centre Network

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