Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
In Remembrance of John Stott
Michael J. Gerson
July 29, 2011
by Michael J. Gerson
This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.
In this period of intense public disagreement – when the consequences of political choices are immediate and high – we have recently had a reminder of a different kind of influence. The news came that John Stott died at age 90, in the company of friends.
Many have recounted fond memories of Stott, who only seemed to leave fond memories behind. I was a college Junior when I spent a summer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, one of the institutions Stott founded. It was among the defining experiences of my youth. Stott went out of his way to engage a very shy and awkward young student, having me to his home, inviting me to a memorable lunch that included Malcolm Muggeridge. Stott was my first experience of a great public man who was also kind, thoughtful and humble.
But being kind did not make him pale or mild. During that time in London, I remember a sermon he gave at All Souls, Langham Place—one of the few sermons I’ve heard that I can still vividly recall. The Anglican Archbishop of Durham had recently been quoted dismissing the physical resurrection of Jesus. Stott responded with a sermon titled, “If Christ Be Not Raised,” relentlessly drawing the consequences if the resurrection were a pious myth. This soft-spoken man thundered his assertion of the Gospel’s truth. Stott’s books such as Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ remain some of the best introductions to the Christian faith. They combine direct language with a sophisticated knowledge of theology and scripture.
At the London Institute, I saw another side of Stott’s ministry. Each week was a different seminar on an issue of Christian social responsibility: nuclear war, events in Central America, economic justice. I did not agree with everything I heard. But Stott showed me how a Christian could reason from first principles on difficult public issues. He believed that faith should have public consequences, not a particularly easy case to make in Britain, where secularization was already far advanced. Eventually, I picked up Stott’s book, Involvement: Being a Responsible Christian in a Non-Christian Society, which addressed issues from sexual ethics, to labor rights, to bioethics. Stott also had a special passion for the developing world – a global vision that remains an example for others.
Yet none of this would have had the same power without Stott’s personal example. His integrity multiplied his influence.
Just last week, I was visiting in London with one of Stott’s closest friends and associates, Chris Wright of the Langham Partnership. We talked of Stott’s fervor for bird watching. His service as a chaplain to the Queen. His belief in the power of well-crafted words. Chris told me that Stott was ailing badly—his mind clear, but his body failing and suffering.
Stott’s passing is sad news, but also evidence of the grace he trusted so completely. In the end, the tired gain rest. And there is nothing to regret in a full life, lived in God’s service. Theologian David Wells describes Stott’s career as, “one of the most biblically consistent, thoughtful, remarkable, stain-free, God-blessed and far-reaching ministries of our time.” All who felt Stott’s influence are grateful—and there are so many.
—Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”