Stott’s Influence (2): The Life of the Mind

On November 15, 2012, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled “John Stott’s Influence Through Publishing.” I offer it here in five installments. The first installment can be found here.

Second, in addition to promoting constructive engagement with culture, he also (in contrast to much American evangelicalism) promoted an evangelicalism that was decidedly not anti-intellectual. He thoroughly endorsed the life of the mind, most explicitly in Your Mind Matters.

In that slim volume he

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begins with a reference to Romans 10:2. Stott said, “What Paul wrote about unbelieving Jews in his day could be said, I fear, of some believing Christians in ours, ‘I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened.’ Many have zeal without knowledge, enthusiasm without enlightenment. . . . I am not pleading for a dry, humorless, academic Christianity but for a warm devotion set on fire by truth. I long for this biblical balance and the avoidance of fanatical extremes.”

Stott builds his case with four themes from Scripture–“God as creator, God as revealer, God as redeemer, God as judge–this biblical portrait provided a foundational rationale for using the mind as a gift from God in faithful service to God.” David Naugle who requires this book in courses at Dallas Baptist University reported to me that students respond to the book very well, “even with some astonishment that thinking is part of the Christian life!”

While not a scholar by profession,

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Stott brought a deep level of academic competence and insight to his pastoral work around the world. His carefully nuanced The Cross of Christ published in 1986 stands in contrast to the loud claims of opposing views in current writings on the atonement, and is still considered by many evangelicals as one of the finest, clearest, most balanced and most substantive books on soteriology published in the last generation.

Stott was so concerned about the intellectual and spiritual lives of those in the university that he conducted over 50 university missions in a 25-year span from 1952-1977 at Cambridge, Oxford, University of Toronto, University of Manitoba, University of Michigan, Harvard, Yale and the University of Illinois as well as universities in Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, Uganda, Norway, Finland, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Malaya, Iran, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and elsewhere. There he presented the

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claims of Christ (as John Pollock described regarding the early events in England) in the form of “plain unhurried Biblical expositions, almost unadorned with illustrations and without any attempt to force decision.” Yet such was the effect that hundreds saw how much sense it made to follow Christ and so made commitments to do so. The messages he presented at these events in the 1950s became the basis for what was eventually published under the title Basic Christianity.

His influence in higher education in North America is also clearly seen in the number of his books adopted as texts for courses. In data drawn from Bowker’s Pubtrack (which collects book sales data from about 3,300 university, college and school bookstores) over the last five years, from Fall 2007 to Spring and Summer 2012, twenty-nine different books by Stott were required at 100 different institutions in over 1250 courses. By way of comparison, this same database showed over the same five-year period that another prolific British author, J. I. Packer, had 13 books adopted as texts at 50 institutions in 563 courses. As popular as Packer is, Stott has had twice the number of books adopted at double the number of institutions and courses.

It is a testimony to the breadth of Stott’s evangelicalism that the top ten institutions most heavily adopting this Anglican’s books, according to Bowker’s Pubtrack database, included Dallas Baptist University, Judson College, John Brown University, Liberty University, Oral Roberts University and Colorado Christian University.

James Mead, professor of religion at Northwestern College in Iowa wrote me, “I teach at a Reformed college in the evangelical tradition. Stott is someone students feel they can relate to and trust, so he’s a good source for drawing students forward to appreciate scholarly thinking about the Bible.”

Jon Pott, long-time editor at Eerdmans who also worked with Stott, wrote me: “I don’t think that we here [at Eerdmans which published several of his books] viewed John (any more than he himself did) as a creative original scholar so much as a wonderful mediator of scholarship to students and the church, especially to the evangelical church.”

The legacy Stott left behind in the form of the Langham Partnerships (now directed by Chris Wright) which Stott founded in 1969 as The Langham Trust, also bears testimony to his emphasis on academic training. About three hundred scholars from the Majority World (as Stott insisted on referring to the non-Western world) received scholarship help for advanced degrees. Most of these scholars now teach and train pastors in seminaries all over the world. In addition Langham has provided thousands of “books for students pastors and seminary libraries in parts of the world where such resources were unknown or prohibitively expensive.” Over forty years ago Stott saw advanced education and academic books as key to strengthening the burgeoning church in the Global South that would soon overtake the church in the Global North numerically.

Next Installment: Stott’s Influence (3): World Christianity

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.