John Robert Walmsley Stott (1921—2011) was an Anglican preacher of the Church of England, Bible scholar, author, and prominent leader in the movement to revive evangelical Christianity in the British church and worldwide. His international efforts in cooperative global evangelization earned him a place in Time magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Perhaps the most distinctive mark of his ministry was his exceptional gift for expository preaching.
Stott was born in London, England, to Sir Arnold Stott, a prominent Harley Street physician, and Lady Emily “Lily” Stott, a dedicated Christian of Lutheran upbringing. John’s father was agnostic, but his mother raised him and his sisters to read the Bible, pray, and attend Sunday School at nearby All Souls Anglican Church, Langham Place, in London’s West End. Stott learned to play the cello as a boy and, like his father, developed a passion for the natural world. He was an avid bird-watcher, observing and photographing thousands of birds over his lifetime.
At age eight, Stott was sent to boarding school at Oakley Hall in Gloucestershire, England, where he was the youngest boy in attendance. In 1935, he earned a scholarship to the celebrated Rugby School. Stott’s parents, wanting their son to pursue a diplomatic career, financed his summer trips to Germany and France, where he refined his natural aptitude for languages.
As a teenager, Stott was confirmed in the Anglican Church but remained spiritually estranged from God until an impactful encounter with Eric Nash (better known as “Bash”). The conservative evangelist and youth camp minister of the Church of England came to speak to the boys at the Rugby School’s Christian Union. After hearing Nash’s message and talking privately with him about the gospel, alone in his dorm room that night, Stott opened his heart to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. Years later, he recalled how that one uncomplicated and unemotional step forever “changed the entire direction, course and quality of my life” (https://gracequotes.org/author-quote/john-stott/, accessed 4/10/23).
Nash continued to mentor Stott, significantly shaping his growth and understanding as a Christian. Nash was practically a surrogate father to Stott, who at age 17 began to feel called to ordination in the Church of England, a vocation his father deeply opposed. When Stott opted to pursue theological training at Trinity College in Cambridge as a pacifist, the gap between father and son widened. The elder Stott was serving as a major general in the Army Medical Service at the time. Sir Arnold refused to speak to his son for two years. Later, the younger Stott came to embrace the legitimacy of just war.
After completing his theological studies at Ridley Hall, Stott was ordained in 1945 and returned to London to serve as assistant curate in the church of his childhood rearing—All Souls, Langham Place. Five years later, at age 28, he was appointed rector. He continued to pastor that same church until 1975, when he became rector emeritus, a position he maintained for the remainder of his life. Once he retired from pastoral duties, Stott continued rigorously applying himself to an ever-expanding ministry.
Stott’s accomplishments were extensive. He stayed busy preaching, traveling, training, conducting campus ministries and writing books, articles, and papers. Stott committed himself to the centrality and supreme authority of the Scriptures in every aspect of his life and thinking. He emphasized five priorities to the congregation he shepherded—prayer, expository preaching, evangelism, discipleship, and training of lay leaders.
Stott encouraged and equipped church members to actively fulfill the Great Commission through weekly evangelism training. He held monthly evangelistic “guest services” with follow-up discipleship courses for new believers. His zeal to see his church members grow in spiritual maturity quickly extended to college campuses and congregations across Britain. Stott founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity in 1982 and several other enterprises in the UK, working ardently to minimize the gulf between evangelicals and people of the intellectual world. Stott’s national initiates also included the following:
Through Stott’s university campus missions programs, his reputation spread to all parts of the globe. In 1974, Stott played a leading theological role in the International Congress on World Evangelization sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Lausanne, Switzerland. In his opening speech, Stott defined the nature of biblical evangelism in five key areas: mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, and conversion.
Stott was the guiding force behind the Lausanne Covenant (1974), a compact statement of faith and Christian beliefs that would significantly impact evangelical believers on every continent. His vision and strategic ideas about missions were further developed in his widely read book Christian Mission in the Modern World (1975).
In 1989, Stott participated in a second international congress in Manila, once again leading a team in drafting the Manila Manifesto, a document beckoning “the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world” (Greenman, J. P., “Stott, John Robert Walmsley,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, T. Larsen, D. W. Bebbington, M. A. Noll, and S. Carter, eds., InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 639).
Stott wrote more than 50 books that have been translated into at least 65 languages, including the modern Christian classics Basic Christianity (1958) and The Cross of Christ (1986). Perhaps his most important legacy was founding the Langham Partnership International (known in the US as John Stott Ministries), which provides scholarships for the advanced training and equipping of young Christian leaders in more than 100 countries. Stott established the original Langham Trust by donating the royalties from his books to pay for training materials, textbooks, and theological libraries for scholarship recipients. John Stott also caused some controversy when he put forward a defense of annihilationism in Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal Evangelical Dialogue (InterVarsity, 1988, p. 312–320).
Stott remained single and celibate his entire life. He came close to marrying twice in his 20s and 30s but never felt God’s full assurance. He began to believe that God meant for him to stay single. “With the benefit of hindsight,” Stott said, “I think I know why. I could never have traveled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family” (https://g3min.org/consider-staying-single/, accessed 4/10/23). Stott died in July 2011 at age 90.
Irish Anglican theologian Alister McGrath recognized Stott as a role model for the younger generation of evangelicals in England (Greenman, op. cit., p. 639). Historian David Edwards suggested that Stott was “the most influential clergyman in the Church of England” of the twentieth century, apart from William Temple (https://johnstott.org/life/#national, accessed 4/10/23). And perhaps the greatest evangelist in modern history, the late Billy Graham, described Stott as “the most respected clergyman in the world today” (ibid., accessed 4/10/23).
Here are a few standout lines from John Stott:
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
“Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.”
“Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his.”
“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us with no other choice.”