By / Apr 27

Editor’s note: John Stott would have turned 100 this year. And to celebrate his life and legacy, we wanted to share this article about Stott’s life from Tim Chester’s book Stott on the Christian Life.

1. Stott had multiple careers.

I wonder who you think John Stott is. You may know him as the evangelist who preached at student missions around the world. You may know him as a careful exegete whose contributions to the Bible Speaks Today series remain invaluable guides. You may know him from his preaching and the way he let the text itself shape the sermon so that you felt God himself addressing you. You may know him as a defender of evangelical orthodoxy against the threat of liberal theology. You may know him for his commitment to the Church of England and his famous confrontation with Martyn Lloyd-Jones after Lloyd-Jones had urged British evangelicals to leave their denominations to create a pan-evangelical body. You may know him as an advocate of social involvement who exhorted Christians to serve within the secular world. You may know him as a supporter of Christians leaders from the Two-Thirds World and the founder of the Langham Partnership. But did you know about all these facets of his ministry? It can sometimes feel as if Stott lived a dozen lives.

2. The main influence on Stott’s preaching was someone he never met.

The culture into which Stott was converted was one where preaching was only loosely related to the Bible. Yet a few years later, his preaching was electrifying congregations with sermons that gained their power from the text itself. Stott had spent the intervening years at university in Cambridge, and I believe it was a Cambridge preacher who transformed his preaching: Charles Simeon, the vicar of Holy Trinity. But Stott never met Simeon because Simeon was preaching in the 19th century—a century before Stott went to Cambridge. Stott met Simeon only through Simeon’s writings. “Simeon’s uncompromising commitment to Scripture,” Stott once wrote, “captured my imagination and has held it ever since.” In his London apartment Stott had various pictures on his wall of some of the places that had been significant in his life, but he had only one portrait—a portrait of Simeon.

3. Stott belonged to only one congregation.

Stott’s father was a doctor and lived in Harley Street, the area of London traditionally associated with the medical profession. The nearest parish church was All Souls, Langham Place, and it was there that Stott was taken as child. Stott spent his school days at boarding school and it was at Rugby School that he was converted. After graduating from Cambridge University, he was ordained and became a curate, or trainee pastor, back at All Souls under the then-rector Harold Earnshaw-Smith. But within months, Earnshaw-Smith had suffered a heart attack and Stott was largely left in charge. Five years later Earnshaw-Smith died and in September 1950, Stott became the new rector. Though not entirely without precedent, it was unusual for a curate to move straight to the senior role in the same parish. Stott remained at All Souls as Rector and then Rector Emeritus for the rest of his ministry. Only in the last few months of his life did he move to a retirement home outside London.

4. Stott was a successful student evangelist.

In November 1952, Stott returned to Cambridge, the university where he had studied, to be the main speaker at the triennial evangelistic campaign of its Christian union. Attendance was so great that at the final meeting, people had to be turned away. For the next twenty-five years, Stott spoke at numerous university missions all round the world before returning to Cambridge for his final university mission in 1977. The substance of his addresses, honed in many different contexts, became his book Basic Christianity, first published in 1958. It has sold over 2.5 million copies and been translated into over fifty languages, becoming the standard evangelistic book for a generation of Christians.

5. Stott was a pioneer in lay mobilization.

It’s pretty normal for churches today to organize people into home groups and mobilize them for evangelism. But Stott was one of the pioneers of this. In the 1950s and 1960s he began applying the approaches he had learned from student missions to the local church. In the 1950 issue of the All Souls church magazine that announced his appointment, Stott wrote: “The task [of evangelism] is beyond the power of the clergy. . . . There are only two alternatives. Either the task will not be done, or we must do it together, a task force of Ministers and people thoroughly trained and harnessed as a team for evangelism.” Stott introduced a regular guest service to which people could invite friends and launched a six-month training program (with a written exam at the end). Later he published his ideas along with their rationale in his book One People: Clergy and Laity in God’s Church (1969).

6. Stott was a major influence in changing evangelical views of sanctification.

I’m the chair of the Keswick Convention. Originally founded in 1875, it’s one of the oldest conferences in the world. People often associate the Convention with the “holiness movement”—a movement characterized by the belief that the power of sin can be overcome through an act of surrender to God. It was a dominant view throughout evangelicalism in the first half of the 20th century. This association of the Keswick Convention with the “holiness movement” is kind of correct. It’s just fifty-five years out of date! For in 1965, John Stott addressed the Convention, expounding Romans 5-8 in his characteristic clear, careful fashion. 

The Convention had never, in fact, been monolithic and it was beginning to change. But Stott’s address marked a decisive turning point that impacted not only the Convention but evangelicalism more broadly. His key point was that, while our union with Christ makes sin incongruous, it does not make it impossible. It’s because sin is not impossible that Paul calls on us to count ourselves dead to sin—to live in a way consistent with our new identity in Christ (Romans 6:11). In The Contemporary Christian Stott describes sanctification as a process involving “ruthless repudiation” and “unconditional surrender.”

7. Stott wrote the Lausanne Covenant.

Over 2,500 delegates met from the Lausanne Congress in 1974 in an attempt galvanize evangelicals toward the task of world evangelization. But Lausanne also did much to provide theological coherence to the evangelical movement and was an important milestone in placing social action firmly on its agenda. The resulting Lausanne Covenant is a key document in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism. Though agreed by the Congress as a whole, it was Stott who had the unenviable task of bringing the perspectives expressed in the Congress together in one document.

8. On the one hand . . . on the other hand . . .

Stott believed in what he called “BBC”—“balanced biblical Christianity.” He refused to polarize if he could avoid doing so, but neither did he opt for a docile version of the middle ground. We need to develop this balanced, biblical Christianity, Stott wrote, “by combining truths which complement one another and not separating what God has joined.” So a common feature of his writing are the twins phrases: “On the one hand . . . ” and “on the other hand . . .”. He would identify two contrasting approaches before combining the best of both. 

For example, he would often refer to “holy worldliness.” He rejected two extremes: living in a religious ghetto that ignores the surrounding world on the one hand and being shaped by the world around us on the other hand. Instead he combines both: a deep involvement in the world for the sake of mission combined with an uncompromising commitment to God’s Word.

9. Stott saw over 2,500 different species of birds.

Stott was a passionate ornithologist. At first his interest in natural history was focused on butterflies. But, when a cushion landed on his butterfly collection in the midst of a sibling squabble, he switched to birds. At school he started a natural history club. Later, when he started being asked to speak overseas, the church council at All Souls agreed to this wider ministry as long as Stott always added on a few days of bird-watching to his trips. A life-time later, Stott had spent time bird-watching on every continent—ticking off the final continent when friends gave a bird-watching trip to Antarctica for his 70th birthday. By the end of his life he had seen over 2,500 different species (out of an estimated total of 9,000).

10. Stott’s great ambition was Christ.

A TV reporter once asked Stott, “You’ve had a brilliant academic career; first at Cambridge, Rector at twenty-nine, Chaplain to the Queen; what is your ambition now?” Stott replied, “To be more like Jesus.” Stott’s classic presentation of the gospel in Basic Christianity starts not with humanity’s need (which forms part 2) or with Christ’s saving work (which forms part 3) but with the person of Christ. This is what Stott found compelling about Christianity. As we see Christ’s glory, we want to serve him; as we see his beauty, we want to imitate him. This is the repeated refrain of one of Stott’s final books, The Radical Disciple

If Christian maturity is maturity in our relationship with God, in which we worship, trust and obey him, then the clearer our vision of Christ, the more convinced we become that he is worthy of our commitment.

So if we want to develop truly Christian maturity, we need above all a fresh and true vision of Jesus Christ.

If only we could see Jesus in the fullness of who he is and what he has done! Why then surely we should see how worthy he is of our wholehearted allegiance, and faith, love and obedience would be drawn out from us and we would grow into maturity. Nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus.

For the discipleship principle is clear: the poorer our vision of Christ, the poorer out discipleship will be, whereas the richer our vision of Christ, the richer our discipleship will be.

Content adapted from Stott on the Christian Life by Tim Chester. This article first appeared on; used with permission.

By / Oct 27

Paul Gotthardt, lead pastor of Life Baptist Church in Nevada, talks about how God has uniquely gifted each church to serve him during the pandemic.

By / Oct 1

Pastor Fred Luter, senior minister of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, brings a hopeful word for pastors to push through the difficult times and rejoice in the grace of God.

By / Jan 16

In the past decade, our country has experienced much racial tension. Events in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Charleston, and Charlottesville have revealed the ugly wounds of racism still present in American life. And often, the very place where the message of the gospel—the same gospel that eradicates ethnocentrism—is preached, is the place where carnal divisions are tolerated. We saw this in the differing reactions to the racial flashpoints of the past year, with white evangelicals and black evangelicals expressing widely divergent reactions to the same news stories. This is inevitable because, sadly, our churches are still very segregated. These conversations on race should be family conversations between redeemed, blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thankfully, this has spurred many evangelical leaders toward a renewed emphasis on racial reconciliation. But how do individual, local churches begin to embody this kind of racial reconciliation in their own communities? It must begin, I believe, with pastors—particularly white pastors—prioritizing racial reconciliation in their preaching and teaching. Those called to teach the Bible carry a weighty responsibility (James 3:1) to feed the people of God (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

I didn’t fully recognize this until I became a pastor. It was while serving my congregation that I realized the influence of the office. Church members value what their pastor values. In many ways, they depend on their church leaders to help them understand what is and what should be important. Those of us who spend our working hours analyzing the news, reading theology, and learning from a variety of sources help filter these things for church members who are busy working long hours, raising their families, and doing their best to study the Word and evangelize.

For most white evangelical pastors, racial reconciliation hasn’t been a primary emphasis of their teaching. This may be for a variety of reasons. First, as the majority culture, white Christians don’t feel the sting of prejudice. It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, there is likely some fear of addressing race. Racial issues are delicate. Pastoral leadership is already a tightrope act; why stir up more trouble? Third, it could be that pastors might view racial reconciliation as a worthy goal, but not a gospel issue. Russell Moore reminds us that it is:

The church, the Apostle Paul said, is a sign of God’s manifold wisdom, to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). When God joined together in one church, those who are both Jewish and Gentile, he was doing more than negating the bad effects of ethnic strife. He was declaring spiritual warfare. When those who the world thinks should hate each other, instead love each other, the church is testifying that our identity is in Jesus Christ (Col. 3:11). We cannot be pulled apart from each other, because we are one body, and a body that is at war with itself is diseased.

So how do pastors begin to preach on racial reconciliation in a gospel-centered way? Here are three ways I’ve found helpful in my own ministry and in observing the ministries of others:

1. By faithful exposition on the scriptures

The best way, in my view, to embed the priority of racial reconciliation into the everyday lives of our people is through the faithful application of the text. By this I mean through expository preaching. I’m a firm believer in the systematic, Jesus-centered preaching of the whole counsel of God. The task of a pastor is to declare what God has already said in his Word.

The heart of God’s people must be stirred to make racial reconciliation as much a gospel priority as Christ has in his inspired Word.

Racial reconciliation is not something that has to be forced onto the text. In fact, if you are preaching systematically through Scripture and you do not preach on it, you might be skipping it. The thrust of God’s promise to Abraham and the promises to Israel is his desire to be made known among all nations. And almost every New Testament book embeds its presentation of the gospel with its unifying, reconciling power: 

  • You can’t faithfully preach the Great Commission passages without stopping to acknowledge them as the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to build his Church from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
  • You can’t preach Galatians without preaching on the racial divisions that flared within the early church.
  • You can’t exposit Ephesians without spending time on the gospel’s bringing together of diverse people into “one new humanity” (2:15).
  • You can’t preach through Acts 1:8 without seeing the ingathering of the peoples of God as a sign of God’s promise to call a people to himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
  • You can’t do a series on the book of Revelation and not behold the majestic beauty of the diversity around God’s throne in chapters 7 and 9.

Sadly, I’ve heard many messages from many “New Testament churches” that never touched on the priority of racial reconciliation found in Scripture. Why is this? It could be that we, as white evangelicals, don’t see it as a priority because we don’t see the problem of racial tension in our midst. It’s time pastors start seeing and preaching what is already there in the text. The heart of God’s people must be stirred to make racial reconciliation as much a gospel priority as Christ has in his inspired Word.

2. By faithful discussion of history and culture

We’re not only reminded to preach on racial reconciliation when the text demands it, but faithful pastors should take the opportunity to preach on racial reconciliation either when the calendar reminds us or when a cultural issue is so big it becomes necessary to address it. My preference is to do this kind of topical preaching sparingly. The best way to address racial reconciliation and other cultural issues is to be faithful to them when they are specifically referenced in the text. This way your congregation understands that racial issues are gospel issues, not merely political or cultural issues. 

Exceptions can be made, as we do on issues like abortion during events like Sanctity of Life Sunday. It’s important when we do a special emphasis that we still adhere to good hermeneutical practices and avoid a sloppy, proof-texting approach. It simply means we choose a text like Ephesians 3 and exegete it faithfully. What a special Sunday like this signals is just how important an issue is. It also sends a signal to our minority brothers and sisters that we are seriously thinking through, studying, and learning their heritage. 

Sundays like this might also be accompanied by resourcing the church through blogs, newsletters, and handouts. We might recommend good books to read on civil rights and encourage people to have meaningful conversations with people of other ethnic backgrounds. Your church might also consider hosting a roundtable with leaders from the community, maybe even a local civil rights leader.

3. By faithful sensitivity in application and attribution

I’ve often found the types of applications made during preaching demonstrate pastoral sensitivity to the congregation. This is where pastors can offer leadership on an issue like racial reconciliation. When we talk of forgiveness of sin, perhaps we might not only name sins that are common: sexual sin, financial impropriety, and church gossip. We might also include prejudice, pride, and racism. When we speak words of comfort to our people during trial, we might not always include the same kinds of suffering stories. We might instead include a story from the perspective of a minority fighting oppression in the civil rights era.

My friend, David Prince, assistant professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky told me that white pastors need to reach outside of their own experiences when making applications from the text:

“The reason we don’t immediately think of racial issues is the same reason we read past famine in the Bible without thinking much of it. We are the dominant majority so we think of ourselves as the insiders and the norm. Loving our neighbor means counting others as more significant than ourselves. Awareness of and sensitivity to ethnic minorities is not some foreign social agenda—it is Christianity 101.”

Application is a subtle teaching tool. It personalizes, for the congregation, the abstract things we are preaching from the text. It sends the message that this is the kind of thing the Bible is talking about. We should be specific, original, and diverse in our use of application. This means we shouldn’t only draw from our white majority status, but from the experiences of minorities.

It also helps if we quote, nonwhite pastors and theologians and acknowledge their contribution to the shape of Christian history. This kind of preaching, however, has to be shaped by a pastor who has the curiosity to read outside of his tribe and experiences. White pastors should read biographies of civil rights heroes, histories of the era, and should engage in regular conversations with minority pastors and leaders.

This is about more than merely adding some diversity to the message. It’s about serving your people by cultivating a growing, learning, changing mind. You, as the pastor, will model for them what it looks like to work for racial reconciliation. And you will see your people, over time, begin to emulate what you display.

This article originally appeared here

By / May 28

Dean Inserra discusses some of the challenges that come with preaching in the Bible Belt. 

By / Jun 8

Dan Darling moderates a discussion between Matt Carter, Chris Osborne, Danny Akin, and Hershael York at the Southern Baptist Convention Pre-Conference in Dallas, Texas on June 8, 2018.

By / Feb 22

In 1970, a 21-year-old young man, born into a dysfunctional home fractured by alcoholism, walked forward with his mother at the showing of a Billy Graham movie in a Chicago-area theater. The next year he attended a crusade, part of the 1971 Chicago campaign.

The man who trusted in Christ that night in the movie theater was my father. Dad had been introduced Graham by his older sister, Sandy, who said, “Mike, you need to watch this man on TV.”

A few years later, a young Jewish woman named Holly started a job at a Big Boy in the suburbs of Chicago. One of her new colleagues was a girl named Sandy Darling. Sandy immediately began telling her about Jesus. She also began setting up her brother, Michael, with Holly. A few years later, Holly became a Christian. In 1976, she married my father. “Dad was on fire for Jesus because Billy Graham was on fire for Jesus,” she now says. “At first I thought it was a little crazy, but the more I listened, the more the gospel resonated in my heart.”

This is why, when I heard the news of Billy Graham going to be with the Lord, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn’t thinking about the presidents with whom he dined or the millions who heard him preach or the media outlets around the world that offered generous tributes. I was thinking of a troubled family, a directionless young man, and a Jewish girl.

Graham preached to millions, but I’m most thankful for the one soul who heard him that Chicago night and how God birthed something new. My father and my aunts gave their lives to Christ. Much of my mother’s family converted, including my Jewish grandparents, who late in life saw Jesus as their Messiah.

God used Billy Graham’s ministry to shape me, even before I was born. The gospel I am now privileged to preach is the same gospel I heard from my parents, who heard it from Graham, who heard it from someone else. This is the long line of gospel witness, the crimson thread that runs from Calvary to the New Jerusalem. My family is one small example of the way Christ builds his church through faithful, redeemed, flawed messengers obedient to his call. Paul asked, rhetorically, “How will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). I’m thankful Billy Graham, in that moment in history, was that preacher.

I am also thankful for the way my life has been shaped by institutions Graham launched. My first published piece and much of my work has appeared in publications of Christianity Today. My theological training took place at Southern Baptist Theology Seminary’s Billy Graham School. And I was mentored in pastoral ministry by a man who became a Christian and a pastor after hearing Billy Graham on the radio in his small town in Canada.

As a pastor, Graham’s life has inspired me to be more faithful in sharing the good news with those who have not heard. I once preached the funeral of a young man who inexplicably died in his sleep after some routine dental work, a death that shocked an entire community. I was nervous about what to say to the 500 or so people who would be attending, many who were unchurched. Then I read some of Graham’s old gospel sermons and realized that people don’t hear Jesus through our eloquence but through earnest, compassionate, authentic gospel presentations.

It’s what Dad heard that night in Chicago. It’s what Graham’s listeners heard, whether he was in Nashville or North Korea, the White House or a private conversation, in print or in person:

Just as I am, without one plea

But that thy blood, was shed for me.

And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come

Image from Google images.

By / Aug 26
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By / Apr 18