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“John Stott, Theological Educator”

In March of 1997, while he was in Toronto, John Stott delivered at Ontario (now Tyndale) Theological Seminary a significant paper titled “The Importance of a Theological Education for the Christian World Mission.” With his withdrawal from the Lausanne Continuation Committee, described most recently in Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition[1],  his attention was increasingly being directed to the two trusts he had set up in the early 1970s, the Langham Trust and the Evangelical Literature Trust, as vehicles for him to continue his global ministries and to leave a lasting legacy.

In his presentation Stott shared a distinct vision for theological education. It was grounded in a strong ecclesiological affirmation: “God’s concern is focused on the maturing of the church, not merely the conversion of individuals.” Churches, he added, “only mature through “the faithful teaching of the Word of God.” This happens through pastors whose teaching and preaching is enriched through having adequate literature for study, reflection, and exposition, which he called “life-long learning.” Seminaries and theological colleges that prepare for such ministry require “scholar-saints” to motivate their students, as opposed to “scholars only” that have dominated theological education for the past 150 years. To achieve this balance there is a need for women and men to qualify at the doctoral level and go on to provide outstanding leadership, especially where the church is growing most dramatically, in the Two-thirds World.

In an earlier letter, Stott had written that “the seminary is the key institution in the church and seminary teachers are the key personnel, as they influence for good or ill generation after generation of the church’s future clergy.”[2] His interaction with five North American seminaries, as he worked through issues of training for pastoral leadership, will be the subject of this paper.

Stott’s own preparation for ministry had taken a quite different route from anything he met on this continent. After four years at Trinity College, Cambridge, he moved on to Ridley Hall for eighteen months as he prepared for Anglican ordination. He had already had a thorough training in theology and in leadership by E. J. H. Nash. Theologically Nash was a product of turn-of-the-twentieth century Church of England evangelicalism, a piety shaped by Keswick perfectionism, American post-Moody dispensationalism epitomized by Reuben A Torrey, and a dash of J. C. Ryle, Victorian Bishop of Liverpool. On 11 February 1938, at 10 o’clock in the evening as the lights were out in his dorm, nearly seventeen-year old John Stott knelt by his bed and accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. That afternoon Nash had told him about a personal faith in Christ which was supremely counter-cultural to an upper-middle-class student at Rugby.

“Bash” understood the significance of that conversion: he carefully instructed John Stott in his new faith. He also entrusted him with leadership at his camps. It was a two-fold pattern reminiscent of earlier clergy preparation and education: Charles Simeon had done the same with his curates at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, over a century earlier. Later in life, with his student assistants[3] John Stott continued the same tradition of relational learning and doing. In 1945, on graduation and ordination, Stott became curate, then associate, with Harold Earnshaw-Smith at his home parish All Souls Langham Place London. Five years later he became rector. Earnshaw-Smith’s daughter, on hearing that John Stott would succeed her father who had died suddenly, described him as “a young upstart.”[4] It was a meteoric rise for a 29-year-old neophyte with limited professional training, at least by North American standards.

John Stott first came to the attention of a North American audience during his November through March 1956/7 series of student missions that sent him from the University of British Columbia to Harvard[5]. On many campuses theological (and pre-theological) students attended, and were exposed to a fresh, positive and appealing evangelistic message. Many[6] later dated their call to ministry from those meetings, seeking to emulate Stott’s careful and intellectually challenging exposition of Scripture as encapsulated in his Basic Christianity. When he came, at the end of his tour, to Boston he was welcomed at both the Episcopal Theological and Harvard Divinity Schools, something new for an evangelical. In later years, as his theological position became widely known, this would change[7].

In 1960 John Stott received an invitation from Fuller Seminary to deliver the Payton Lectures[8] the following year. By 27 January 1961, in a letter to Harold Lindsell[9], Stott was ready to announce details of his lectures to be delivered 11 – 14 April. The Preacher’s Portrait (Some New Testament Studies) was developed in five lectures as “steward, herald, witness, servant, and father.” Arrangements were handed over to Wilbur Smith as host. Stott had no inkling that the school was soon to be in crisis over the nature of Biblical inspiration and that both Lindsell and Smith would leave the faculty over the question of inerrancy[10]. Stott had been chosen because of his view of Biblical authority and as a model of expository preaching for the student body. Michael Cassidy, a CICCU[11] alumnus and later the founder of African Enterprises, remembered the series as shaping his thinking, and that of many other students, about “the kerygma as a fixed deposit proclaimed by a herald who was not at liberty to change the message.”[12] Smith had written prior to his visit warning about an Episcopal bishop (James Pike[13]) and speaking of “a great conflict for the faith and we can thank God we are on the right side.”[14] Stott refused to be drawn but in reply spoke in personal and self-effacing terms of “this great responsibility” of the Lectureship.[15] On a Pan Am jet clipper flying home he wrote “My dear Wilbur” (no longer Dr Smith) that “The happiness of my week in Pasadena owed much to you.”[16] The series came out as a book, went through many editions, and became a standard seminary text.

When Wilbur Smith, at the age of 60 left the school he helped to establish, he went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School which, under the leadership of Kenneth Kantzer, was stalwart in its commitment to inerrancy. TEDS became the first American institution to award a DD to John Stott. Stott had agreed[17] to speak at a 5 January 1971 chapel, following Urbana 70 and the IVCF national staff meetings. At the last minute Kantzer wrote to say that the faculty and overseers unanimously also wished then to confer on Stott a honorary DD. Kantzer was both apologetic and deferential: “We shall not feel spurned or offended in any way if for reasons of your own, you choose not to accept the invitation.”[18] Stott agreed[19] with hesitation (“the English attitude to honorary doctorates is somewhat different from the American”) and wrote that his convocation address would be titled “The Place of the Mind in Christian Life and Ministry.” “I am disturbed by the currents of anti-intellectualism which I discern in parts of the church, and will hope to make this theme appropriate to the kind of students you describe.”

“The time you spent here was a source of rich blessing,” Kantzer wrote in appreciation[20]. “I am sure that our students will have a deeper appreciation of the role of the mind in their Christian life and experience and service than they would otherwise.” In that same letter he went on to invite Stott to spend the fall quarter 1972 in residence at the seminary. For two days he would lecture on  a book or theological theme, modelling Biblical exposition for the students, and also “criticize student preaching for two other hours.” Preaching was subsequently changed to “Christian communication, since I would like to include some references to the question of media (Marshall McLuhan etc.)”[21]

As the summer wore on it became apparent that “a great deal more students than we had ever anticipated were extremely anxious to get into your courses” Kantzer warned[22]. As well, Stott would be eating in the cafeteria and “Most of our students are quite courteous but they tend to forget in their eagerness to know you better that constant dialogue can become quite tiring.” Stott’s schedule turned out to be indeed “horrendous” with five scheduled appearances on weekends for IVCF as well as an add-on from the Christian College Consortium who wanted him to speak in all of their ten member schools[23]. Negotiations followed[24] but the quarter at TEDS was so pressured that it never became quite the opportunity for leisured in-house theological dialogue that its designers had originally intended. Celebrity – and by now John Stott was indeed a celebrity in North America – exacted a heavy toll on in-depth learning that to Stott was at the heart of the theological educational experience.

Two other North American theological schools owed much to Stott’s leadership and encouragement. Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in suburban Pittsburgh and Regent College in Vancouver were both 1960s start-ups that profited from Stott’s fame as he became involved in their formation and used his powerful and persuasive endorsement to their advantage. The two schools represented the range of Stott’s ecumenical interests: one the result of Christian Brethren interests, the other a reflection of his commitment to evangelical Anglicanism. His links with those involved dated from the 1950 student missions.

Peter Moore who described Stott as “my mentor, model, and dear friend”[25] had been President of the Yale Christian Fellowship in April 1957 when Stott did a follow-up mission to Billy Graham’s visit. Through the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, and a memorable conference at St James’ Leesburg, Virginia, held 2 – 4 February 1968, they developed a close partnership. Stott opened with a theme address on “Evangelism: The Heart of Church Renewal.” In his customary letter of thanks Stott wrote Moore[26] that he was “particularly thankful to meet and listen to John Rodgers and Fitzsimmons Allison,” two professors at the Episcopalian Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA. Stott and Geoffrey Bromiley[27] went on to General Theological Seminary in New York City encouraging Evangelical students there. The need for an evangelically committed seminary within the US Protestant Episcopal Church was apparent.

Thus was birthed, seven years later, the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Sewickley, PA[28]. Stott joined John Guest[29] as together they presented their vision to the Bishop of Pittsburgh[30] and then nominated Australian Alfred Stanway, Bishop of Central Tanganyika, as first Dean and President. John Stott launched the school in January 1977 with a three-day workshop on expository preaching. And as a final accolade, in 2003 he accepted TESM’s first honorary DD, presented by Peter Moore, then Dean and President.

TESFM was a part of Stott’s wider commitment to Evangelical theological education within the Anglican communion worldwide that was firmly grounded in a high view of Scripture. He was, first and foremost, an Anglican committed to the Thirty-nine Articles and the theology of the Book of Common Prayer. Theological training needed to be accompanied by both order and ardour. He had initial qualms about serving of communion to thousands at Urbana but he yielded to wider concerns for unity. But pastors, he cautioned, were always (in spite of his emphasis on preaching) those whose primary responsibility was to lead in corporate worship and praise. He abhorred sloppy and poorly prepared liturgy.

The other institution that Stott inspired was Regent College. It came out of his friendship with James Houston, geographer and Bursar of Hertford College, Oxford, who had come to Vancouver at the invitation of several well-heeled Christian Brethren businessmen to establish a school that would enable the Christian faith to speak responsibly and Biblically to contemporary culture. Summer Schools at Regent taught by Stott in 1976 (Ephesians) and in 1979 (“Understanding the Bible”) became a feature of the school, attracting hundreds and placing the school on the Evangelical map. “He set the tone for our summer school,” remembered W. Ward Gasque[31], a member of the founding faculty.

Regent had a significant impact on the widening of John Stott’s concept of ministry in the late 1970s in the wake of the first Lausanne and its recovery –thanks to his insistence – on the social aspect of the gospel. “The credit for the opening next April of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity must be given largely to Regent and its vision, and to the gentle, persuasive proddings of Jim Houston,” he stated in 1978, “we share the same vision as Regent. Our overriding concern will be to enable students both to bring every thought and deed into obedience to the Lordship of Christ and to penetrate more deeply and effectively for Christ that segment of secular society in which they live and work.”[32] The London Institute is regarded as one of the crowns of his ministry.

John Stott’s own vision for ministry, as a theological educator, was – as he said[33] to a convocation at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, in 1993 – a BBC faith – balanced, Biblical and Christian. Globally he fought for ministry preparation to be of the highest order, academically demanding to the limit of an ordinand’s gifts. The focus of theological training always needed to be providing the tools for a life-time of Biblical ministry. It was traditional, yes, but increasingly as the years went on (Stott never seemed actually to age until in his late eighties), was open and prepared to engage with contemporary culture. Stott’s evangelicalism was not reactionary. It encouraged theological students to be “lifelong learners” and “double listeners” in the hope that their years in seminary had equipped them to do just that. But above all he saw that period of academic preparation for ministry requiring a spiritual dimension: graduates from theological colleges should emerge from their studies with a greater degree of godliness, and an enhanced commitment to evangelism.

At Lausanne III, held two years ago in Cape Town, two videos featuring Billy Graham and John Stott titled “Remember Your Leaders” were shown. But we asked after the viewing: where are their successors? With all of Stott’s emphasis on training for leadership one looks in vain for the towering figures of twentieth century evangelicalism. Perhaps the bar was set too high, the post-war momentum can never be repeated, the celebrity culture of that time a victim of its own success, contemporary evangelicalism too fragmented and suspicious.

A review a fortnight ago in the TLS of Alister Chapman’s biography of John Stott (teamed improbably with a review of the autobiography of the Bishop Richard Holloway) concluded that Stott’s “mantle has fallen on no obvious successor.”[34] Future historians may look back and ask why? The point can be argued: should Stott have left “obvious successors”? Stott’s legacy as theological educator set a high standard. But the ultimate test will be the future state of global evangelicalism in the twenty-first century.

Research Professor A Donald MacLeod, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto

adonaldmacleod@gmail.com; website adonaldmacleod.com

[1] Chapman, Alister. Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 149 & 150. Chapman uses “wilting” and “fading” to describe Stott’s involvement during the ‘90s in the LCC.

[2] JRWS circular, March 1994, in possession of the author.

[3] Roy McCloughry (the first one), Tom Cooper, Mark Labberton, Steve Ingraham, Bob Wismer, Steve Andrews, Tom Shy (who served the longest, four years), Nelson Gonzalez, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, and Chris Jones who supported him as he mounted the platform at the Keswick Convention for his valedictory on 17 July 2007

[4] Dudley-Smith, Timothy. John Stott, The Early Years. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. 249,

[5] See my C Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 159-161.

[6] Anecdotal evidence abounds of the impact of those meetings. One person who came to faith during Stott’s brief time at McGill University, Montreal, was H. Glen Davis, later a missionary under the Presbyterian Church in Canada to Koreans in Japan, their overseas missionary secretary, and moderator of their 2000 General Assembly. Davis later addressed Urbana 70 by wire transmission from Japan, sharing his testimony as Stott took the Bible readings.

[7] In a letter Stott speaks of “looking forward to my visit to [Andover-Newton Theological School, a liberal seminary] … with a little uneasy trepidation.” (JRWS to ADM, 30 January 1989).

[8] The Payton Lectureship was given by the Charles E. Fullers in 1949 in memory of Mrs Fuller’s parents, Dr & Mrs John Payton for the confirmation of the historic Christian faith” “the refutation of non-Christian or sub-Christian views, or the formulation of Biblical doctrines.” Stott’s lectures were the ninth in the series.

[9] JRWS to Harold Lindsell, 27 January 1961, FTS Archives. I thank Nancy Gower there for her assistance.

[10] See Marsden, George. “Black Saturday” in Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. 208-215. Also p. 43 in Amber Thomas’ 2010 Wheaton MA thesis

Reclaiming Fundamentalism: Harold Lindsell, Inerrancy, and the Fragmentation of Postwar Evangelicalism 1935-82.

[11] CICCU is the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Union, the mother of all InterVarsity chapters worldwide.

[12] T D-S citing correspondence from Cassidy 28 May 1997 (John Stott The Later Years, 117 & 469).

[13] James Pike (1913-69?) (Bishop of CA 1958-66) theological gadfly, controversialist and poltergeist enthusiast.

[14] WMS to JRWS, 20 February 1961 (FTS Archives).

[15] JRWS to WMS, 27 February 1961 (FTS Archives).

[16] JRWS to WMS, 2 May 1961 (FTS Archives).

[17] JRWS to Kenneth S. Kantzer, 6 August 1969. (TEDS Archives) He writes: “I am delighted that my good friend David Wells is joining your staff this fall.” David Wells was JRWS’ host and chauffeur during that rushed visit.

[18] KSK to JRWS, 1 December 1970. (TEDS Archives) I am grateful to Daniel Ahn, my friend Don Carson’s present t a, for connecting me with Judy Tetour on TEDS staff whose assistance making available the JRWS file was invaluable.

[19] JRWS to KSK, 21 December 1970.

[20] KSK to JRWS, 16 February 1971 (TEDS Archives)

[21] JWRS to KSK, 6 April 1971 (TEDS Archives).

[22] KSK to JRWS, 7 July 1972 (TEDS Archives).

[23] His lectures there were published as Tour Mind Matters (IVP, 1972).

[24] Ed Noteland, Executive Director of CCC, indicated that Stott’s honorarium would be paid directly to TEDS so that he would receive no compensation for what eventually ended up as scaled-down appearances at eight of the ten schools. Stott wrote KSK: “my embarrassment is increased by the fact which you tell me, namely that the Christian College Consortium would contribute something to Trinity as a compensation for my absences! Naturally, I would not want Trinity to lose this compensation, but I think you will understand the dilemma in which I find myself.” This was as near as the ever-composed Stott ever came to exasperation. JRWD to KSK 21 January 1972 (TEDS Archives)

[25] In a memorial tribute, St Michael’s, Charleston, SC, 28 July 2011,  My Last Visit With John Stott  June 17, 2011”

[26] JRWS to Peter Moore, 7 February 1968 (Archives of TESM) I thank Sarah Showe, Archivist at TESFM for her help.

[27] Geoffrey Bromiley (1915 – 2009), Anglican priest, was Professor of Church History at FTS (1958-1987).

[28] Vide Janet Leighton’s Lift High The Cross. Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1995. For Stott’s leadership

[29] John Guest, “cofounder of TESFM,” originally from Oxford UK, served the Pittsburgh diocese for forty years, retiring last year from Christ Church,  Grove Farm, PA, which he founded in 1995 and is now a mega church.

[30] Robert Appleyard (1918-1999, Bishop 1968-1983),was a “progressive” favoring broader ordination canons.

[31] In a telephone interview 2 October, 2012.

[32] I am grateful to Ben Frederiksen, research assistant to Professor Don Lewis at Regent, for this quotation from a timeline spreadsheet of the history of the College (email, 10 October 2012).

[33] “John Stott becomes a Wycliffe Alumnus” Insight Wycliffe College No 34, June 1993.

[34] Saxbee, John. “Simple Strength” Times Literary Supplement (26 October 2012, No 5717).  25.