John Stott at 100

John Stott at 100

I’ve got a confession to make: before I joined IVP, I’d only read the one John Stott book, his classic The Cross of Christ, which I picked up on a Christian Union book stall as a student. I didn’t know how much I was missing!

The Cross of Christ, now reissued by IVP with an updated foreword by Alister McGrath in an accessible paperback format, lays out in wonderful Biblical detail why Jesus had to die on the Cross, and what that means for us now. But for whatever reason, as a younger evangelical from an independent church background rather than Stott’s own Anglican context, it somehow didn’t occur to me to explore his wider writings. He was there in the background as someone I knew was considered “sound”, but I had yet to appreciate the breadth and depth of his life and teaching.

Getting started at IVP gave me the push I needed to dig into his writings more deeply! But I suspect I’m not the only one of my generation and younger in a similar position. But the Stott 100 celebrations aim to change that.

Who was John Stott?

John Stott was born April 27th 1921, in London, and passed away 90 years later in 2011. He served for many years at All Souls Church, Langham Place. He emphasised the importance of “double listening” with the Bible in one hand and today’s newspaper in the other (though if he were alive today, that would probably be a smartphone instead!) This is one of the themes in his classic The Contemporary Christian.

The Contemporary Christian

He was involved in setting up many organisations that continue today, including the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC), and Langham Partnership. Many of the organisations and publishers that are linked to him have come together this year to celebrate his life, including IVP UK, IVP USA, Eerdmans and Faithlife. He had a global vision, speaking all over the world and recognised the need both to support and to listen to fellow believers in the Majority World.

The danger with standard descriptions of John Stott as an elder statesman of the evangelical church, as “Uncle John”, is that they make him sound safe and cosy. But one of the hallmarks of Stott’s teaching is his radical commitment to the Bible and to following through on the consequences of what God tells us. He was bold and far-sighted, with continuing relevance today.

The Radical Stott

As well as being crystal-clear on evangelical distinctives such as the authority and truthfulness of the Bible, Stott saw the difference this made for all of life. His argument for “double listening” was against the background of some evangelicals who would see listening to and engaging with the world as an unnecessary distraction from the pure preaching of the Gospel – but Stott saw no such disconnect.

In The Radical Disciple, he recognised climate change as a looming crisis, and identified creation care and simple living as two key marks of Christian discipleship. His holistic vision also carried over into his support for Tearfund and A Rocha, and his establishment of LICC to engage Christians with contemporary life, especially in the workplace.

Stott the Controversialist

He also wasn’t afraid to challenge evangelical orthodoxies where he thought the Bible allowed for other views. Controversially, Stott made an evangelical case for annihilationism, arguing from the Bible that those who reject God are annihilated, rather than condemned to eternal conscious torment in Hell.

Stott also approached other controversial topics with clarity and nuance. In The Cross of Christ he defended the necessity of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement – that Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins. He was at pains to distinguish it from caricatures and oversimplifications such as “God punishing Jesus”, understood apart from Christ’s self-sacrifice and our union with Christ as our representative.

Stott 100

To mark the centenary, IVP is publishing a new set of John Stott editions to keep his books attractive, including his classics Basic Christianity, The Living Christ, and The Radical Disciple. We’re also bringing out new audiobook editions of key Stott titles, available on Audible and as an MP3 digital download.

Later in the year we’ll be publishing John Stott on Creation Care, edited by Sam Berry with Laura Yoder, which will collect together Stott’s writings on vital issues around the environment.

As a capstone of our celebrations, we will publish in March 2022 an essay collection learning from Stott for the future of contemporary Christian witness (title TBC, edited by Kristi Mair and Luke Cawley, editors of Healthy Faith and the Coronavirus Crisis).

My prayer is that the Stott 100 celebrations in 2021 will introduce John Stott to a new generation – and through him, a deeper appreciation of the Gospel and how Christ’s cross impacts on the whole of our lives.

John Stott Highlights

Caleb Woodbridge

Caleb leads Inter-Varsity Press (IVP UK) in publishing books that are true to the Bible and communicate the reality and beauty of Jesus for all of life. He’s previously worked in editorial, digital marketing and web development roles in publishing and higher education. He loves reading and digging deep into theological questions.