This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series: Preachers and their preaching
- Preachers and their preaching – John Calvin
- Preachers and their preaching – the Puritans
- Preachers and their preaching – Charles Simeon
- Preachers and their preaching – Phillips Brooks
- Preachers and their preaching – C.H. Spurgeon
- Preachers and their preaching – D.M. Lloyd-Jones
- Preachers and their preaching – J. Sidlow Baxter
- Preachers and their preaching – John Stott
- Preachers and their preaching – Fred Craddock
- Preachers and their preaching – Simon Ponsonby
John Stott (1921 – 2011) was rector at All Souls, Langham Place (London) from 1955 until 1975. After that, he became Rector Emeritus, and was thus released more fully for world-wide ministry and writing.
Formative influences included his family background and education (he was son of an eminent London physician and was educated at Rugby School and at Cambridge University). He was one of a number of talented young men to have been nurtured by Eric Nash at the so-called “Bash Camps”.
Stott himself would say that three renunciations – of marriage, of an academic career, and of a bishopric – also influenced hs direction in ministry.
He led dozens of University missions, lent his support to countless institutions and organisations, spoke an influential conferences, and much more besides.
Stott had legendary powers of concentration, a great capacity for hard work, and an exceptionally clear mind. This latter characteristic shone through everything he said or wrote. He seemed incapable of thinking an unclear thought or of uttering an unclear sentence.
Stott was committed to ‘thinking Christianly’. This meant not only thinking through the message of the Bible, but also thinking through how that message related to modern culture and to everyday life.
For Stott, effective preaching was not about mastering certain techniques but about being mastered by certain convictions. Those convictions include:
- God speaks and acts. He has revealed his mind and has taken the initiative in creation and redemption.
- The Bible is God’s word, just as much as its words are human words. That word is powerful, and still speaks today.
- The church is created by God’s word, and is dependent upon it.
- The pastorate is essentially a ministry of the word, applied so that people will be fed, guided, guarded, and healed by it.
- All true preaching is essentially expository, in the sense that it ‘exposes’ what is in the text of Scripture and brings it to the view of the hearers.
Expanding upon this last point:
‘Exposition, thus defined, has four benefits that Stott went on to articulate: it sets limits, restricting what we say; it demands integrity, forcing us to look for “the plain, natural, obvious meaning of each text”;5 it identifies the pitfalls we must avoid, including forgetfulness of our text and disloyalty to it; and it gives us confidence to preach, the boldness of those who humbly speak for God.’ (Scarfe, in A Legacy of Preaching, p.1234)
Like Charles Simeon before him, Stott did not favour labels such as ‘Calvinist’ for entire theological systems. The danger was for such systems to stand between the preacher and the Bible, determining in advance how God’s word should be interpreted, rather than letting it speak for itself.
Because of his commitment to let Scripture speak for itself, Stott was open to change. It was in the mid-60s that he was arrested by Proverbs 29:7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” From that time onwards he demonstrated an increased interest in the application of biblical thinking to what he would later call ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’.
Stott’s fullest account of preaching is found in I Believe in Preaching (1982). However, he continued to think and write about the subject in the years that followed.
In The Contemporary Christian (1992) he sought to ‘develop a case for biblical preaching’. He began with a short definition:
‘The preach is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and God’s people obey him.’
Stott expands by spelling out six implications:
Two convictions – the Bible is inspired, and it is partially closed (its parts are not equally plain and therefore need explanation by teachers).
Two obligations—faithfulness to the text and sensitivity to the contemporary world.
Two expectations – that God’s voice will be heard and that his people will obey him.
Later still – in 2007 – Stott wrote about what he called ‘five paradoxes’ of preaching. Faithful preaching, he wrote, is to be both biblical and contemporary, authoritative and tentative, prophetic and pastoral, gifted and studied, thoughtful and passionate. (The Living Church, chapter 6)
Prominent among Stott’s convictions about preaching was the idea of ‘double listening’. By this he meant that the preacher must understand both Scripture and the world, if he is to bring the former’s influence to bear on the latter. This was the burden of The Contemporary Christian, which was subtitled ‘An urgent plea for double listening’.
Stott explained with characteristic care and clarity:
‘So today, we are resolved to struggle to present the gospel in such a way as to speak to modern dilemmas, fears and frustrations . . . equally determined not to compromise the biblical gospel in order to do so. Some stumbling-blocks are intrinsic to the original gospel and cannot be eliminated, or even soft-pedalled in order to render it more palatable to contemporary taste. The gospel contains some features so alien to modern thought that it will always appear “folly” to intellectuals, however hard we strive (and rightly) to show that it is “true and reasonable” [Acts 26:25].’ (p26)
‘I am not suggesting that we should listen to God and to our fellow human beings in the same way or with the same degree of deference. We listen to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and resolved to believe and obey what we come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and resolved not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it.’ (p28)
Much of the above is based on Greg Scarfe, ‘John Stott’, in A Legacy of Preaching. Zondervan Academic.