Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Pope Has Died

Before I start any sort of international wave of misinformation, I should clearly state that the current sitting pope of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict is just fine, as far as I am aware, and is in good health - sitting at his desk in the Vatican. However, another pope, the once named and so-called pope of the evangelical movement around the world has passed away - Rev. John Stott has died at the age of 90.

Rev. John Stott died at the age of 90 at 3:15PM at his apartment near All Souls Church on the West End of London this past Wednesday afternoon, July 27, 2011.

A recent commentator once bemused that if the evangelical movement in the world had a pope, it was surely be John Stott. John Stott lived at a time in England when it wasn't at all kosher, or as the Brits would say, "pucka" to be an evangelical. Stott clung fervently to core principles of the orthodox faith (orthodox in this context meaning the original Reformed faith as encapsulated by Calvin). For Stott these included; "the authority of scripture" the "centrality of Christ", and the transformational impact of the cross.

To give you an idea of the towering figure and influence on Christianity that Stott was, and conceivably shall remain, keep in mind that Billy Graham just recently issued a statement after John's passing that; "The evangelical world has lost one of it's greatest spokesmen, and I have lost one of my close personal friends and advisors. I look forward to seeing him again when I go to heaven." Rick Warren flew to John Stott's bedside regularly during Stott's later years of infirmity and always heaped heavy praise on his contributions to evangelical thought through the years, especially through the writing of Stott's 50 books about the nuances of evangelical thought. Time magazine recently named Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the past century.

Perhaps the highest testament to Stott's impact on the world was his ability to speak to and communicate with people outside of the faith. Stott was a true evangelist. One of the most poignant essays about Stott was recently written by conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times. David Brooks, a man of Jewish cultural heritage, and at least until recently, a professed agnostic on issues of religion, said that Stott's great contribution was his ability to think about and communicate paradoxes. Stott, according to Brooks, loved paradoxes. Stott was always thinking about questions like:

* If Jesus was always so humble, why was he always talking about himself?
* How are we supposed to love others, in the face of a world which often hates us?
* How can we be generous of our resources in a world that is so self-possessed in it's desire to

My favorite things about Stott are his perpetual desire to connect and communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ with outsiders. While Stott could, by his own self admission, at times be tone deaf to the nuances, trends and currents of the modern world, he never shrank from a desire to share the gospel with all people. Stott loved India, a completely "other" place, and traveled there regularly throughout his ministry (one of my own friends and mentors, Mark Labberton, traveled to India with Stott in the 1980's). Most of all, Stott, a man of soaring intellectual powers, always sought to communicate intricate details of faith in a down to earth, common and understandable way.

I am closely reading John Stott at this juncture in Presbyterian history as a figure who remained a man of faith, in the context of his own denomination, The Church of England, which was largely liberal. When Stott was challenged to leave his denomination because of pressure by other luminaria of the evangelical world such as Martyn Lloyd Jones, Stott clung to the notion that denominations should remain intact and evangelicals should remain in the fight. This excerpt is taken from Stott's recent biography "Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott", written by Roger Steer: "When John became President of the Evangelical Alliance he told a 'President's Night' event that 'some evangelicals like myself, believe it is the will of God to remain in a church that is sometimes called a 'mixed denomination'. At least until it becomes apostate and ceases to be a church, we believe it is our duty to remain in it and bear witness to the truth as we have been given to understand it. Some of us who do this, however, are thought not to care about truth. I want to say to you with all the strength of conviction that I possess that we care intensely about the truth, because we believe that God has revealed it fully and finally in Jesus Christ."

And John Stott might have added, "not in the life of every and all church experience."

All for Now,

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