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John Stott, Scholar and Pastor

Paul Marshall

Following on from Mike Potemra’s remembrance: John Stott was, with the possible exception of Billy Graham, the most influential evangelical of the 20th century and, with the possible exception of Archbishop Temple, also its most influential Anglican.

He did not achieve this by seeking fame or political influence, and he rarely appeared on television. Instead, as an accomplished scholar and pastor (with firsts in theology and French, reflecting an earlier aspiration to a diplomatic career), he set his sights not on originality but on very carefully and studiously expounding the Bible. His many books were clear, incisive, and moving. Later he devoted most of his time to training leaders in the church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

With careful and amazing discipline, he focused on these tasks and avoided all others. He turned down offers of bishoprics, and never married, choosing celibacy despite the suspicions this would cause in our prurient age.

He was diffident and shy, never had an entourage, and his only diversion was his great love of birdwatching.

I only met him once, in the Philippines, but he always carefully replied to my subsequent letters, as he did with countless others.

His presence and his passing is unlikely to be noted in most of our media, who usually rank spiritual leaders according to political clout and media exposure (though David Brooks once did an excellent column on Stott on the NYT).

However, if Protestantism had some category of “the great,” John Stott might qualify.

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