By Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance
John Stott, the main author of the theological preamble of the constitution of the World Evangelical Alliance and the one that initiated our journal ‘Evangelical review of Theology’, is now seeing Jesus, who was the focus of his life in all he did, said and wrote. What is thought to be his best book, ‚The Cross of Christ’ (1986), really was and is his best book and a legacy to all evangelicals: Only if the Cross of Jesus stays our center, can we achieve unity.
For me John Stott is a role model per se for all evangelical theologians, male and female, whom the Theological Commission tries to serve, as he was an impressive master of complementarity and never was willing to emphasize an important thing at the expense of another important things. Let me state some of those complementarities by comparing John Stott to Paul – something he surely would have very much disliked!
· Like Paul he was a pastor, a missionary and a great theologian at the same time. His academic theology was always aimed at the body of Christ, not his academic colleagues.
· Like Paul he was a master thinker and systematic writer, trying to fill the whole faith into one short book (here Romans, there ‚Basic Christianity’, 1958), and yet he never wrote in an abstruse way to impress academics, but so that the whole church could benifit.
· Like Paul he was willing to strive for the gospel and was a man of clear words – see his book ‚Christ the Controversalist’ (1970). And yet he was a man of peace, a bridgebuilder, someone listening to other opinions very thoroughly and trying to understand them. Through his involvement in WEA and the Lausanne Movement he brought evangelicals and evangelical theologians together on a larger scale than ever before, but not by having no standpoint or by bypassing theological discussion or biblical exegesis, but in the middle of theologcial debate. He was convinced that unity would not come from less good theology, but from more open studying of the Bible together across all lines.
· Like Paul he was as local as he was global. He managed to write, speak and travel to the world, while being totally dedicated to personal counseling, to his local congregation and the mentoring of those close to him.
· Like Paul he became world famous, and yet stayed the humble servant, that never understood how Jesus could use him in such a way.
· Like Paul he became prominent in politics and the secular world and stood before kings and caesars, eg preaching to the Queen and being counted among the 100 most influential people by Times Magazine in 2005. And yet he never was absorbed by this worldly influence, but preaching the gospel stayed his obsession.
· Like Paul he was a master of the old and brilliant in what needed to be changed and invented anew. He never wanted to conform the old rugged cross to the modern age, but to defend the faith once for all given to the church, and yet he was open to adapt the Christian faith to ever changing situations on all continents up to his old age. As a young man, his evangelical gospel looked very old to some, as an old man his ideas looked younger than of many people 60 years younger.
· Like Paul, he was convinced, that preaching the gospel is the beginning of everything, but at the same time furthered works of compassion to the needy worldwide. He saw everything through the glasses of the gospel, knowing that only the cross can overcome the sins of pride, racism, mammon, hatred, sexual abuse etc., and yet at the same time got many people to get engaged against those social evils.
I hope that the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance can maintain these high standards for the future and carry on Stott’s theological heritage into the future of the evangelical movement.