I join the multitude of people across the time zones who will this day be thanking God for John Stott on this his 90th birthday.
I cannot be as intimate or as profound as many but his impact on my life nonetheless has been enormous. The Apostle Paul once said "follow me, as I follow Christ." It seems OK to have models and heroes if emulating their lives draws us further into a likeness to Christ. This is how it has been for me. Some people evoke an aspiration that lies more deeply than mere inspiration. I have found John Stott to be one such person. The world has enough inspiration in it. If anything the church is over-inspired. What we need are more people who we can aspire to be like - simply because they carry that whiff of Jesus about them.
John Stott, aspiration and Christlikeness? A handful of qualities immediately drop into my mind (and I mean 'immediately'!):
It is the sweetest grace of all and John Stott has more of it than anyone else I have ever experienced. Just one little example will suffice. What about all those efforts to answer every single letter that came to him - including my own note to thank him for The Cross of Christ? To attend to these sorts of letters says something ...
Imagine giving away all the royalties from your writings to fund PhD scholarships for young leaders from the developing world? As a young man I was so impacted by that discovery. So counter-cultural - and so strategic (as the 300+ recipients all around the world over the past 40 years will tell you).
I am counted among the myriad of people who have enjoyed breakfast with John Stott in his flat in London. I remember almost nothing of the content of the conversation and everything of the starkness of the context. He lived so simply. I guess on that occasion the medium eclipsed the message...
From those first compelling moments at Urbana '79 when I heard him preach and through all his writings/sermons since it is his clarity that wins me over again and again. He is not so much clever with the Word as he is clear with it. He takes a biblical passage and goes 'tap, tap, tap' and it just breaks open so easily.
Oh - that ability to remember names. In my travels this is what is mentioned most. People are so impacted by it. This is why I have said to students over the years "Don't sit there telling me you are no good with names - get good with names. It is that critical." Once when Stott was making this point at a pastors' conference, someone piped up, "But there are hundreds of people in my church - how can I possibly remember all their names?" A little pause. A little peek over the half-rimmed glasses. "You might start by praying for them by name." Those in the know recognise that to be a word of personal testimony.
Interestingly, John Stott's last message (at 87 years of age?) was on Christlikeness - watch a bit of it here. A simple biography has been written recently by Roger Steer. The UK edition is titled Inside Story, while the US title is Basic Christian. The ideal place for the Stottian novice to commence!
If you wish to experience something of the clarity of his teaching travel no further than his commentary on the Book of Acts. Alternatively, you might consider going to the All Souls website and feasting on hundreds of Stott's sermons, downloadable for free.
Of his books The Cross of Christ is tops. I remember my consternation when I had to order it for the Carey library after I commenced there as Principal :).
Rather sadly, John Stott made very few visits to New Zealand, with the last one being maybe as far back as the 1970s. I do find that Kiwis can understate the significance of his influence as a result. And yet in 2005 TIME magazine identified him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world - in the subsection titled "Heroes & Icons". Billy Graham concludes his little piece on Stott by writing, "He represents a touchstone of authentic biblical scholarship that, in my opinion, has scarcely been paralleled since the days of the 16th century European Reformers." That is such a big call - but how could it possibly be challenged? It is true.