John Stott A Global Ministry

Timothy Dudley-Smith

This is the two-volume authorized biography of John Stott, the British pastor and writer.  I first read the two-volume work 12 years ago.  This is my second time through it.  As I was re-reading this biography, I began to realize that in some ways John Stott has been my main mentor in my life.  I’ve never met him, but through his writings and through this biography he has mentored me.

There have been several pastors in history, and in the present, who have influenced me greatly – Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Piper, Keller and more.  But I do not know that any have had quite the influence on me that Stott has.

If Stott wrote a commentary on a New Testament book, and he wrote many, he was always the first one I wanted to read.  Kenneth Kantzer, long-time President of Trinity Evangelical Seminary, the evangelical divinity school, once commented, “Whenever I heard John Stott preach on a passage, I thought to myself, ‘Of course that’s what it means.’”  I know what he means.

John Stott died in 2011 at age 90.  He was a pastor, writer, leader, evangelist and scholar extraordinaire.  He excelled in all of these areas to an unusual degree.

In the highly regarded book on leadership by Jim Collins, Good to Great, he talks about the two sine qua non traits of a leader:  unwavering commitment to the cause and a deep personal humility.  John Stott excelled in both of these.  He had an unwavering commitment to the cause of Christ that was expressed in innumerable ways, especially in leading the charge of evangelical Christianity within the Church of England for 50 years.  And when it came to humility, it seems like he had a total absence of pride and ego.  He was a remarkable man.

He was single his entire life.  He was an ardent birdwatcher and he practiced this hobby all over the globe.  He continues to disciple me through his writings and biography, though he is now in heaven.  He was a friend to Billy Graham, J.I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and so many more.  He was a chaplain to the Queen.  He lived a simple life and had a special heart for pastors in Africa, Asia and South America.

Here are just some of the things that I learned from John Stott:

1.      Prayer.  Prayer was always a priority for him, both in his personal time with God each morning and in leading his church to prayer.  He was a true intercessor. 

2.      Scripture.  He was completely devoted to Scripture.  His preaching was biblical and expository.  He faced opposition from liberal Anglicans throughout his ministry and yet he faithfully defended the Scriptures.

3.      Heart for the lost.  He was an evangelist.  He personally led people to Christ.  He preached the gospel all over the world.  The lost were always on his heart. 

4.      Love for people.  He was quite scholarly and learned.  He cared about people.  He had a pastor’s heart.  He wrote pastoral letters to people.  He learned people’s names.  He gave attention to individuals who came to him.  H was unfailingly gracious.  He loved people.

5.      Courage.  He was a courageous man who would not back down from his principles.  In fact, if he believed in something he could be quite obstinate!  It was a good stubbornness!

6.      Humor.  He didn’t take himself too seriously.  He always had a playful sense of humor and often, I understand, a twinkle in his eye.

For those who are not so familiar with his life, here is a brief biographical sketch of high points:

·         He came from a prominent family in London, the son of a physician.

·         He came to Christ in his late teens when he was at boarding school.  He was a devoted follower of Christ the rest of his life.

·         He studied at Cambridge and did superbly.

·         His ministry position was curate (assistant pastor) of All Souls Church in downtown London.  This was the church that he had grown up in and was one of the most prominent churches in London.

·         When the rector of All Souls died, the congregation wanted him as their pastor, and so he becomes rector of All Souls at age 29.

·         He was either pastor or pastor emeritus of All Souls the rest of his life.

·         He began speaking more and more widely throughout England and then throughout the world.  He was in wide demand.

·         He wrote over 50 books in his life, some of which have had enormous impact.

·         He started and led numerous organizations, from gatherings of evangelical pastors to ministry organizations with third world pastors.

·         In many ways he was not only the “pope” for evangelicals in the Church of England, but he was the “evangelical pope” in the last 30 years of his life.

·         His impact and legacy are remarkable.

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader's Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope For Ours

Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley

The book is written by Churchill’s great-grandson, Jonathan Sandys, who lives in Houston, Texas, and is a devoted follower of Jesus. He teams up with one of the pastors at Second Baptist Church.

What makes this book unique is that it focuses on the spiritual journey of Churchill. At first, I thought they were going to make the case that Churchill was a strong believer, a tenuous thesis. But I learned that it was not the case. Rather, here is the main point: Churchill was a believer with a Christian worldview and what we see in his life is the sovereignty of God to raise up a leader to rescue the world from Hitler. The point is not Churchill’s spirituality, but God’s sovereignty in preparing him.

They show that Churchill’s nanny, Elizabeth Everest, was a strong believer, who prayed with Churchill as a young boy, who taught him the Bible, and who remained very close to Churchill until she died. Even when Churchill died in 1965, he had a picture of his nanny at his bedside. She introduced Churchill to a Christian worldview and to faith in God, a worldview to which he returned after a period of unbelief as a young man.

They bring in a variety of topics to make their case about God’s sovereignty in raising up Churchill. I think they could have been more forthcoming about his weaknesses, but they certainly acknowledged them.

A few highlights include the following quotes:

* “By the standard he set, all political leaders since have been mere pygmies – with the possible exception of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Yet even they pale in his shadow. No one else can touch Churchill for his vision, leadership, and persistence.” (Cal Thomas, p. xv)

* “There has been no one remotely like him before or since.” (Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, p. xviii)

* “This country will be subjected somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London, and I shall save London and England from disaster.” (Winston Churchill, age 16)

* “At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. Ten years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms. My warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me. I could not be reproached either for making the war or with want of preparation for it. I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail. Therefore, although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams.” (The Gathering Storm, p. 82. Churchill writing about the day when he was named prime minister.)

* “We began our research into the life and times of Winston Churchill with an eye towards discovering the ‘hidden something’ behind his singular role in world history. What we found, ultimately, was a testimony not as much to Churchill’s spirituality as it was to God’s sovereignty. What we’ve endeavored to show in these pages is not that Churchill had particular beliefs about God but that God, in his wisdom, was able to use this ordinary human being for extraordinary purposes.” (p. 227)

* “Churchill biographer (and current mayor of London) Boris Johnson, for example, provides a scenario for a ‘non-Churchill universe’:

[If we] take Churchill out of the equation … we leave the fate of Britain and the world in the hands of Halifax, Chamberlain, and the representatives of the Labour and Liberal parties. Would they have treated with Hitler, as the Foreign Secretary was proposing? It seems overwhelmingly likely …

It was Churchill – and only Churchill – who had made resistance to the Nazis his political mission.” (p. 228)

* “Our contention is that Winston Churchill was a deliverer prepared and brought onto the human scene through a sovereign act of God to counteract the work of Adolf Hitler, who manifested the dark power he worshiped and was its agent in his historical moment and geographical sphere. We have not tried to cast Churchill as a religious pietist. But he was a willing and available leader with an intuitive sense of divine destiny. As we have shown, Churchill grew in his understanding that his destiny was set by God himself. He is a wonderful example of how God ‘looks at the heart,’ not at ‘the outward appearance.’” (p. 236)

This was a good book, interesting and solid, but it was not a great biography of Churchill.

Open: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi

This is the superb autobiography of Andre Agassi. It is the story of a very demanding father who was obsessed with making his son into the #1 tennis player in the world.

The book relates the story of endless hours hitting tennis balls and beginning his journey as a competitive tennis player when he is quite young. The book also relates his career as an international tennis star, including marriages first to Brooke Shields, and then later to Stefanie Graf.

Most of the book is a page-turner. Agassi is so honest and insightful, and the writer who helps him is apparently superb at telling a story.

Overall, I would say this is one of the best sports biographies that I have read.

As my friend, Taylor Ince, put it when he recommended the book: “It’s about the father. It always is.”

Karl Barth

Mark Galli

Mark Galli, long-time editor for Christianity Today, call this “An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.” I had not read much on Barth, and so it was quite interesting to me to see the basic overview of his life and thought.

Widely considered the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Barth did most of his work in the middle decades of the century. After being educated by German theological liberals, he became disenchanted with that theology and began to write against it. His commentary on the Book of Romans hit the theological world of Europe like a bombshell. Though he was Swiss, he spent several decades in Germany, and opposed Hitler from the start.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer considered Barth a mentor and they were also friends. Before the outbreak of World War II, Barth lost his job in Germany because of his opposition to the Nazis and returned to his native Switzerland.

Some of the quotes by Barth in the book surprised me with their power. Certainly he has an exalted view of God and his greatness.

It seems like Barth had a warm and devoted trust in Christ and a love for Scripture. To give balance to this picture, he did not do well in loving his wife and he apparently had at least an emotional affair with his long-time assistant.

This is a good introduction to Barth for a neophyte like me.

Bearing the Cross

David J. Garrow

This is a definitive biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it did win a Pulitzer Prize. However, it was a disappointing, tedious book. For one reason, it was not properly a biography of King. This is the account of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was the organization he led to fight for civil rights. The book is just way too detailed about conversations during endless meetings. There is too much detail! At the same time, it lacked the big sweep and overview of thoughts about his life and impact. In some ways, it is almost more of a chronology than a biography. However, it is very well researched and fairly well written.

For me though, the book was disappointing in another sense. It was the first biography of King I had read and I was disappointed by the lack of heart for God. Maybe it was there and the biography didn’t capture it, but surely it would have come out somewhere. It was disturbing that King had many affairs, that he had such a bad marriage, and that he seemingly spent so little time with his kids. He was a man lacking peace and full of anxiety. You do not read of his love for the Word or his heart for prayer. It would be difficult to say from this book whether or not he knew the Lord. He was more of a professional minister. All I can say is: I hope so. I hope he knew the Lord.

Unless one is a very serious student of King, I would not recommend this book.