John Stott was the elegant evangelical. Not elegant in the sense of a contrived aesthetic. Not elegant by way of trying to be elegant. Not elegant by way of marketing elegance. No, Stott stood there faithfully and biblically and piously in such a way that the best of evangelicalism was elegantly displayed.
As a college student I went to Calvin College to hear Stott speak on prepositions — “in” Christ and the like. I don’t remember much about the event, but I did want to hear Stott. The place was packed, and then it became a workshop on how to preach some texts and so a friend and I left … we came back later to hear him preach. It was my first experience and he was, to be sure, elegant, but the word that I came away with was that he was “faithful.” That man just expounded what a particular passage in the Bible said. That’s all he did. He expounded the text so faithfully there was an elegance about his preaching.
As a seminary student I worked at UPS so we could make ends meet. That meant working from 4-8AM, and that meant attending chapel was impossible. I slept in shifts, from 9AM to noon, and then from 10PM to 4AM. Except when John Stott was in chapel, and then I dragged myself to chapel to hear him, always groggy and always grateful to hear someone who was so elegantly faithful to the Bible.
One of my first writing assignments came from someone I had met, Bill Crockett, and it was about the fate of those who have not heard, and I was into Matthew so I asked to address the parable of sheep and goats, and that meant “eternal torment” and that meant I was reading John Stott’s freshly printed chapter in a book with David Edward where Stott argued — elegantly and faithfully I will now say — for annihilationism. Each chp began with “Dear John” or “Dear David,” so I thought I’d enter into the mix and begin my chapter with a “Dear John.” I sent my piece to Stott, he wrote back and simply asked me not to associate that view with him so narrowly by focusing my piece on him… and I removed the “Dear John.” A year or so later John Stott came to TEDS and he found me, and as we met for the first time, he gave me a big bear hug. I shall never forget his kindness in looking me up. There was an elegant faithfulness about that experience for me, a life changer in some ways.
I always read his books, and I can’t think of any of his that I don’t own and have read, and I always learned from him, but what Stott represents to me is evangelicalism can be a civil elegant expression of the great tradition of our faith. I sorrowed some as we watched him age, but what most grieved me was that so many young evangelical Christians did not know who he was or what he represented or how he struck that elegant faithful balance between strident fundamentalism and compromised liberalism. Some of these younger folks, and I’ve seen this with my own eyes, dismiss him with a casual appeal to someone else, someone I sense to be faithful but in a strident manner. Strident faithfulness is deconstructed by Stott.
America and the UK suffers because no one has really become his successor. Far more polemical, divisive voices are at work today and I see no one who can stand up with intellectual rigor, exegetical expertise, personal piety, diplomatic efforts and charismatic leadership who can manifest the elegance of evangelicalism. No one. I pray to God for that person.