The Elegance of Evangelicalism

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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.com Tom C

    Amen, Scott. Amen.

    Last year I was incredibly impacted by his ‘Christ the Controversialist’ – have you read it?

  • Scot McKnight

    Tom C, yes I read it in college, I believe, and loved it.

  • Clay Knick

    Balanced, faithfulness, biblical, Christ-follower, preacher, clear, servant of God. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Stott.

  • DRL

    Be the vision. You’ve got all the right stuff, Scot.

  • http://timgombis.com/ Tim Gombis

    Thanks for this, Scot. That’s exactly what we need — generous leaders who are big-hearted with a large gospel vision that regards the tribalizing trend as treacherous to the faith.

  • Joe Canner

    The book I associate with Stott is Christian Counterculture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. I read it many years ago and don’t remember much about what it said, but every time I read and meditate on the Sermon on the Mount I am reminded of the book and how counter-cultural Jesus was in His day and how counter-cultural he remains to this day. That a book title can evoke so much reflection is, indeed, elegant. (Sadly, it seems the book only goes by its subtitle these days.)

  • http://www.citychurchsf.org Fred Harrell

    I pray for that person too Scot. Exactly what I was thinking when I commented on the other Stott thread. And I’m sad that those who may have replaced him are stuck in more polemical and divisive circles of thought. Let’s continue to pray.

  • John M.

    Scot, no one can chose his or her rank, but you certainly represent the qualities that you admired in Stott. May you continue to be elegantly faithful from the platform you have been granted. Perhaps instead of just “one,” God will see fit to raise up many from the emerging generation of Christ followers, who will represent what “Scot and Stott” are/were — creating a collective elegant faithfulness that generates an even greater and far-reaching influence than just the influence of one.

  • Jarrod S. McK

    keep living out this legacy of powerful humility Scot. You inspire many of us.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    This is a beautiful tribute to a thoughtful, intelligent and rigorous man who simply (never easily, I’m sure!) followed Christ, Scot. Thank you. As I came to your closing words, I appreciated this remark: Strident faithfulness is deconstructed by Stott. In my thoughts, I admit I added to your sentence, …, deconstructed by the faithful life he lived, and the humility & clarity of Christ embodied in his person. That’s the message I heard in your words, and the call I hear is for us to become such faithful imitators of Jesus Christ, too. I hope I well heard & echo your prayer.

  • Bill

    I cannot think of any evangelical I admired and respected more than Stott. Unliked some, he really thought out his positions. Anti-intellectualism has haunted the church, and he was a great antidote to that restriction. You, too, Scot are doing a great service to the church by respecting your (and our!) mind.

  • Susan

    “Strident faithfulness was deconstructed by Stott” – an elegant statement. I only heard him in person once, speaking to pastors just a few years ago. His words were life to me, without any whiff of the self-pity that sometimes accompanies messages to pastors, by pastors. May he be rediscovered by younger pastors.

  • Bob Smallman

    “Elegant” is a great word to describe Stott.

    Whenever I am preaching on a book for which Stott has written a commentary, I always consult him last. Only because he writes so clearly and faithfully that if I read him first, I would stop there!

    P.S. Scot, you’re going to have to work on your accent!

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.com/ Andrew Kenny

    I had the privilege to meet John Stott a few times. For being perhaps the most influential Evangelical of the twentieth century I found him to be also the most humble. Perhaps also one of the most underestimated books he wrote was ‘The Contemporary Christian’ an extremely wise and helpful book.May he continue to speak through his books.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X