I’m a bit amazed by the kind of people who are praising John Stott, and I’m not surprised it is Stott but I am surprised by the sorts who see in him the elegance of evangelicalism. Including David Brooks and now Nick Kristof, both of them not particularly religious public intellectuals. Yes, Stott often stands out against the sometimes uncharitable features of some evangelicals. So, thanks Nick — even if a bit back-handed at times.
Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.
Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.
This compassionate strain of evangelicalism was powerfully shaped by the Rev. John Stott, a gentle British scholar who had far more impact on Christianity than media stars like Mr. Robertson or Mr. Falwell. Mr. Stott, who died a few days ago at the age of 90, was named one of the globe’s 100 most influential people by Time, and in stature he was sometimes described as the equivalent of the pope among the world’s evangelicals.
Mr. Stott didn’t preach fire and brimstone on a Christian television network. He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus — especially his concern for the poor and oppressed — and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution.
“Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands,” Mr. Stott wrote in his book “The Cross of Christ.” “Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures that inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean his creatures.”
Mr. Stott then gave examples of the injustices that Christians should confront: “the traumas of poverty and unemployment,” “the oppression of women,” and in education “the denial of equal opportunity for all.”