Yesterday was my 57th birthday. I knew that my family was going to take me to lunch since they let me pick the place in advance. I am a pretty simple person, at least when it comes to picking my pleasures, so I picked T. G. I. Friday’s. I always relish these special times because they allow the whole gang (all eight of us) to be together. I also knew that my wife Anita would do her usual “party girl” routines and make the day very, very special. It was a memorable day but I did not know how memorable it would be at 8:00 a.m. when I came down to breakfast.

Around 9:00 a.m. two very dear pastor friends, Keith Duff and Tim Badal (Village Bible Church, Sugar Grove, Illinois), called to invite me to join them in hearing John R. W. Stott speak at 10:00 a.m., at Windsor Park Manor (a retirement home), which is only a mile from my residence. I couldn’t resist. I dropped all other plans and gladly went; wondering if this might be my last opportunity to hear Stott in person.

I intend to write an ACT 3 Weekly later this month about the life of John R. W. Stott. He has impacted me more and more with every passing year, though we have only had two previous occasions to meet. He has absolutely no reason to even know who I am quite honestly. But he has impacted my life very deeply for well over thirty-five years.

Like so many of you John Stott’s forty-plus books have helped me know the Word of God better with every passing year. I first heard of John Stott, by means of two of his small little books on the message of the New Testament and basic Christianity. I was a college student in 1969 when these works came into my hands.

No one better understands the basic message of the cross than John Stott. In fact, his book The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986) is the all-time classic on the cross of Jesus! Stott’s expositions of Scripture are always crystal clear, exegetically faithful, and simple enough for everyone to profit.

What impressed me the most yesterday, and this more than ever, was not the message preached by Stott, at least in terms of Stott’s actual treatment of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. The message, “Our God is a Missionary God,” was very well done. But what impressed me was the man. Stott’s message is not about Stott, but about Christ. But many great preachers, and frankly there are many who are better speakers than John Stott, can and do preach the same message faithfully. And many do so in ways that are more impressive. What amazed me yesterday, and what frequently filled my eyes with tears during his twenty minute address, was John Stott’s simple love for Jesus. This love is joined with a developed spiritual formation from nearly seventy years of life (he was converted at age seventeen) and a mature humility.

I have seen John Stott attacked from the both left and the right over the years. The late Dr. John Gerstner once suggested, at a pastors’ fellowship that I moderated in Wheaton, that John Stott might not be a real Christian because of his views regarding hell.(Stott has publicly suggested that one way to read the Bible, regarding what follows the resurrection and the coming judgment, is to see the annihilation of the wicked as a possible scenario rather than the conscious eternal torment of the lost.) Most of us were appalled at Gerstner’s approach, to be quite truthful. I have also seen Stott attacked from the left, especially by liberal bishops like John Shelby Song, who frankly despises him.

But what I saw in John Stott yesterday, and what I so rarely see in younger and older men who have great prominence in the Christian world, is sweetness, kindness and gentleness. This man loves Jesus, radiates his love in old age like few I have heard, and lifts up Christ while downplaying John Stott. This was the impression I shall never forget on my birthday.

I celebrated my fifth-seventh birthday by praying a basic, but I trust, very real prayer: “Lord make me a simple humble follower of Jesus like John Stott. Make me a man who does not strike back at my enemies. And do give me the grace to be kind and patient with all.”

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  1. Brandon Withrow March 3, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    Happy belated birthday John.

  2. John Wiers March 3, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    John, let me also wish you a happy birthday. I appreciate your short piece on John Stott. I, too, have benefitted greatly from his balanced biblical teaching and writing. Although I met John Stott, I think, on one occasion, I actually had classes with John Gerstner and he visited in our home. I have to say that he was the most intense man that I’ve ever met. Yet it was an intensity that was driven by the same passion for Christ that still drives John Stott. I believe that it was very unfortunate that Dr. Gerstner said what he did. I guess we have to apply the very same graciousness that John Stott exemplifies to John Gerstner. If John Gerstner was a model in some ways of intensity for the cause of Christ, we can see that his comment about John Stott shows us how such intensity can sometimes go wrong. As far as I can tell, John Stott has never deviated from the evangelical version of Anglicanism that he inherited (Roger Steer’s Holy Fire) except in the area of personal eshatology. From talking with a personal friend of John Stott, I’ve been informed that he has been attracted to the possiblity of conditional immortality because he finds the notion of eternal hell so repulsive. While all of us no doubt would totally agree with that, it perhaps can also be a warning to all of us. If John Gerstner’s Achiile’s Heel was to allow his intensity to get out of line, leading him to make such an uncharitable judgment about a great preacher and Christian leader like John Stott, John’s Stott’s charitableness may have been a large factor in his being open to conditional immortality/annihilation. All of us can learn here. Our personalities often make us vulnerable to distorting the truth. Both were great men, but both had feet of clay, as we all do. I probably have found the congenial teaching, preaching and writing of John Stott as more beneficial, overall, in my ministry, but I still owe a great debt to sitting at the feet of John Gerstner, even when I would see his intensity push him over the edge at times.

  3. John Jackson March 4, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    Mr. Armstrong, I just wanted to tell you first off much we enjoyed your lectures at our conference in January at Church of the King in Corpus Christi, Texas.
    With that said, tell me, have you ever read Basic Christianity? It’s the only book by Stott that I’ve read, but it’s really good. Keep up the good work, and God bless you sir!

  4. Radman April 16, 2007 at 11:49 am

    I believe is is Shelby SPONG. (Maybe it was just a typo?)
    I don’t think we should judge the truth of Stott’s view (non-view?) on hell by his likeabliity, eh?

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