Perhaps no evangelical thinker and writer has more influenced me over the last 45 years than John R. W. Stott, who turned 90 in late April. I’ve met John Stott on several occasions and keep a cherished photo of him in my study. The last time I saw him was in Carol Stream about four years ago.
Jim Packer has been a true friend, indeed a mentor. I’ve shared a great deal of time and fellowship with him over the last thirty years or so. He has personally encouraged me and been a profound theological influence. His frequent visits to serve as a senior editor for Christianity Today afforded us many evenings of sweet fellowship. But it is Stott that I write about today.
David Neff, editor of Christianity Today, wrote a tribute to Stott a few months ago and suggested that two things struck him as he read two different collections about his life. First, John Stott has remarkable discernment. Second, he has incredible discipline. My friends who know “Uncle John” (as they affectionately call this life long bachelor) all agree with David’s assessment.
John Stott’s influence around the world was made possible, Neff suggests, because he prayerfully discerned what God wanted him to do (and not do) and then focused on those things and not others. He left the good aside in order to pursue what was, for him at least, the best.
I have not had great influence in any sense of the word. I have had some influence. What influence I have enjoyed has often been strengthened by discernment. I believe I knew what God wanted me to do and stuck to it no matter what anyone thought or said, pro or con. What I have sometimes lacked, however, is the resolute discipline that I see in John Stott. Many would think of me as disciplined. I do not think I am nearly as disciplined as I could have (should have) been. What discipline I enjoy I owe to my father and mother and to a great military prep school education from grade 7-12.
Men like John Stott remind me that saying “No” is just as important as saying “Yes.” Stott has written so much, and thus left a deep legacy in his writing, because he has said “No” to so many people and prospects. Jim Packer has been far more open, it seems to me, and thus has never written all that some expected from him. He has also focused on the pastor and everyday Christian in doing theology for the church, not the academy. Stott has never married while Packer has a wife and family. The comparisons are not worth much deep thought but they can be made.
In the end, I appreciate John R. W. Stott not because I knew him as my close friend but rather because he used his considerable gifts to make me a better servant of Christ. His openness to “evangelical ecumenism” with the whole Christian church helped me more than he will ever know. For that matter Jim Packer did the same and interacted with me in private while I made my journey. I appreciate both men but I no longer stand in awe of them. Both have their flaws and their weaknesses, just as you and me. But these men knew the call of God and followed it, each in uniquely personal ways, with determination and great joy.