John Stott's vision 'still relevant' in today's 'hostile' world

John Stott died on 27 July 2011 at the age of 90Langham Partnership International

John Stott's vision of respectful dialogue and incarnational mission are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime, says his close friend, Christian doctor and ethicist John Wyatt.

The respected UCL professor was friends with 'Uncle John' for over 40 years, and paid tribute to the late theologian on what would have been his 100th birthday this week.

Wyatt was guest speaker at an anniversary talk hosted by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which was founded by Stott in 1982 to equip Christians for whole-life mission and ministry.

Remembering his friend, Wyatt said that Stott's model of respectful dialogue and 'double listening' remained the model for the Church today, not only in terms of its engagement with the secular world but between Christians of different traditions and affiliations.

This is especially true, he said, in the face of "viscous and polarised interactions", and culture wars across media, social media, the internet and also the Church.

"I wonder how much we as Christians have become infected by the spirit of the age which encourages attack, shaming and humiliation of our opponents," he said.

By contrast, he praised Stott as someone who was "not interested in scoring points" but rather always sought to understand others.

"Many Christian preachers and apologists don't wish to follow this path today. Instead they much prefer the traditional approach of 'well, just proclaim the truth, this is the truth of the Bible, take it or leave it'," Wyatt said. 

"But it's not what Stott modelled and I believe in our age, it's not the Christlike way as we reach out to a secular, cynical and hostile world."

Lamenting "polarisation and tribalism" in both the Church and the wider world, Wyatt said Stott's vision of respectful dialogue was still not fully realised.

"Sadly it seems that genuine dialogue, respectful listening and the meeting of minds is even less common in the public square than it was 50 years ago," he said.

"The quality of political and moral debate seems to have become more intemperate, coarsened, hostile, and more polarised than before.

"And unfortunately I can see aspects of that polarisation within the Christian community too.

"There seems to be greater tribalism, often deep suspicion, mistrust, incomprehension between members of the different tribes.

"How often do we see thoughtful, respectful and genuine listening taking place between Christian leaders in their different groupings and traditions?"

In the face of "truth decay" and a world where "orthodox biblical Christianity is increasingly dismissed as morally inadequate and even repulsive", he said it was important that Christians live out their faith with respect and care.

"Perhaps the first lesson I learned from him about being a witness for Christ in a hostile secular world is that it's not about how clever your arguments are or the brilliance of your apologetic strategy," Wyatt said. 

"It has to start with personal authenticity, with honesty and with humility. It matters much more who you are as a person than what you actually say. And in particular it matters how we treat those who oppose us."

He concluded with an encouragement to Christians to live sacrificially as their witness to the world around them.

"In the confused - and confusing - world of 2021, John Stott's model of how to engage in a secular world is even more urgent," he said.

"In particular, when words cease to have the impact and meaning they used to carry, then it's the way we live, the quality of our caring, the authenticity of our behaviour [that] can still communicate the unchanging good news of Christ to a hurting world.

"My own belief is that it will be the incarnational ministry of ordinary lay Christians, the hand of Christ, the presence of Christ, humble, respectful [and] sacrificial service that's going to be the principal means of sharing the good news of being salt and light for Christ in this wonderful, confusing world."