Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/18/2011 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A cornucopia of John Stott's colleagues pay honest tribute to the churchman and his ministry.
Considering I am of roughly the same Christian stripe as John Stott (Evangelical with Anglican sympathies) it may seem odd that I have never read a book of his from cover to cover until now. But never having read one of the many books he wrote was part of the reason that I was so interested in reading this one first. Portraits of a Radical Disciple is a collection of short slice-of-life stories penned by a variety of friends and colleagues, those who knew John Stott best.
In his declining years, Stott was involved in choosing those who would contribute to this volume. He and the editor earmarked people who could be trusted to represent Stott as he was, warts and all. Quite a few of the contributors are well-known in Evangelical circles: Michael Green, Dick Lucas, and Keith and Gladys Hunt. But the contributors were not chosen for name recognition. The criteria was that they knew the real Stott, and would represent him as such in the writings.
John Stott was called by none other than TIME Magazine the Evangelical pope, if Evangelicals were ever to choose a pope. The obvious silliness of such a claim aside, such an appellation does demonstrate how influential John Stott was in the global Church for over half a century. The epithet "global" is not just a throwaway, either. The worldwide theological training support institution Stott founded, now called Langham Partnership International, has used Stott's book royalties to fund supplies and education for under-resourced pastors all over the world. The largest section in the book is devoted to Stott's international influence.
If I had to choose a favourite episode, I suppose it would be the story that I have quoted a few times already since reading the book a couple of weeks ago. A former curate of Stott's who lived in a flat adjacent to Stott tells a story about a time he berated the older clergyman for a situation in which he felt Stott had acted poorly. He recounts how Stott listened to him for a few minutes on the way to turn in for the night but finally cut off the young curate with a curt, "Well Johnny, I have got my sins, you have got yours and the countess has hers. Now let's all get to bed!" Part of the reason this episode sticks with me: we never do discover exactly who the countess was!
Most importantly I am taking away from this collection a sense of John Stott's three most admirable qualities. One, he would and could befriend anybody, and once he learned something about a person he would always be sure to ask them about it either in person or by post. Two, he was aware that as a Christian celebrity, his standards of personal holiness reflected directly on the body of Christ. Three, he submitted himself to the truths of the Bible, wrestling with texts for understanding until they mastered him.
John Stott was a man of God who embodied the best of Evangelical Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century. May God continue to raise up figures like him who are personable, humble, pure, and passionate for the sake of the gospel. The book is aptly titled, for John Stott was a radical in the true sense of the world, rooted in the knowledge of Christ his Saviour.