Yesterday evening, reports appeared on the web that John Stott had passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 90. (This search will take you to about two hundred stories in Google News at the time of typing.) Obituaries cover his evangelism, his leadership of All Souls, Langham Place, his key place with Billy Graham in the Lausanne Movement, his commitment to social action as core to evangelical understandings of mission, his clear Bible teaching, his concern for the Majority World, his love of birdwatching and much more. I particularly recommend Christianity Today’s obituary.
More concisely, Maggi Dawn has described him this morning on Twitter as
The most compassionate, sane evangelical Christian I ever met.
I have read many of his books. Favourites of mine include his expositions of Acts and Ephesians (the latter is particularly worn and battered). However, I only heard him preach once. I was training for the ministry in Manchester at the time, and he came to preach one evening at the local Anglican church, which had a large student ministry. Dr Stott agreed to stay behind afterwards and field questions.
I attended that meeting. I was engaged in my postgraduate research in Theology, specialising in ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church. I asked him a question. Why did he think Archbishop Robert Runcie had chided evangelical Anglicans at the third National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1987 that
‘If the current evangelical renewal in the Church of England is to have a lasting impact, then there must be more explicit attention given to the doctrine of the church’?
Dr Stott gently batted the question back at me, with quiet grace and a faintly sparkling smile. “Why do you think he did?”
I had no sense that he was trying to dodge the question. Rather, like Jesus, he knew that questions could be more deeply explored by asking further questions. He wasn’t short of answers himself, and for those who want to know, it is worth reading his book The Living Church.
Farewell, then, in this life, to one of the most gracious, compassionate and hard-thinking evangelical Christians to have come to prominence in the last century. May more of us in that tradition seek to emulate his example.
If you believed the media, nearly all of us are getting excited about the Royal Wedding on Friday week. Well, not all of us: I noticed that BBC1 are showing a repeat of Shrek that afternoon, and the wedding in that cartoon is more appealing to me.
Not that I wish Wills and Kate any ill-will. Trial by media and marriage by media: no fun. They really do need prayer for a long and happy marriage.
But the coverage of all the royal frills will encourage all the existing wrong expectations people have of weddings. No expense spared – even if you haven’t got a royal budget. All about the day, rather than the life – the wedding, rather than the marriage. A focus on the couple, rather than on the mutual sacrifice that a marriage requires, as Giles Fraser recently got into trouble for saying on Radio 4′s Thought For The Day. The coverage of who’s attending – whereas, as Maggi Dawn recently commented, all you need is the vicar, the couple and two witnesses.
So it was a joy today to register a very different wedding. The bride runs a toy library that uses the hall of one of my churches. A year ago she found faith in Christ through an Alpha Course run by the local New Frontiers church, who worship on Sundays in a local secondary school. But without anyone haranguing her, she came to the conclusion that it was wrong in the sight of God to be living with her partner outside marriage. So at 11 am today she was married, and at 12 noon (in the building of another local church) she was baptised.
It was wonderful to co-operate with her pastor on the marriage ceremony. No trimmings – both bride and groom had had that for their first marriages, and they knew it made no difference. A simple service, with about twenty friends and family present. Not even any hymns, but some worship music on CD – even if the laptop misbehaved for the music during the signing of the register!
I think I’ll remember today’s wedding for longer than next week’s.
Today, Rebekah headed off for a two-day sleepover with her old childminder, ‘Aunt’ Pat. She will be spoiled rotten have some belated birthday treats, including her first ever ice skating trip and her first visit to the cinema. Debbie took her down to Kent today, leaving Mark and me to have ‘boys’ time’ together. I never want Mark to feel he has a distant father – I’ve seen the damage that causes – so this was a great opportunity.
Our time was constrained by having to wait in for a Tesco delivery, but after that arrived and I had put it all away (no help from Monkey Boy, who was too busy reading and writing), we decided upon an early lunch and a trip to town.
One snag: Debbie had driven off with both the children’s car seats in her car, leaving me unable to drive Mark safely and legally into town. However, we made a virtue of that. I researched bus times, and we walked to the nearest stop to catch one into the bus station.
(In passing, Chelmsford’s bus station was infamous when it was first opened two years ago. Someone had the splendid idea of locating it almost opposite the train station. Someone else made the mistake of designing it so that buses couldn’t turn properly. A blame game between the Borough Council and the County Council proceeded. Fortunately, it’s fine now.)
In readiness for our trip to town, I had printed off a map of the town centre from Streetmap. Mark wanted to indulge his current favourite pastime: spotting CCTV cameras. My task as his humble assistant was to mark every single one he saw on the map. He also likes to spot burglar alarms and satellite dishes, but thankfully he didn’t look for them as well today. As it was, every few seconds, he would point, jump and squeak in a frequency more congenial to canine ears, “CCTV!”
The height of the obsession was when we passed a jeweller’s in the High Street. Mark recognises the yellow sign warning burglars that cameras are fitted at a premises. He saw the sticker on the door of the jeweller’s, and dragged me in to find the cameras. I don’t know what the staff thought: was a four-year-old casing their joint? Or was he a stooge for the strange man with him?
Eventually, after a roundabout ride, visits to both branches of Waterstone’s and a bag of doughnuts, he tired and wanted to head home for some milk.
So what do we make of his behaviour, and how can I use it as a sermon illustration? Is he:
(1) showing early signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? If so, does this reflect the things we obsess on in churches?
(2) majoring on minors? Again, think about the subject of church disputes.
(3) providing a prophetic critique of a troubling phenomenon in our society that shows how little we trust each other?
Oh, by the way. I’m not serious.
More personal news briefly: first of all, two of the key books I wanted for researching views of ordained ministry finally came today from Amazon. Will Willimon‘s ‘Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry‘ and Ritva Williams’ ‘Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church‘.
Secondly, my life on Twitter has exploded since last night. It all started when Maggi Dawn began following my feed. (Heaven knows why she wants to, let alone how she’d come across me, but I’m grateful.) I started looking at who followed her and whom she followed, adding quite a few as I went. All sorts of other followers then started appearing. I’m keeping an eye to make sure they’re not the Twitter version of stalkers. Hopefully not. A number of the people I’ve found provide genuinely useful information. For example, Religious Intelligence has all sorts of interesting news story about religious issues from around the world.
And with that I’ll bid you goodnight as I check the last few tweets that have come in before logging off for the night.
Lawrence Moore has a perceptive piece: Let’s Stop Pretending Suicide Bombers Are Cowards.
Maggi Dawn has this prayer from Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford.
Then there’s this from Tall Skinny Kiwi. I wish I shared his confidence that it was because this nation was doing the will of God. Although in some sense we are, regarding international debt. But was it really a spiritual attack in the light of the G8?
Others can only talk about people who were miraculously protected. Jonny Baker is one who was at home when he should have been in central London. Well, yes, but I’ve heard of at least one known Christian who was killed.
Are we getting over-spiritual and forgetting the timing of the day after the Olympics and the thought that the Games could be disrupted? Is it not more likely due to reasons our nation is already hated, viz a viz Iraq, etc.? Maybe we’ve over-spiritualised the atrocity.
Maggi Dawn has a beautiful post about the appointment of her former vicar as Archbishop of York. Read in particular her account of his ‘enthronement’ service as Bishop for (not ‘of’) Birmingham. This man is good news.
Maggi Dawn has a good post on this subject. Here are the thoughts I posted in response:
Coming from Methodism, which ostensibly holds together both those of a ‘written liturgy’ approach and those who claim to be non-liturgical, and being someone who finds strength in both approaches, I am often reminded of the early twentieth century Congregationalist leader who said that extempore prayer is ‘preaching with eyes closed’. Or I recall visiting friends who in the 1980s were students at Moorlands Bible College. They were on placement with a Brethren Assembly. My friends were Anglican and FIEC by their roots. They were both cynical about the issue of when in the morning service one of the men (and yes, sorry, it was men) would feel led to move into the breaking of the bread. “You watch,” they said, “the Spirit always moves at 11:45.” Sure enough …
Maggi Dawn posted a great quote from Douglas Adams that sums up my thoughts about our forthcoming move. Given that Adams barely saw any purpose to life – at least I read him as existentialist-nihilist – this is a remarkable and beautiful quote.