Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: John Stott - The Making of a Leader

There's no doubt about it - this book is an epic! Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith (he of hymnwriting fame), has been very thorough in his research and production of the authorised biography of the English evangelical leader, John Stott. In this book, there are 460 pages of closely written, small text, as the family background, education, and early ministry of John Stott are revealed and discussed.

And yet, those 460 pages only take you to his 40th birthday! There's another volume of much the same size which will remain untackled until some other day, which focuses on his later ministry and 'retirement'.

The thing which strikes you repeatedly as you read the biography is the sheer dedication, commitment and leadership which has shone throughout Stott's life and ministry. Yet perhaps the most important aspect of the book is to show Stott as an entirely 'ordinary' person, with his peculiarities and interests, his humour and his devotion shining through.

Most of us know Stott as a minister, preacher and author, but Dudley-Smith enlargens our vision of Stott to see him behind the scenes, in his family life, and enjoying his birdwatching. Several years ago, Hillsborough Parish created a stir when they appointed the Curate-Assistant to be Rector, yet Stott had been a parishioner of All Souls, Langham Place, before being appointed as Curate-Assistant, then Rector, and now (retired) senior minister.

Through many eyewitness reminiscences and documentary evidences of letters, Dudley-Smith recreates the pressures of family life as Stott grew up, as well as his education - but as far as interest goes, mine was piqued as Stott considered ordination during the Second World War. It created immense disquiet amongst his family - his father working as a medical consultant to the armed forces, grieved by his son's pacifism (in refusing to volunteer to serve in any capacity for the war effort) and by seeking to study for ordination during the war. Personally, it was a great comfort to know of the struggles of another ordinand faced in pursuing ordination, and how things resolved themselves (much) later.

As I've probably hinted earlier, the book is very thorough - with lots of background detail and perhaps a lot more information than the casual reader could endure - but it can be read with profit, and throughout, the gospel is central, both in Stott's life and in Dudley-Smith's presentation of his life. The casual reader may prefer the more recent (and much shorter) biography by Roger Steer, but for indepth detail and analysis of John Stott's early ministry, this is an excellent volume.

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