Billy Graham Center

John Stott, 1921-2011
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Oral History Interview with John Stott, 1986

Keith and Gladys Hunt, long-time staff members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, were working on a history of IVCF in the late 1980s. As part of that project, they interviewed many people involved in ministry among college and university students, including John Stott on June 28, 1986. Below is an excerpt from that interview, in which he talks about his admiration for the methods of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). The Hunts tapes and transcripts can be found in Collection 300 in the BGC Archives. Click here to listen to the audio file of the comments transcribed below.


HUNT: So John Stott is about to tell us something, whatever.

STOTT: Four reasons why I feel committed to the IFES and am deeply thankful to God for the way in which it was originally developed. The first is that from the beginning the founders and leaders of IFES had a vision for the development of a fellowship of independence, autonomous, indigenous national evangelical student movements. And there has never been a day in which IFES was controlled from some distant headquarters in either Europe or the United States. And provided the national movement accepted the doctrinal basis and the general ethos of IFES they were left free to develop their own identity and their own way of doing things and their own program. And in that, I think IFES was several decades in advance of many missions. The second, (I forget the order I spoke of them) is the development of leadership, wasn’t it? National leadership. I’ve been impressed all along by wherever I go in the world by the quality of Christian leadership, in particularly staff members. And although this may be too embarrassing to say and prudent, it was notable at the Lausanne Congress in ‘74 that four or five of the most influential speeches were given by IFES personnel, like Sammy Escobar and Rene Padilla. Thirdly, I think I talked about rational evangelism. I’m not sure that’s a very good word. But although in the end it’s the world that has to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and the emotions have some part to play in the response of the total person to the total Christ, nevertheless biblical evangelism is an appeal to the mind as we see the apostles reasoning people out of scriptures and that the end of their missions Luke says many were persuaded or convinced. So that the apostles preached the gospel because they were convinced that it was true. And we don’t share the gospel with other people simply because we have something to share that has been a help to us and we would like to be a help to them. There is something more profound than the helpfulness of the gospel and that is that it happens to be true. [chuckles] And so IFES I think in its university missions an outrage has been committed to a rational exposition, a systematic rational exposition of the good news in its fullness. And fourthly, I think I mentioned that IFES has never been interested in mere conversions but it has been very concerned to lead the new convert on into mature discipleship particularly through Bible study and prayer. Were those the four things I mentioned?

HUNT: Yes. I think all were very important and appropriate ones. You also summed up your comments on the para church thing which is something in which some people struggle with in our country.

STOTT: Well, I would like to re-read Ralph Winters address at Lausanne. But it was from his address that various things were incorporated into the covenant about the differences between church and para church. The main difference, of course he mentioned this, that the church is a divine institution, a divine creation, and it’s very clear that it’s part of the eternal purpose of God to create the church, the new society of Jesus. Whereas the para church is a human construction (although legitimate under God) it is a human construction. And the second difference is, or secondly what needs to be said about para church organizations is that they are all specialist organizations and that their main justification is that they can specialize in some area in which the churches by themselves cannot. And I gave I think, as the example scripture translation and distribution whether by the United Bible Societies or by the Wycliffe Bible Translators. The church or the churches can’t do that on their own. They need to bring into being, as it were, the specialist organization whose expertise there is. And student evangelism can come under that heading. But having said that, of course, the para church organizations need to accept responsibility to the churches for what they’re doing and mustn’t regard themselves as necessarily as permanent as the churches. Is that the kind of thing you wanted?

HUNT: Uh-huh. I think some advantages too, which you didn’t mention particularly but the advantages having to do with an appreciation of other denominations when you know the people of the denomination.

STOTT: Right.

HUNT: And you get that in para church group.

STOTT: Absolutely. I should have mentioned they are essentially para...they are essentially inter-denominational enterprises.


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