The fourteen month project to catalogue the personal papers of John Stott (1921-2011) and the complementary collection of research papers from his biographer Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith is now complete, with the descriptions full searchable via http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/calmview/ , using the references STOTT* and TDS* for the respective collections.
John Stott’s personal papers primarily document his activities after his time at All Souls Langham Place, focusing as they do on his work as a writer and as a key protagonist in events on the national and international evangelical stage. As previous blog posts (9 July and 11 September 2013) mention, the papers provide rich evidence of Stott’s wide range of professional activities such as his involvement as a founder, supporter and member of a significant number of organisations, including the Church of England Evangelical Council and the Langham Partnership International. However, the papers also crucially provide evidence of the man himself, his personal faith and his convictions. Within papers lent to Bishop Dudley-Smith for the biography, you can find a fascinating file of correspondence referred to by Stott as ‘Pre-Ordination’ (ref. STOTT/11/3/1). The majority of letters concern the efforts of Stott, his teachers and Cambridge tutors to confirm that Stott had formally declared his wish to be ordained prior to September 1939, and therefore that he might be exempt from military service. It was not, however, just a battle for recognition from the War Office – it also involved a concerted effort to justify his decision to his father Sir Arnold Stott, a physician who served in both World Wars and had high hopes for his son’s career. Sir Arnold was concerned that John was both rushing into a career in the Church and neglecting his obligation to serve his country. There is a series of letters from John in which he determinedly sets out how strongly he perceived his calling. In one, featured here, he states that- ‘nothing short of complete conviction would bring me to the decision I have made in view of the sorrow I am causing you…I have had a definite and irresistible call from God to serve him…I would not be writing this unless I were convinced in my own mind’. Furthermore, Stott contrasts his father’s involvement in the physical war, with his own involvement in the spiritual war and suggests to his father – ‘I have been called to the one war, you no doubt the other. Both are service to our country’.
Furthermore, at the time John Stott concluded that he could not, as a Christian, justify fighting in a war. Indeed he made notes, including biblical passages, to support his belief.
Notably though, as time passed and events on the world stage progressed, Stott came increasingly to believe that under certain circumstances the concept of a ‘just war’ could warrant involvement by Christians. However, his alertness to the pitfalls of war were maintained through his involvement in the debate on nuclear weapons. Indeed, this last point directs us to one of the guiding forces of Stott’s ministry, a keen sense of the importance of maintaining the relevance of Christian faith to the modern world, with both the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, established by Stott in 1982, and the four editions of his book ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’, bearing testament to that effort.