CHRISTIANITY TODAY talks to the evangelical elder statesman about Third World Christians, charismatics, gender roles, and homosexuality.

An ambassador for Christ: While we are all called to this vocation, John Stott has fulfilled it more than most. From his base, the pulpit of All Souls Church in London, he has preached and forged evangelical alliances throughout the world. The main author of the Lausanne Covenant as well as many influential books, he has pioneered efforts to connect First World Christian resources with Third World needs. We caught up with John Stott as he visited the United States· last year to promote the ministry of the Evangelical Literature Trust, which he describes below. Since he is a former columnist for CHRISTIANITY TODAY (1977–81) and is widely recognized as one of the patriarchs of the evangelical movement, we asked him to comment on a range of issues confronting the church today.

Not many of our readers are familar with the Evangelical Literature Trust. Could you describe its mission?

ELT came into being in 1971 as a way of handling my own royalties. I then asked some friends to join me. Ifelt that there is something appropriate about recycling money earned through literature into the production and distribution of more literature, especially for the Third World. I remember a Christian youth worker in Soweto whose eyes, when I presented him with a book, filled with tears. He said it was the first Christian book he ever possessed apart from the Bible.

Our main concern is to raise the standards of discipleship by raising the standards of preaching. First, we have 10,000 graduate pastors to whom we send two books every year. Second, we have 50,000 nongraduate pastors for whom we select two much simpler books to send. Third, we make a grant to 700 seminaries in the Third World and Eastern Europe and send them a book list of the most important evangelical volumes that we think they should consider having. Fourth, we offer seminarians five or six basic reference books for a nominal fee; we send out about 10,000 sets every year. Fifth, we have a list of 100 Third World scholars for whom we provide a grant so they can order a dozen or more books a year. And sixth, we make grants to publishers, particularly in the Third World. Those are the six main projects.

Has your work in the Third World affected your study of Scripture?

There’s no doubt that it has. One of the great barriers to our understanding the Word of God is our own cultural defenses. If we’re not careful, all we will hear in our Bible reading are the echoes of our own cultural prejudices. We need to cry to God to break through our biases. One way to facilitate that is to become familiar with another culture, either by travel or by friendships, so that we then become critical of our own culture. For that reason, I believe every Christian ought to be an internationalist. Paul is our model here, in that he was familiar with three cultures: Jewish, Roman, and Greek.

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How would you assess the current health of the evangelical movement?

The postwar resurgence of evangelicalism in Britain has been remarkable. When I was ordained in 1945, evangelicals in the Church of England were a tiny, despised minority. I’ve seen us grow in numbers, in scholarship, in cohesion, and in influence. Today, what worries me more than anything else is (as somebody else has said) that evangelicals are less a party than a coalition. I’ve been concerned for and committed to the unity of the evangelical movement all my life. But now I see it breaking up or in danger of breaking up.

How is the movement dividing?

One of the chief divides is between charismatics and noncharismatics. If I were younger, I would take more initiative in seeking to bring charismatic and noncharismatic leaders together for some theological work to see if we couldn’t find a common basis for united action, which I believe we could.

Take the signs-and-wonders movement, for example. There are two extreme positions. The first is to deny that there are ever any miracles today, which puts God in a straitjacket. The opposite extreme is to make miracles the norm for the Christian life, saying that every Christian ought to be engaged in miracle working. Now, in between those two extremes, we surely ought to be able to agree to be absolutely open to the miraculous without pressing people into the extreme position of saying that every disease can be miraculously healed.

One of the major debates in the church today is gender roles. Is there a biblical view of masculinity and femininity, and if so, what is it?

I want to begin not with gender roles but with sexual equality. We must affirm as strongly as we possibly can that men and women are equal before God by creation, and even more equal, if there are degrees of equality, by redemption: in Christ there is neither male nor female. Anything we go on to say about roles, responsibilities, and ministries must be seen in the light of this absolute equality of dignity and value and relationship to God. Men and women are equal bearers of the divine image and equal sharers in the earthly dominion.

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But then I can’t dismiss masculine headship in the cavalier way in which some evangelical feminists do. There is something in the Pauline teaching about headship that cannot be ignored as a purely cultural phenomenon, because he roots it in Creation. We may find his exegesis of Genesis 2 difficult—that women were made after men, out of men, and for men—but he does root his argument in Creation. I have a very high view of apostolic authority. I don’t feel able to reject Paul’s exegesis.

We are left with two questions: What does headship mean? And what does it forbid? I don’t find it easy to answer either of those questions, but I wish we could focus on them, because that’s where the debate really is.

The issue of homosexuality preoccupies the church today. How would you assesss this debate?

I think the debate about homosexuality has been fouled up. Partly it’s our fault. Evangelical protagonists have tended to concentrate on the prohibitions in Leviticus and in the Sodom and Pauline passages. I think that’s a great mistake, mainly because the gay lobby is very clever in trying to argue that all six prohibitions are special cases.

What we need to do is to argue that Creation establishes heterosexual monogamy as the norm. In Genesis 2:24, which is the biblical definition of marriage (“Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh”), we see that the only “one-flesh” experience that God approves or intends is in monogamous, permanent heterosexual marriage. It is also very important that Jesus quoted that verse. He said, “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother”; then he added his own endorsement, “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4–6). What has God joined together? Answer: male and female. Jesus endorsed the male/female union in marriage.

Now the interesting thing is that in [Episcopal Bishop] John Shelby Spong’s book [Living in Sin?], none of this is mentioned anywhere. There is no reference to Genesis 2:24, to Creation, to the endorsement of Jesus. But that surely is our strongest argument.

Also, I think we have got to distinguish between the church’s official teaching on the one hand and the teaching of an eccentric minority on the other. What Bishop Spong teaches embarrasses me as an Episcopalian, but I am able to say, Well, that is one individual’s view. He may have a following, but it is not the official view of the church. If it ever became the official view of the Anglican church, I would find it very difficult to stay in. But I’m confident it won’t.

Loren Wilkinson is the writer/editor of Earthkeeping in the ’90s (Eerdmans) and the coauthor, with his wife, Mary Ruth Wilkinson, of Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard (Servant). He teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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