David Brooks’s 2004 Op-Ed on John Stott is More Relevant Than Ever


Not all evangelicals are court evangelicals.  Some are Stott evangelicals.

Back in 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks understood that not all evangelicals are the same.  Here is a taste of his op-ed “Who is John Stott?”  The piece is probably better known in some evangelical circles for its closing line: “Not Falwell, but Stott.”

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.

Inviting these two bozos onto “Meet the Press” to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D.H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.

This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don’t blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott’s name hasn’t appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it’s never appeared in many other important publications.

Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I’ve heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.

It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott’s mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus’ life and sacrifice.

Read the rest here.

The best scholarly biography of Stott is Alister Chapman, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford University Press, 2014).

3 thoughts on “David Brooks’s 2004 Op-Ed on John Stott is More Relevant Than Ever

  1. Well, I read the article. I agree that David Brooks is quite optimistic about Stott and the extent of his importance. So I’m not going to read too much into what an article from 2004 has to say about Evangelical Christianity in 2017. But still, this article was valuable to me in that it changed some of my perspectives about that specific denomination. I’d never heard of John Stott before today. Now I think I’ll do some research. At least I know Evangelical Christianity is MORE than just Robertson and Falwell. Even if it is MOSTLY Robertson and Falwell, maybe the tide can shift back to a more reasonable place. That gives me a little bit of hope at least.


  2. I confess I laughed out loud at this line: “If evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose.”

    The number of evangelicals who have even heard of–let alone read–John Stott is infinitesimal.

    Of Brooks’s many weaknesses, I think his most debilitating is his “cockeyed optimism.” He consistently falls prey to wishful thinking.

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  3. Unfortunately, recent behavior patterns indicate that Court Evangelicals make up a greater percentage of the population than Stott Evangelicals. Those of us who agree more with Stott’s flavor of faith can use as many “all true Scotsman” arguments we want; the numbers say that Falwell and Robertson and Graham represent a far greater slice of the Evangelical label than those of us who grieve their rejection of Christ-like behavior.


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