If you entered the evangelical world when I did, in the 1980s, you were immediately introduced to a Hall of Fame whose inhabitants, some living, some dead, and representing a variety of denominations, had a somewhat uniform presence in the various churches: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer, Martin Lloyd Jones, even an Anglo-Catholic such as Dorothy Sayers and a Roman Catholic such as G.K. Chesterton. And, of course, John R.W. Stott, who fell asleep in the Lord today at age 90.
Stott was an evangelical Anglican who for many years preached at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, where no matter the controversy then roiling the Church of England you would always hear the Gospel, and the utter centrality of the Cross. In fact, Stott’s most significant contribution as a teacher may have been his classic work entitled just that, The Cross of Christ, a thorough and biblical defense of the penal-substitution theory of the atonement. In other words, in answer to the question, “What exactly happened on Calvary? What exactly did Jesus accomplish?” penal substitution replies: “Jesus took upon himself the just judgment and punishment due sinners. He accomplished the salvation of those who believe.”
This contentious doctrine continues to drive many up the walls, eliciting some of the most hysterical (in all senses of the words) reactions from Christians who come from traditions that construe the atonement in other ways. Stott never denied that Scripture pictures Christ’s death as multi-dimensional (as Savior, he is also our liberator, model, and healer), only that the minute you lose sight of His role as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, you have lost the key that unlocks the mystery of the Incarnation and how and why God saves. (Stott also riled critics with his belief in annihilationism. But that’s another story.)
If you haven’t yet read The Cross of Christ, make a note to correct this lapse. It is a great contribution to the Church, one that will continue to engender lively debate, and from a man whose energetic defense of the faith will long outlive the carping of detractors.