I've been musing on this for the last few months, sparked by my prep for a talk at a Langham consultation last Autumn. It's rather snowballed since, and so just as I was about to post about it, I kept finding something else to add or think about. This is just the beginning of something bigger, I suspect. I will post some of the parallels in the writing of these two men, but for now, here is an infographic summarising the extraordinary parallels between John Stott and his great hero, Charles Simeon of Cambridge. (See below for download links)
I'm certainly not the first to have spotted the similarities. US preacher John Piper reflected on the fact back in 1989.
Simeon never married. I have found only one sentence about this fact. H.C.G. Moule said he "had deliberately and resolutely chosen the then necessary celibacy of a Fellowship that he might the better work for God at Cambridge" (Moule, 111). I find it interesting that John Stott, who is also an evangelical Anglican and Cambridge grad, and long-time pastor and celibate, has a great admiration for Simeon and wrote the introduction for Multnomah Press's collection of Simeon's Sermons. Stott is a latter-day Simeon in other ways as well - for example, his social concern and his involvement in world evangelization through the Lausanne movement.
There is no doubt that John learned enormous amounts from his great forebear. But it is hard to resist the conclusion that he specifically modelled himself on him as well. He called himself a "Simeon man" after all There are a number of similarities which are mere coincidences (such as social background, and the Cambridge connection); but there are other parallel aspects which must have been deliberate. Not only did John pick up much of his commitment to expository preaching from Simeon, he consciously echoed some of the ways in which Simeon impacted gospel ministry in the UK and far beyond.
It seems to me that one of the big challenges of following on from any 'great' is how you handle the legacy. Other than simply trying to ignore it, you can do one of two things:
The danger with the former is that times have changed, rendering the same things obsolete. The danger with the latter is that there are always risks involved in doing new stuff - you might get it all wrong.
What was remarkable about Simeon's influence was that John did many different things but with the same kinds of convictions and objectives. Both were committed to reviving biblical, evangelical ministry within Anglicanism (at times when Anglicanism seemed to be dry and dying), but both were entirely at ease working with evangelicals of all shapes and subcultures from other denominations and other nations. Both had a real gift for friendship, but both were able to think, plan and create new institutions and projects. Both were resolutely committed to global mission, both lived simply and unspectacularly.
It's fair to say that Uncle Charles was a much better dresser than Uncle John, and was perhaps the finer orator! But the influence on John's lasting legacy - the Langham Partnership which I'm privileged to work with- is very clear (as I tried to show on this infographic, helped by my friend and boss, Paul Windsor). Coincidentally, I was also very pleased to meet Robert Kinney from the Charles Simeon Trust at an event last week - I hope that we'll be able to work together at some point - so it's only right to give them a hat-tip as well.
I'm going to do a follow up post soon with some of their theological parallels. But if you want to read more, here are a few interesting articles and posts.
It seems appropriate to end this post by combining Simeon's memorial plaque in Holy Trinity with Uncle John's grave in Dale cemetery, West Wales. The similarities are no coincidence.