Deerfield, IL — The 2019–2020 recipients of the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement are Gavin Ortlund, Wesley Vander Lugt, Ryan O’Dowd, Mike Woodruff, Ben Dockery, Matt O’Reilly, Greg Gilbert, and Rafael Bello. This year, the Creation Project is focusing upon the topic of divine action, and these churches will be engaging the topic in ways that attend to the intersection of theology and science in the church.

Divine Action, Modern Science, and the Church

While divine action is an important theoretical question at the intersection of theology and science, raising questions like how God relates to the world, it is also deeply pastoral. This year’s pastors demonstrated this in their proposals, pastorally attending to the topic of divine action through focus on topics like miracles, prayer and medicine, ecological scarcity, and human freedom and mental health. Indeed, no Christian walks very long in the faith before confronting questions of God’s providence.

In his 1991 award-winning commentary on Acts, John Stott writes:

If, then, we take Scripture as our guide, we will avoid opposite extremes. We will neither describe miracles as ‘never happening,’ nor as ‘everyday occurrences,’ neither as ‘impossible’ nor as ‘normal.’ Instead, we will be entirely open to the God who works both through nature and through miracle.

Though this was written nearly thirty years ago, the challenge remains today: How do we avoid these opposite extremes? What does it look like for God to work both through nature and through miracle? And how are both of these things expressions of his providential care for the world? These and other questions present an urgent challenge to the church, and the challenge is not only theoretical, but also concrete and pastoral. And now, just as then, it is pastors who are laboring to instruct their congregations to walk in the way of the Lord, including what Scripture teaches about God’s ongoing care and providence in and for his creation.

The Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement is the Creation Project’s primary program that happens within congregations. In addition to advancing theological understanding through teaching, lectures, and preaching, the Stott Award also fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and interaction on topics at the intersection of modern science and Christian theology. We are pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s Stott Award.

2019–2020 Recipients

The Award is given to six pastors and congregations each year, and the Award recipients are determined on a competitive basis. This year’s recipients include a range of denominations: ACNA, American Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, Evangelical Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist. They also come from across the U.S.: Alabama, California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, and North Carolina.

First Baptist Church of Ojai (ABC) is located in Ojai, California. Gavin Ortlund has been the Senior Pastor for just over a year. He has a PhD in historical theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.  


Warehouse 242 (EPC) is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Wesley Vander Lugt has been the Lead Pastor for six years. He holds a PhD in theology, imagination, and the arts from the University of St. Andrews.  


Bread of Life Anglican Church (ACNA) is located in Ithaca, New York. Ryan O’Dowd has been the Pastor for nine years. He has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Liverpool.  


Christ Church Lake Forest (Non-Denominational) is located in Lake Forest, Illinois. Mike Woodruff has been the Senior Pastor for over 15 years. He has an MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Ben Dockery has been the Campus Pastor for two years. He has a PhD in leadership and higher education from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


Hope Hull United Methodist Church (UMC) is located in Hope Hull, Alabama. Matt O’Reilly has been the Pastor for one year. He holds a PhD in New Testament from the University of Gloucestershire.  


Third Avenue Baptist Church (SBC) is located in Louisville, Kentucky. Greg Gilbert has been the Senior Pastor for nine years. He has an MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently working on his PhD there. Rafael Bellow is a Group Leader at Third Ave, and he has a PhD in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  



The Creation Project will span three years—each covering a distinct theme and set of issues—and five programs, directed toward academic and ecclesial engagement with the doctrine of creation in all of its historical, theological, and scientific complexity. The project’s academic engagement is committed to making progress in understanding about where the conflict between the current state of scientific inquiry and classic theological positions is real and where it is illusory. The ecclesially oriented programs aim to revive the importance and breadth of the doctrine of creation beyond the narrow set of questions to which it has too often been reduced, to promote biblical fidelity and thoughtful interpretation, and to demonstrate a form of Christian intellectual hospitality that approaches the difficult questions of our age with a posture of humility and in pursuit of greater understanding.

The Stott Award is one of the Creation Project’s three major programs, and the one most directly related to pastors and congregations. Through the provision of financial resources and year-long institutional support, the Stott Award supports pastoral and congregational engagement with the doctrine of creation in conversation with modern scientific understanding. If you wish to learn more about the award, visit the Stott Award webpage, or contact us at [email protected].

The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding is dedicated to the advancement of Christian wisdom in all areas of life and thought for the glory of God, the good of his church, and the welfare of the world. As an outreach ministry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, the Center embodies the vision of Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), a long-time faculty member at Trinity, which promotes the need for evangelical collaboration and commitment to God’s Word, where scholars with expertise in the relevant areas can work together to engage the pressing challenges of the day.