Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, eds. | Review by: Peter Lewis
Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, eds. Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Life and Legacy of 'The Doctor'. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity, 2011. 370 pp. $20.99.
There can be no doubt about the importance of this book. It deserves to stand alongside the two outstanding volumes of Iain Murray’s biography.
The publishers pay great tribute to “the Doctor” on the back cover and describe him as one who “dominates the history of British evangelicalism in the 20th century” and as “perhaps the greatest nonconformist statesman of his generation.” On the wider front, he is “best known as a preacher and mentor of young preachers” who “called the evangelical movement back to a robust Reformed Christianity, with a passion for biblical conviction and Spirit-empowered revival.” They conclude: “His impact upon evangelicalism was immense, and his legacy remains deeply influential.”
After such an appraisal, one might have expected a volume which gathered together the usual statements of appreciation and acclaim. Not so! Here we have 11 chapters by 11 (mostly younger) scholars containing not only in-depth studies and genuine appreciation, but also unhesitating criticism. It is the sort of book that could, perhaps, only be written at this kind of distance from its subject.
Andrew Atherstone, Latimer research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and , lecturer in history at Aberystwyth University, introduce the book with a wide-ranging and sobering essay on “Lloyd Jones and his Biographers,” moving, for instance, between the different assessments of Iain Murray, Gaius Davies, John Brencher, and Christopher Catherwood on aspects of his ministry and influence and with not a few references to hagiography and hero worship among those of us who were close to the Doctor. David Bebbington follows with chapter one, “Lloyd-Jones and the Interwar Calvinist Resurgence”—informative, but in some ways tangential to Lloyd-Jones himself, who “came to Calvinism independently through reading the Welsh fathers of the 18th century revival together with the works of Jonathan Edwards and B. B. Warfield.”
David Ceri Jones gives us “Lloyd-Jones and Wales”—inspiring but also saddening. It tells us of his spiritual influence in creating a Welsh evangelical movement that was robustly biblical in its emphasis and uncompromising in its separatism, but which became “rather inward-looking” and eventually “fragmented."
Ian Randall’s chapter, “Lloyd-Jones and Revival,” contains this golden sentence: “The desire for the glory of God to be known was at the heart of all that Lloyd-Jones said and did” (104). It is both stirring and poignant: poignant because Lloyd-Jones did not live to see the kind of revival he cherished, stirring because of his knowledge of great revivals in the past with their outpourings of the Holy Spirit, their sometimes strange phenomena, and their settled results in generations of godly believers. However, his view of revival is perhaps vulnerable to the criticism that he had one preferred model of revival too much in mind.
Chapter four, “Lloyd-Jones and the Charismatic Controversy,” by Andrew Atherstone, David Ceri Jones, and William Kay, is the longest in the book. It is painstaking and fair in the evidence it presents and in its assessment of Lloyd-Jones’s views. It recognizes both his convictions and his reservations, his ambivalence toward modern movements and his determination to do justice to Scripture and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. It recalls in some detail the turbulence in Reformed circles around his preaching and writing on the baptism, sealing, and witness of the Spirit and certain spiritual gifts, and the many heated exchanges that took place. Thirty years ago the charismatic movement was seen by some as the Great White Hope and by others as the Great Deception. Some of us in the middle still bear battle scars!
Ben Baillie gathers familiar material on “Lloyd-Jones and the Demise of Preaching.” He captures much of the Doctor’s urgency in calling the churches back to biblical standards of preaching and shows his passionate awareness of the damage done by Victorian moralism and the New Theology. However, Ballie might have offered some criticism of the Doctor’s love of hyperbole (was Sangster’s The Craft of Sermon Illustration really an “abomination” that “should be thrown into the fire as soon as possible”? I have heard, and preached, a good many Reformed sermons which would have been a lot more effective with a bit more illustration, not to mention craft!). It is fair to say too that the Doctor’s sometimes extreme criticism of apologetics was often presented in too sharp a contrast with a call to preaching that was too much modeled on 18th-century Welsh Methodism.
Chapters follow on Ministerial Education, on Fundamentalism, on Karl Barth, and on Roman Catholicism in connection with Lloyd-Jones.
But it is, for many, the chapter (10) on “Lloyd-Jones and the Anglican Secession Crisis” by Andrew Atherstone that will attract the greatest interest. It is expertly done and contains an abundance of relevant material, together with a careful and valuable analysis of the differences involved, placing in strong contrast the views of prominent evangelical churchmen like Stott and Packer on the one side and Lloyd-Jones on the other. Whatever the personal views of the author, Atherstone seems to me to crystalize the opposing positions clearly, drawing the line where the Doctor himself would draw it: between the view of the church as national and ecumenical on the one side and the churches as evangelical, gathered, and separated on the other.
The book ends with “Lloyd-Jones and the Protestant Past” by John Coffey. The chapter recognizes the Doctor’s wide-ranging and deep reading of contemporary scholarship, but also maintains that his own brand of historical reflection was “unabashedly utilitarian” and his account of history “avowedly partisan.”
John Coffey recognizes that Lloyd-Jones's influence behind the great Banner of Truth publishing project, with its rediscovery of Puritan and other Reformed treasures, “deepened and enriched the thinking and spirituality of post-war evangelicalism.” However, Coffey also criticizes the Doctor’s perspective as too narrow and displaying an inadequate understanding of important patristic thinking, and the Banner’s choice of books as too selective, clustering around a Dortian Calvinism, neglecting other Protestant streams of thought.
The strongly critical perspective of this chapter is represented in Carl Trueman’s challenging words: “Lloyd-Jones read the Reformed tradition through the grid of 18th-century revivalism; and so the ideal of a learned ministry and the importance of ecclesiology, sacraments, creeds, confessions, and liturgy all tended to be marginalised in his thinking and critiqued through the lens of his pneumatology” (318). So, plenty to argue about there then!
Whatever differences remain in Reformed, and other, readings of history, Coffey is surely right to say in his conclusion: “If Time magazine is correct to see Calvinism as one of the ten big ideas shaping the world in the early 21st century, then Lloyd-Jones (and the institutions he helped to found) was a major contributor to its resurgence.”
However many books you have on or by the Doctor, buy this one: it is like no other.
This review originally appeared in the June 2012 edition of Evangelicals Now.
Peter Lewis is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Church, Nottingham.