Monday, February 19, 2007

A Surgical Mentality

I did an interview with Guy Davies, the exiled preacher, that is available here

Guy's blog is well worth frequenting.

The title of this post is an allusion to Martyn Lloyd-Jones conversation with T. T. Shields (an Englishman who ministered in Toronto and became known as the "Canadian Spurgeon").

Lloyd-Jones met Shields during a summer visit to Toronto in the early 1930s. The incident is recorded by DML-J in his Preaching and Preachers, and also by Iain Murray in the first volume of his outstanding biography of the Doctor.

Lloyd-Jones felt that the older man had ruined his ministry by becoming excessively negative and obsessed with polemics. It would not be unkind to say that temperamentally it was T. T. Shields contra mundum.

The conversation was summed up by three incisive remarks by Lloyd-Jones. In reply to the comment that the circulation of his writings went up when he dealt with polemical matters Lloyd-Jones said that two dogs fighting in the street will always draw a crowd.

Shields responded with two remarks. There was biblical precedent for his actions in Paul's denouncing of Peter. Lloyd-Jones countered this by saying that the effect of Paul's rebuke was the winning of Peter. That could not necessarily be said by Shields in his attack on opponents. Shields appealed to Lloyd-Jones' medical background. As a doctor he would see the need for radical surgery. Of course, Lloyd-Jones agreed, but there is such a thing as a "surgical mentality."

In this exchange the Welshman made a telling remark that "you can make mincemeat of the liberals and still be in trouble in your own soul".

A few reflections:

1. How can you avoid a preoccupation with error? I mean the kind of preoccupation that leads to an excessively negative ministry. What are the warning signs? Or are such men so bound by their own perspective that they are happy to justify their calcified ministry. Lloyd-Jones discerned this kind of unhelpful development in Shields. So how can you keep yourself from a "surgical mentality"?

2. Why is it that older ministers generally go in two directions? Some seem to become hardened and increasingly negative. Others become increasingly soft and indulgent.


Highland Host said...

Samuel Rutherford once wrote, 'I am made up of extremes'. Before we criticise him we ought to recognise that we too are made up of extremes.

I do not pretend to have the whole solution to anything, but just a few reflections.

1. Reflect on your preaching and reading. Are you always referring to some error or other to confute it? Is that error one presently rampant?
On reading, are you reading a mix of works, polemical, practical, doctrinal and experimental? What is the mix?

2. Know the problem exists. Examine yourself. Keep asking how you are at the moment, not worrying about how you might be in ten years' time. Do not just react to others' percieved mistakes, but seek to ACT according to the Word of God.

Always ask: Am I contending for the Faith against the errors of the age?
Am I presenting POSITIVE truths?
Is this error one either the people will know about or need to know about because it will affect them?

Martin Downes said...

Good thoughts.

I wondered if your context is one of constant fighting (like if you are a conservative evangelical anglican) you may find it harder to stop swinging punches when in friendlier company.

John said...

Thank you for sitting in Guy's hot seat. I'm very happy to have been directed here and I like what I've read so far.
I suspect that the answer to both your reflections is grace. The tendency to become preoccupied with error shows that we have a need of grace and both the softening and hardening tendencies demonstrate a lack of grace. If Peter could forget the gospel [Galatians 2:11-17] we must expect that we will too. We need to return to the cross daily to meet our need for and to repent of our lack of grace.
Billy Graham's latter-day softness towards outright heretics and Jay Adams's hardness towards Jack Miller (Biblical Sonship) are IMO two sides of the same coin; a beginning with grace and an attempt to continue with law. The meat of Adams's attack is, of course, that Sonship is promoting the need for grace in the Christian life.