Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When does heresy become heresy?

Can heresy be heresy before the church or an individual declares it to be heresy? Can orthodoxy be orthodoxy before any definition or declaration is made about it?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We know now there is nothing left to fear

Sinclair Ferguson's sermon 'Can I fully trust you?' on the 23rd Psalm can be found here

It repays careful listening.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The cross has little place in your preaching

Iain Murray recounts a fascinating criticism made of Lloyd-Jones' preaching in the late 1920s.  It was made by a fellow minister when Lloyd-Jones was preaching at a service in Bridgend, South Wales.  Here's the substance of what the Bridgend minister said:
' talk of God's action and God's sovereignty like a hyper-Calvinist, and of spiritual experience like a Quaker, but the cross and the work of Christ have little place in your preaching.'
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, p. 190-191 (emphasis added)

The observation it seems was true.

Lloyd-Jones, speaking at a later date (Murray doesn't indicate when), spoke of how he was like George Whitefield in his early evangelistic preaching, strongly emphasising sin and the rebirth and, intriguingly, saying the following:
'I assumed the atonement but did not distinctly preach it or justification by faith.  This man set me thinking and I began to read more fully in theology.'
Murray comments that this remark 'was to prove of considerable importance in the development of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' ministry.'  In the following paragraphs Murray makes two important points:
The criticism which he heard in Bridgend was thus a fruitful incentive to further thinking. 
In particular, he concentrated upon the doctrines specified by his critic.
To remedy this lacunae in his theology Lloyd-Jones sought the guidance of Rev. Vernon Lewis (who regarded the Doctor's preaching as similar to Karl Barth's).  Lewis recommendations included the works of P. T. Forsyth, James Denney and R. W. Dale.

Several things need to be born in mind in analysing this episode, and in particular the blend of the personal and the cultural.

Lloyd-Jones was not seminary trained.  One could argue that the gaps in his theology were never plugged prior to his entering the ministry, and therefore were only exposed and rectified a few years into his first pastorate.  There is an element of truth in this, although it must be remembered that his burning desire was to be an evangelist in a poor area through the agency of the 'Forward Movement' and its mission halls, the evangelistic wing of the Presbyterian Church of Wales (which of course is what happened).

Even so, had he gone to the denomination's theological training college in Aberystwyth it is far from certain that he would have received an orthodox, confessional education.

From the vantage point of early 21st Century evangelical theology, the plain fact is that there are greater theological resources available, institutionally through seminaries, publishers, model preachers, conferences, and much of it mediated the internet, than Lloyd-Jones ever had at his disposal.

Yet, for all the gains in the evangelical world that have massively strengthened our grasp of the cross and the work of Christ, one wonders whether the personal narrative of individuals as their theological deficiencies are discovered are treated with the same eye to growth and development as this episode indicates.  Look again at the key words: 'the cross and the work of Christ have little place in your preaching'...'I assumed the atonement but did not distinctly preach it or justification by faith'.

It would have been easy, as a hearer, to dismiss Lloyd-Jones, and even to rail against his deficient theology, and that in our time from a much more influential platform of social media.

Lloyd-Jones' response is also instructive.  His response to this criticism was to take it to heart.  To think it through, to think more deeply, to consult, to read, to study, to rectify what was lacking, and to do that with lesser resources than we posses today.

Unexplored influences on Lloyd-Jones: The Vision of God

It is relatively straightforward to identify not only the theological influences that shaped the life and ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, but also how and when he came into contact with them.

His church heritage was that of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist fathers of the 18th Century, an atmosphere that shaped his whole spirituality (the two volume work Tadau Methodistiaid, was, writes Iain Murray, constantly in his hands in his early years at Sandfields, Aberavon).

Then there is the specific life-long impact made when he found the two volume 1834 edition of Jonathan Edwards' works in a bookshop in Cardiff in 1929, through to his discovery in Toronto, in 1932, of the ten volumes of B. B. Warfield (although some seventeen years later he acknowledged that reading Warfield had left him unbalanced).

To this we can add his reading of an advertisement for a new edition of The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (in the 8th October 1925 edition of The British Weekly), which lead him to read F. J. Powicke's biography of Richard Baxter, and to a lifelong love of the Puritans.  As a wedding present in early January 1927 he was given second hand sets of the works of John Owen and Richard Baxter.

All of these influences are well known and well explored.  But the following anecdote from Iain Murray is, as far as I am unaware, unexplored.  In his own words Lloyd-Jones acknowledges the impact of Kenneth Kirk's The Vision of God.
Another major work which he read about this period [early 1930s] was The Vision of God by Kenneth E. Kirk, being the Bampton Lectures for 1928, delivered at Oxford where Kirk, nine years later, became Bishop. 
'These lectures,' he commented later, 'had a great effect on me.  Kirk dealt with the pursuit of God and the different methods by which men have sought God, but he did it historically and went right through -- the medieval mystics, the later mystics and so on. 
I found that book absolutely seminal.  It gave me a lot of background.  It made me think.  It helped me to understand the Scriptures and also see the dangers in such movements as monasticism and the anchorites. 
I regard The Vision of God as one of the greatest books which I ever read.'
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, p. 254

It is not clear from the text exactly when Lloyd-Jones made the comments above.  Perhaps it was during the period from 1961 when Iain Murray was intermittently accumulating information, or as late as 1980.

I am not aware of any significant secondary impact made by this book, comparable to that of Lloyd-Jones' commendation of the works of Edwards, Owen, Warfield, or the Tadau Methodistiaid.  

Moreover, I am not aware of any conference address or article that has traced any of the impact of this work either in the sermons and addresses, or the published volumes by the Doctor.  But clearly it did made a significant impact upon his thinking, and it would be interesting to excavate the details of it.

And, as it happens, I came across The Vision of God at Cardiff University Library just two weeks ago.