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Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Fight of Faith (Part 1)

We press on with understanding drift evangelicalism into demise and advise that we have to look back at past events to see how the decline has taken effect. Earlier blogs went back to the Nineteenth Century but more recent blogs draw from events surrounding a key figure in the evangelical church in the Twentieth Century.

Such a figure was most certainly Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the excellent biography of Dr Lloyd-Jones by Iain Murray (subtitled 'The Fight of Faith 1939-1981)gives important insights into why the evangelical church in England and even as far away as the Sydney Episcopalian Church is today in such poor health. I provide an extract from pages 665-668 in Part 1 now and Part 2 from pages 668-671 shortly. I shall not provide my own comments until Part 2:

"When major changes occur in the history of the church such as the doctrinal slide in England of the 1960's and 70's there are always major reasons. In ML-J's view two things principally explained why this occurred as it did.

First, it happened because of the degree to which the spirit and attitudes of the world had penetrated the church. It was no accident that evangelicalism began to favour openness and to repudiate 'exclusiveness' at the very period when the prevailing climate of opinion was against dogmatism in every field of knowledge: even science had lost its one-time near infallibility. The contemporary mood was against all absolutes. Almost all beliefs in society at large had become of only 'relative' value, none could be said to be definitely right or wrong. Religion was acceptable in terms of human experience, not in terms of any revelation from heaven. 'Experience', not truth, was now central. Describing the general situation as he saw it in 1971, Dr Lloyd-Jones said:

There is a very obvious reaction at the present time against intellectualism. .. This is found among the students in America, and increasingly in this country. Reason is being distrusted and set on one side. Following D. H. Lawrence many are saying that our troubles are due to the fact that we have over-developed our cerebrum. We must listen more to our 'blood' and go back to nature. And so turning against intellectualism, and deliberately espousing the creed of irrationality, they yield themselves to the desire for 'experience', and place sensation above understanding. What matters is feeling and enjoyment; not thought. Pure thought leads nowhere

Instead of seeing the danger, evangelicals accommodated themselves to the change as though it could serve the interests of their own cause. The popular culture was openly appealed to for justification of major change in the life and witness of the church. The old 'written culture', it was said, was dying. There had to be a new appeal to the eye and to the senses: 'It is surely the job of this generation of Evangelicals to recreate the dramatic and poetic means of passing on guidance in the spiritual, ethical and social life of man.'² The leading role in the introduction of this change was taken by David Watson of York who saw 'the potential for marvellous communication' in music, dance and drama. 'The reason why I travel with a team,' he later wrote, 'gifted as they are in the performing arts, is that they are able to communicate the Gospel much more effectively than I could with mere words.' He criticized 'much western Christianity' for concentrating 'almost exclusively upon the mind'. 'Most churches rely heavily on the spoken or written word for communication and then wonder why so few people find the Christian faith to be relevant.'³

There were many variations in this new emphasis. In the groups where tongues-speaking was prominent the anti-intellectual approach disarmed any criticism of the widespread use of 'language' which no one understood. Hocken represents a common view in regarding 'baptism with the Spirit' as of divine origin because its reception bypassed the mind: 'Not being first mediated through human understanding, it involves a directness of encounter with the living God'.4

This same influence not only switched attention from preaching to 'sharing', it came to justify a massive change in what was now considered warranted in the singing and music of services and evangelistic meetings. Worship was 'liberated'. It was plausibly proposed that sound, rhythm and the form of lyrics be brought closer to what was popular in the everyday world. The early development of this change drew some critical comment in the Christian press. 'Countryman' wrote of how the Filey Christian Convention in 1967 had become 'Swinging Filey', 'with a Sunday afternoon sacred concert; a fresh beat to the music and a drum-roll in the middle of "Praise my soul, the King of heaven".'5 At the Evangelical Alliance Assembly meetings in London the following year, the platform was given one evening to the youth who presented the 'Why Generation'. Commenting on this event, Tim and Doreen Buckley, instructors in music at the London Bible College, wrote in The Life of Faith of the impression gained by friends who had attended: 'The programme was intended to show how to communicate in the '6o's, but the decibels of sheer noise made it impossible to distinguish either the tune or the words of the first three items. If this is '68 communicating, our friends, who are not "squares", were not communicated to . . ."6

But criticisms such as these were few and far between and the 1970's saw changes in the content and conduct of public worship on a scale scarcely imaginable a few years earlier. ML-J traced this same change to the effect of a popular culture which wants 'sensation' and feeling and is against stress 'on the intellect and the understanding'. Speaking on one occasion of how this spirit 'militates very much against the kind of thing for which we stand in the Evangelical Library' he went on:

In this country the form which it takes, perhaps most of all, is what is known as the charismatic movement. . . The emphasis is upon experience and feeling, and a type of service with much singing, but not the singing of the kind of hymns that are to be found in the Evangelical Library, nor the hymns written by the men whose biographies are in the Evangelical Library! They have their own hymns and choruses . . .7

Making a similar point about the way in which Christians were being influenced by the spirit of the world, he said at another Library meeting:

The days in which we live are characteristic of superficiality, the cry is for entertainment and endless meetings, music, drama, dancing, etc. but a solid life and witness cannot be built up that way."8


1. The State of the Nation, BEC Address, 1971, p.16.
2. Evangelicals Today, p.101.
3. David Watson, I believe in the Church, 1978, and You Are My God, 1983, where these themes are pursued at length. For ML-J's opposition to this see his address on 'Preaching' in Puritans, p. 373.
4. One Lord, One Spirit, One Body, 1987, p. 44
5. English Churchman, October 13, 1967.
6. The same writers urged readers to obtain the WR for October 1968 v8 v
contained ML-J's sermon, 'Melody and Harmony' on Ephesians 5:19 (preached
in 1959); it 'leaves one in no doubt as to where this preacher stands as regards modern trends in music'.
7. The Evangelical Library Bulletin, Spring 1978, pp.9-10.
8. Ibid, Spring 1975, p.6.

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