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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fight of Faith (Part 2)

This is the final blog on the subject introduced last week. I reproduce the words of Iain Murray in his biography of "Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones - The Fight of Faith 1939-1981" - pages 668 to 671 refer.

"Few voices were to be heard in support of ML-J's contention that the drift within evangelicalism was following the mood of the age but two testimonies from a few years later are worthy of note. In the opinion of Francis Schaeffer: 'A significant section of what is called evangelicalism has allowed itself to be infiltrated by the general world view or viewpoint of our day."¹ What he called 'The Great Evangelical Disaster' was the acceptance of the mentality of accommodation: 'in the most basic sense, the evangelical establishment has become deeply worldly'.²

A second testimony comes from a less expected source. Dr Carl Henry was Editor of Christianity Today and a leading figure in the Billy Graham organization during the period when that organization was commonly regarded as the epitome of the new evangelical strength. ML-J, as we have seen, spoke alone in that period when he expressed to fellow ministers his conviction that the Graham programme was actually weakening historic evangelicalism. Carl Henry's book Confessions of a Theologian is a revealing book in this connexion. Henry saw the image building and the concern for influence with non-evangelicals at close quarters and came at last to the conclusion that 'the evangelical movement looks stronger than in fact it is'.³ 'While evangelicals seek to penetrate the culture, the culture simultaneously makes disconcerting inroads into evangelical life.'4 The truth, as he wrote in 1986, was that evangelicalism was no longer definite about its own message:

The term evangelical during the past fifteen years has become ambiguous through deliberate distortion by critics and needless confusion invited by some of the movement's leaders ... Many evangelicals now measure growth mainly in terms of numbers; distinctions of doctrine and practice are subordinated in a broad welcome for charismatic, Catholic, traditional and other varieties of evangelicals. Theological differences are minimized by evangelical publishers and publications reaching for mass circulation, by evangelists luring capacity audiences and even by evangelism festivals seeking the largest possible involvement. Church growth seminars have even embraced 'miracle-growth' churches that claim to raise the dead and to reproduce all other apostolic gifts. Numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic.5

This brings us to Dr Lloyd-Jones' second reason for the drift in evangelicalism. The compromise with worldly standards of thought had occurred because of the basic spiritual weakness within evangelical churches themselves. In other words, it was ultimately the old problem upon which we have heard him speak repeatedly in these pages. 'Evangelism' and 'influence' had become ends in themselves instead of being seen as the results of the church being true to her calling: the acceptance of expediency and compromise could only mean that prayer, confidence in Scripture and dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit were no longer the great priorities. Evangelicals had ceased to say 'that, if we are faithful, the Holy Spirit has promised to honour us and our testimony, however small our numbers and however despised by "the wise and prudent"'.6

Carl Henry's book gives indisputable evidence on this point. It confirms that the overall policy of the Graham organization (closely parallel to the policy taken up by Anglican evangelicals at Keele) was to attain 'prestige' and influence for evangelicals.7 To do this there had to be a successful image and that would not be possible, it was believed, unless every effort was made to avoid a division with those who did not believe the Bible. Henry speaks of the church's credibility being 'compromised by an evaporation of discipline' and regrets that Graham did not call evangelicals to 'a long, hard look at their need of more comprehensive unity and at the neglected issue of evangelical ecclesiology'. But Graham could not do this because it 'would have seriously complicated relationships of his crusades to ecumenically oriented churches, since he exacted their endorsement as the price of city-wide meetings'.8 The Graham organization, for precisely the same reason as the Anglican evangelicals, was unready to 'forfeit dialogue with the ecumenical leaders and churches'.9 It feared a loss of influence. So it also said one thing and did another. The Berlin Congress of 1966, says Henry, 'exposed the speculative philosophy that underlay pluralistic ecumenism' but, simultaneously, the Graham Crusades were committed to such ecumenism. The direction was set long before the American Festival on Evangelism of 1981, where the participants, writes Henry, included everyone from 'partisans of traditional papal Catholicism' and '150 Protestant denominations' to 'charismatics and establishment conservatives'. In a major understatement, he concludes, the Festival 'did little to clarify the identity of evangelicalism'.10

So ends my citation of Iain Murray's helpful study of the climate within evangelicalism observed by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Dr Carl Henry late last century.

Well, things have not improved to the present day. Indeed, going beyond Dr Henry's point we are left to say that evangelicalism does not penetrate the culture but the culture penetrates evangelicalism. It is all a one-way street with a dark and murky end.

This is a sorry state. It is death. It is death like that of Adam's when he sinned against God, he seemed alive but was estranged from the source of life and, eventually, he was no more. The day fast approaches when the present remnant of evangelicalism still holding to its its original tenets will be a valley of dry bones. What is needed is regeneration, for God to call and empower men to preach to open hearts, hearts receptive to the Word of God to the exclusion of the world's seductions, hearts abounding in number that the culture is overwhelmed by the authority of the Word of God. There has been such activity of God in times and places past. Let us pray earnestly for God to so act now. Lest us pray for an increase in faith - faith in God as he has revealed himself in Word written and Incarnate.

Sam Drucker


1. The Great Evangelical Disaster, 1984, p. 51.
2. Ibid, p. 142. 'What is the use,' he asks, 'of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if sufficient numbers of those under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical?'
3. Confessions of a Theologian, 1986, p. 390.
4. Ibid, p. 388. See also Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, p. 275.
5. Confessions of a Theologian, p.387.
6. Puritans, p. 147.
7. In the years when 'the new evangelicalism' was first being heard, Edward
Darnell of Fuller Seminary wrote to Henry: 'I want to command the attention of Tillich and Bennett; then I shall be in a better place to be of service to the evangelicals. We need prestige desperately.' Marsden's book, op. cit., details the effects which this priority came to have in the history of Fuller Seminary, where Dr Graham was a prominent member of the board of trustees.
8. Confessions of a Theologian, p. 384.
9. Ibid,p. 293.
10. Ibid ,p. 351

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