Friday, December 30, 2005

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2005

This year I read two of the saddest stories I can recall. The second was Reforming Fundamentalism by George Marsden, a zoom lens view of the demise of evangelicalism told via the history of Fuller Theological Seminary. The first was Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray, a wide-angle lens view of the demise of evangelicalism in the last half of the 20th century. Both stories were captivating to me, at least in the sense that a 10-car accident on the other side of the freeway is captivating. Marsden’s account was thorough and devastating, but he did not write with an agenda, or a specific thesis, as Murray did.

My purpose is not to review either book here, so I’ll not try to restate Murray’s thesis, but rather my response to it. After all, the Paleoevangelical of the Year award is about who influenced me most towards gospel-centered thinking and living. Without question, that person in 2005 was Iain Hamish Murray.

Murray tells the story of how ambitious evangelicals recognized the secularization of Western culture and the Church’s diminishing influence, and how they responded by repudiating their separatistic roots in order to partner with the mainline denominations. Their objective was essentially to evangelize the world through the person of a world-famous front-man (who was a player, not a dupe) and to revitalize those spiritually, numerically, and theologically bankrupt denominations.

They failed. Miserably.

But chances are, you knew that story. Murray’s unique contribution to me is two-fold. First, his documentation is impeccable. This is no screed laced with rumor and innuendo. I’ve looked for critiques from those who would have interest in knocking the blocks out from the foundation of his narrative. The only substantial factual disagreement I can recall of those that I read is tangential and only bolsters the integrity of those who are on his side of the battle. If any readers have encountered reviews that hold any substantial factual disagreement, I would be curious to know of them.

Murray’s second contribution is his tone. He tells the story in a voice that cannot conceal the heaviness of heart with which he writes—a heaviness sourced in two layers of sadness. The first is that the story took place. The second is that it has to be told, and he is the one telling it. Murray documents this slouch towards Babylon with none of the glee of which some past authors have been accused. His story is a burden that he is compelled to bear because of the gospel that demands a defense. I will grant that I may be reading too much into his tone because I heard him interviewed about the book before I read it. I heard a tentativeness and sadness in his voice that may not come across in the book, so I could have carried that presupposition into the reading. Regardless, I need to learn lessons from both of his contributions.

This book ought to be mandatory reading for all evangelical seminary students and pastors. It will not be, because too many seminary leaders are either in love with the aforementioned world-famous front-man, lead institutions with schools named after him, or are shackled by the fear of what their constituencies would say if they told the truth.


But thank you, Dr. Murray, for your courage, your thoroughness, and your willingness to tell a story that needed to be told.


Dan Burrell said...'ve sold me on this book. I'm going to pick it up this week. Thanks for letting us know about it.

Anonymous said...

So this front man you are referring too. He sounds evil. Are you referring to the pope, james dobson, billy graham, or satan. Wait, satan knows the truth about the gospel. It couldn't be him.

Ben said...


You won't regret it. I haven't heard it, but I'm told that Murray presented a summary of his book at the 2001 Shepherd's Conference. It doesn't appear to be available as a download from the conference site, but you may be able to order a CD. is probably a good place to start if you're interested. Otherwise, the interview I mentioned in the post is here for free.