Thursday, April 20, 2006

American Revivalist Fundamentalism and the Demise of Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle (Part 3)

Previous comments have led to a brief discussion of why Spurgeon built bridges to the American revivalist fundamentalists, so I'll open this third post in the series with some quotes from Murray's explanation. I'll not cite each quote in this post, but they are all from pages 229-233 of Iain Murray's The Forgotten Spurgeon. The historical context of the developments Murray describes is the years immediately following the Downgrade Controversy. If you're only going to scan this, pay closest attention to the last quote. I think this is where Murray is most on target.
The circumstances of this painful situation encouraged Spurgeon to put a premium on friends whom he trusted to stand by the Bible as the Word of God, and in men such as Pierson and Moody he saw sympathetic allies in the battle against infidelity. With the survival of supernatural Christianity itself at stake in the pulpits of England, Spurgeon was ready to welcome help from men who, though they might not be committed to historic evanglical Calvinism, were upholding 'fundamentals' . . . It is hard to assess how far Spurgeon was conscious of the fact that the American preachers who followed Moody to England were closer to the school of Finney than to the classic American evangelicalism of Jonathan Edwards and the Princeton men . . . .
So Spurgeon never endorsed Pierson as his successor in the pastorate, but the implication is that he opened the door to it. Murray proceeds:
Little did [Spurgeon] anticipate that in befriending the American visitors, and in giving the impression that in all important respects they were one, he was in some measure preparing the way for the establishment in his own pulpit of a tradition alien to his own. the catholic spirit in which Spurgeon welcomed fellowship with Christians of another evangelical school surely needs no defence; where he did, we believe, miscalculate, was in not foreseeing that out of this alliance, formed in a temporary crisis, a permanent new form of evangelism was to emerge. He regarded Moody as a man who was making a contribution to evangelicalism, he did not assess the extent to which the whole evangelical outlook for a long time to come was to be influenced by 'Moodyism'.
Here's Murray's perspective of the big picture:
Twentieth-century evangelicalism on both sides of the Atlantic was to be a movement in which all that was distinctive of Reformed Christianity dwindled out of sight—it was to be the evangelicalism of 'The Fundamentals' . . . of Keswick, of the Scofield Bible, and of the evangelistic campaign with its apparatus for 'decisions'. To the credit of this movement it must be said that it opposed Modernism and believed in taking the gospel to the masses, but on the debit side its condemnation is that it ignored so much of the historic Christian heritage; it went after new fads—for instance, dispensational premillenialism, and the teaching that the believer is, by faith, to receive the fulness of the Holy Spirit and thus pass from 'carnal Christianity' to 'victorious living'. In general it bred a generation in the evangelical churches who loved anecdotes, humour and music, but knew next to nothing of theology and Confessions of Faith. All this happened because the doctrine of God had been supplanted from its central position in the Biblical revelation and consequently the true Christian vision of the glorification of God—'that God may be all in all'—passed from view.
And here is the crux of his point, which rings altogether true to me:
[T]he manner in which the message was presented to men underwent a change. In their eagerness to 'win' men to Christ, evangelists tended to overlook the fact that for sin to be measured in its true light men must know that they are creatures—dependent upon and obligated to the Creator. In the interests of 'successful evangelism' the emphasis was no longer upon the declaration of the character of God and the claims of his holy law, but upon encouraging men to 'open their hearts to Christ'. The apostolic phrase 'repentance toward God' dropped out of common usage and 'deciding for Christ' became the new comprehensive term.
Part 4 will measure some implications and conclusions.


Ryan Martin said...

Sounds like I need to get this book.

Daniel Calle said...

This biography about Spurgeon by Murray is the best that I read about the Prince of Preachers

Matthew LaPine said...

Very interesting, thanks for posting this.

Ben said...

As clarification for those who may not be familiar with the book, it's a partial biography of what Murray argues are overlooked aspects of Spurgeon's theology and ministry.

Although he's often pictured as some sort of theological teddy bear, Spurgeon was tough as nails in three key controversies—over Arminianism, baptismal regeneration, and modernism in the Baptist Union (the Downgrade Controversy).