Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 1: On Evangelistic Campaigns)

In February, 1980, Christianity Today published an interview of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, conducted by Carl F. H. Henry. Lloyd-Jones died a year later.

Although I've known of the interview for a while, today I tracked it down in the seminary library and read it. To the best of my knowledge, it's not available online, but I'd encourage you to make a note to yourself to find the issue next time you're around a seminary or church library with back issues. I think you'll appreciate the way his steel convictions just refuse to bend under Henry's questions that seem at times to well with incredulity.

I'm not going to reproduce the whole article. I would like to post some of the parts I found most significant in a brief series. I think you'll find some points of contact with the kinds of things we've been talking about here. On to part 1:
Q: You and I met in 1966, I believe, to discuss the prjected Berlin World Congress on Evangelism. You declined to be either a participant or observer. You were also, I think, the only minister of a major church in London that did not cooperate in the Graham crusades? What kept you on the sidelines?

A: This is a very vital and difficult matter. I have always believed that nothing but a revival—a visitation of the Holy Spirit, in distinction from an evangelistic campaign—can deal with the situation of the church and of the world. The Welsh Presbyterian Church had roots in the great eighteenth-century evangelical revival, when the power of the Spirit of God came upon preachers and churches, and large numbers were converted. I have never been happy about organized campaigns. In the 1820s a very subtle and unfortunate change took place, especially in the United States, from Azahel Nettleton's emphasis on revival to Charles G. Finney's on evangelism. There are two positions. When things were not going well, the old approach was for ministers and deacons to call a day of fasting and prayer and to plead with God to visit them with power. Today's alternative is an evangelistic campaign: ministers ask, "whom shall we get as evangelist?" Then they organize and ask God's blessing on this. I belong to the old school.

Q: What specific reservations to you have about modern evangelism as such?

A: I am unhappy about organized campaigns and even more about the invitation system of calling people forward. Mark you, I consider Billy Graham an utterly honest, sincere, and genuine man. He, in fact, asked me in 1963 to be chairman of the first Congress on Evangelism, then projected for Rome, not Berlin. I said I'd make a bargain: if he would stop the general sponsorship of his campaigns—stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on the platform—and drop the invitation system, I would wholeheartedly support him and chair the congress. We talked for about three hours, but he didn't accept these conditions.

I just can't subscribe to the idea that either congresses or campaigns really deal with the situation. The facts, I feel, substantiate my point of view: in spite of all that has been done in the last 20 or 25 years, the spiritual situation has deteriorated rather than improved. I am convinced that nothing can avail but churches and ministers on their knees in total dependence on God. As long as you go on organizing, people will not fall on their knees and implore God to come and heal them. It seems to me that the campaign approach trusts ultimately in techniques rather than in the power of the Spirit. Graham certainly preaches the gospel. I would never criticize him on that score. What I have criticized, for example, is that in the Glasgow campaign he had John Sutherland Bonnell address the ministers' meetings. I challenged that. Graham replied, "You know, I have more fellowship with John Sutherland Bonnell than with many evangelical ministers." I replied, "Now it may be that Bonnell is a nicer chap than Lloyd-Jones—I'll not argue that. But real fellowship is something else: I can genuinely fellowship only with someone who holds the same basic truths that I do."

9 comments:

Bruce McKanna said...

Whitefield...
Wesley...
Finney...
Moody...
Graham...
???

Evangelicalism started as a movement within/alongside/outside the established church. Its evangelists have been the major figures in the movement more often than its pastors. This has resulted in a poor ecclesiology and often a weak understanding of salvation, focusing on conversion (the crisis moment of decision; justification isolated from sanctification) rather than discipleship (a life of repentance, faith, and holy living; justification distinct but inseparable from sanctification).

This does not mean that those listed above were not used of God to see the salvation of many people. It is simply to say that they should not be the paradigm for healthy Christian life and ministry.

It's not made explicit in your excerpt, but what I hear the Doctor calling for is a church-based, elder/pastor-led, congregationally oriented appeal for divine intervention, which is in contrast with the amorphous cooperative of churches that center around a personality and do not have any sort of biblical structure, discipline, or control.

When we look for God to work, let us think in terms of the church, not dynamic individuals. Even when Paul, the greatest evangelist of the New Testament, began with evangelism, he was working toward the establishment of a congregation of believers.

G-Harmony said...

Thanks for posting this, Ben.

Josh said...

There is an excerpt, actually I think it's the exact portion you've reproduced here, online at this address: http://www.misterrichardson.com/mlj-int.html

I'm reading MLJ's "Preaching and Preachers" right now. I just finished Stott's "Between Two Worlds". I wish I would have set Stott aside sooner and started reading MLJ. His book is far better. (though I did love the last chapter of Stott's book)

Dave said...

Thanks for posting this. Two thoughts:

1. He is dead on about our tendencies to look for the answer in organization, etc. It seems that we are always looking to our ideas, ingenuity, and industry to do what only God can do. My conscience was pricked as I read it.

2. (Bruce) I don't think that Whitefield should be put in the same category as those others, and it is clear that DMLJ did not think so either--he looked at Whitefield as an example of what we need (vs. the Graham/Finney model). I do agree, however, with your main point and Jonathan Edwards is a good example of it (in terms of pastoral leadership in genuine revival).

Chris Anderson said...

Fascinating. Thanks, Ben.

It's interesting that he agreed with fundamentalists on the sponsorship/fellowship issue, but far outdistanced them in the soteriology/invitation issue. We (speaking broadly) have been little different from Graham when it comes to decisionism, and that's a shame.

BTW, what a great example of contending for the faith in a gentlemanly manner. Forthright without being mean-spirited.

Bruce McKanna said...

I forgot to include Billy Sunday to my list.

Dave, my point was not that the big-name evangelists I listed were all bad, but to say that that the effect of their high-impact ministry (big numbers in terms of crowds and conversions, dramatic preaching, and much spectacle) has shaped the way evangelical Christians think about our faith. Too often evangelicals don't think in terms of the church (i.e., local congregations with duly appointed leaders with spiritual maturity, discernment, and responsibility for oversight) as the primary means for reaching the lost.

So, yes, to lay my cards on the table [Can I say that on a fundamentalist blog?], I think Whitefield had a better theology than the rest of those mentioned, but I think the rest of them had the gospel, though some were more flawed than others in their understanding and practice. But I would want to say, as you mentioned, that a congregation-based revival such as Edwards experienced is far more consistent with a full-orbed theology (i.e., one that includes not only an understanding of "believers" but the significance of the "body of believers").

Ben said...

Bruce,

I think I've heard someone else use a similar list--with Sunday on it. Do you have any idea what I'm thinking of?

Josh,

Man I sure wish I had realized that before I re-typed the whole thing. I had seen that excerpt a while back when I was searching for the whole text, but it never occurred to me that my part 1 would be the same as that one.

Ben said...

All,

Great observations. I'm benefiting from reading them.

Bruce,

As long as they're Rook cards.

Chris,

Your point is one reason why I can't stand when movement fundamentalists insist that issues that are historically non-issues in historic fundamentalism ought to be non-issues to us today. That doesn't mean I think it's irrelevant to consider what issues have historically been non-issues, particularly when modern fundamentalists want to make them issues and lie about history. For example, I'm glad Dr. McCune wrote his article on doctrinal non-issues in historic fundamentalism for the DBTS Journal several years ago.

My point is that if fundamentalism wants to say that its essence is an obedient response to what Scripture teaches, we can't define the fundamentals by what a group of people believed and agreed upon several decades ago. They must be defined by what Scripture teaches. Within that context, I sometimes wonder whether some people outside the fundamentalist movement aren't better fundamentalists than many of those who swim in the movement pool.

On second thought, I don't wonder about it. I'm convinced of it.

Bruce McKanna said...

If I saw that list somewhere else, the reference is now in my irretrievable memory.

Each one probably owed his "success" to the evangelistic predecessor to some degree, but there is definitely no direct line of ancestry doctrinally speaking beyond the general designation of "evangelical."