Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 3: On Christians and the Social-Cultural Mandate)

This is my favorite part. I think the reason will be obvious to any regular readers.
Q: What do you think Christianity ought to say to the economic situation today?

A: I think the great message we must preach is God's judgment on men and on the world. Because man is a sinner, any human contrivance is doomed to fail; the only hope for the world is the return of Christ—nothing else. It amazes me that evangelicals have suddenly taken such an interest in politics; to do so would have made sense 50 or 100 years ago, but such efforts now seem to me sheer folly, for we are in a dissolving world. All my life I've opposed setting "times and seasons," but I feel increasingly that we may be in the last times.

[Discussion of the Jewish return to Jerusalem and the imminence of the end time omitted.]

Q: Would you agree that even if we might have only 24 or 48 hours, to withhold a witness in the political or any other arena is to withdraw prematurely from the social responsibility of the Christian and to distrust the providence of God? Might he not do something even in the last few hours that he had not done before? The closer we get to the end time, isn't it that much more important to address public conscience? Must we not press the claims of Christ in all the arenas of society and remind people, whether they receive Christ or not, of the criteria by which the returning King will judge men and nations?

A: No; I'm afraid I don't agree. It seems to me that our Lord's own emphasis is quite different, even opposed to this. Take Luke 17 where we read, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. The did eat, they drank, they married wives . . . until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came . . ." You can't reform the world. That's why I disagree entirely with the "social and cultural mandate" teaching and its appeal to Genesis 1:28. It seems to me to forget completely the Fall. You can't Christianize the world. The end time is going to be like the time of the Flood. The condition of the modern world proves that what we must preach more than ever is "Escape from the wrath to come!" The situation is critical. I believe the Christian people—but not the church—should get involved in politics and in social affairs. The kingdom task of the church is to save men from the wrath to come by bringing them to Christ. This is what I believe and emphasize. The main function of politics, culture, and all these things is to restrain evil. They can never do an ultimately positive work. Surely the history of the world demonstrates that. You can never Christianize the world.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that quote and posted it on my own blog ( but when I attempted to create a link I couldn't. It may be because I'm using the new beta blogger. Have you got any ideas? jb

Josh said...

MLJ is my newest hero. I was only faintly aware of him until just recently. The latest 9Marks interview with MLJ's daughter and son-in-law is fascinating. If anyone's interested, there are a few free MLJ sermon mp3s out there on the internet. I googled "Martyn Lloyd-Jones" and found three or four pretty quickly.

Thanks for this series, Paleo.

Keith said...

Lloyd-Jones was a great man. No question. The Welsh are often great.

But even the great make an error from time to time.

I thought he was on target in the first two installments, but in this one he faltered (in my opinion of course).

It doesn't seem like he even interacts with this statement of Henry's: "Must we not press the claims of Christ in all the arenas of society and remind people, whether they receive Christ or not, of the criteria by which the returning King will judge men and nations?"

That statement doesn't seem to indicate an overblown hope that the Church can Christianize culture or society. And, many of us who believe that Gen 1:28 applies to us -- believe it precisely because the madate precedes the fall.

Bruce McKanna said...

Doggone it, Ben, I've got work to do! Why do you keep posting things that compel me to write?

Even though MLJ has a very church-centered view of revival (as opposed to an evangelist-centered campaign), he is still narrowly focused on God's work in the world as conversion and justification. These are crucial, central, and pivotal things, but they are not exhaustive. Salvation encompasses many other things, including sanctification. I would want to ask MLJ, "Okay, after you preach repentance and someone accepts Christ, is there anything for him to do but evangelize somebody else?" If there is no practical change to the convert's day-to-day existence, there is something missing in his life, and we have sold him short on explaining true Christianity and real discipleship.

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
1 Peter 2:11-12

Is Peter talking about helping old ladies cross the street? Perhaps, but it sounds like some want him to say that a Christian should not to be active in his particular sphere in weeding out corruption and promoting justice. Hear me out, not for a moment should we assume that we will be "redeeming" anything when we do good... simply that, wherever we are, in whatever calling we have, we give witness to the lordship of Christ in all that we do, and we are willing to suffer for that integrity.

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil."
1 Peter 3:14-17

What about this issue of who is to be active, the individual or the church? I agree that the meeting of the church should not be a political rally, but if political or cultural activity is assumed to be left to the individual Christian, and no pastor ever applies Scripture to the particular situations people face in their homes and places of employment, Christian individuals will be largely inarticulate and ineffective. The church must deal with contemporary issues because the church must deal with sin and holiness, with disobedience to God and obedience to God, with dishonoring God and honoring God. I want to say, "MLJ, sir, we will not keep the gospel if we fail to respond in practical ways to the very real sins in the world around us. Salvation from sin, its penalty, and its power is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But sin and suffering in this world require speaking the truth in love: the proclamation of the Gospel along with real actions that are consistent with the Gospel. Otherwise, it's just talk; or as James would say, 'faith apart from works is dead.'"

And another thing, I don't believe Genesis 1:28 was lost with the Fall. For one thing, you can see "be fruitful and multiply" language throughout the book of Genesis and into the beginning of Exodus with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, etc. Here's a specific example: Genesis 9:6-7 shows that the image of God from creation (referencing 1:27) was not lost, and neither was the command to produce offspring (referencing 1:28).

The flaw with MLJ's logic rears its head all the time in fundamentalist and evangelical thought since the modernist controversy made social activism its "gospel," "salvation," and "kingdom." The line of thought runs this way: "Doing good cannot save the world, only Christ can. And if doing good can't save the world, why bother doing good? We should do evangelism, which is the only thing that can really change people."

Here are the problems with this line of thought:
1. Pragmatism: we only do what works, what's "effective." In fact, Peter told us to do good, accept the suffering that would come with it, and witness to Christ in the process.
2. Eschatalogical "Expediency": we think we're in the last days (or at least the last generation), so there's no point in doing good toward the world. This is really just another variation of the pragmatism virus. Paul told the Thessalonians to get to work and earn a living, and the Ephesians to work so that they could share. Isn't it ironic how stingy we are at doing good, but generous we are when it comes to our own materialism?
3. Polarization: we rightly seek to counter the extremes of liberal social gospel or any convoluted kingdom theology that depends more on human efforts than Christ, but we do so by denying that anything is worthwhile but evangelism or missions. Or we say things like, "Evangelism is the #1 job of the church" when nobody asked us to rank the commands given to the church, especially when so many use this kind of sloganeering to say we should do job #1 and ignore everything else. I'm sure somebody somewhere has a name for this kind of fallacy. This is not an either/or question!

I have no problem agreeing that evangelism is the mission of the church. What I argue with is reducing the Great Commission to going, making converts (rather than disciples), and baptizing, but relegating the "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (practical discipleship) to relate only to inner, spiritual issues rather than practical, how-I-live-everyday-in-a-fallen-world stuff at home, office, factory, field, or institution.

And now, to bed.

Keith said...

Amen. Who is this Bruce McKenna? Good stuff.

Ben said...


Your link is working for me.

Josh, the last post in this series will provide links to a number of DMLJ resources, including the ones you mention.