Friday, May 04, 2007

A Critique of Iain H. Murray's Evangelicalism Divided

In the aftermath of Friedrich Schleiermacher, bringing about the idea that “beliefs are not vital to a relationship with God” (p. 9), there was a battle, a battle between the Evangelicals and the rest of the world over defining what a Christian really is. Iain Murry gives his insights into the past fifty years of that battle in his book Evangelicalism Divided. The term “evangelicals” was first widely used in the eighteenth century, as a means to distinguish those pulpits that remained true to the gospel (p. 1). But Iain Murry picks up the story with Billy Graham. While at first Graham seems to hold to Biblical truth, as he gains popularity he quickly changes his tune in order to be appealing to the widest possible audience. Rather than keeping to his words that, “We do not condone nor have fellowship with any form of modernism”, he changed to, “We should be willing to work with all who were willing to work with us” (p. 29). The effects of Graham's changed views were apparent during his London crusade of 1966 when “converts” were referred to non-evangelical churches (p 55). Graham seemed to feel than everyone who was friendly toward him was a Christian, the likes included former Presidents Nixon and Clinton (p. 63). It led to Graham stating, “I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ” (p. 73).

Around the same time the National Evangelical Anglican Congress met in Keel and there the previous evangelical beliefs were disowned. In a show of good will, the congress invited Archbishop Michael Ramsey to give the opening address, and with the ring of Schleiermacher he pointed out to his hearers that experience goes before theology (p. 42). There was a lone voice of reason, that of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, saying, “Here is the great divide. The ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine. We are evangelicals; we put doctrine before fellowship” (pp. 45-46). But his words were largely misunderstood and rejected, for the front page report on the meeting in the periodical The Christian read, “EVANGELICALS – LEAVE YOUR DENOMINATIONS, Says Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones” (p. 47).

The next major step downhill was in 1994 when several prominent evangelical leaders signed a twenty-five page document entitled: Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. The basis for the signing was this: “Those who love the Lord must stand together” (p. 223). Although J. I. Packer stated, “I am not and could not become a Roman Catholic” (p. 225) and claims that “the unity which concerns him is 'with individual Roman Catholics who for whatever reason do not self-consciously assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Catholic magisterium'” (pp. 225-226), he later defies his own words by signing a document that states partnership with those who “are conscientiously faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church” (p. 231). But even in this there were those who Murray claims were faithful former evangelical truth, including R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur.

Murray closes the book with some simple observations from the past fifty years of Evangelicalism, showing how easy it is for people to fall into extremes when fighting a foe, and how most of the issues that have led to evangelicalism as we know it to be divided stem from the question, “Who is a Christian?” (p. 299). Also, Murray notes that the “church cannot succeed in the same way in which political parties may succeed” (p. 303), for the church is wholly dependent on supernatural aid, not human wisdom.

Overall I was impressed with Murray's work. Right from the beginning I respected him as a writer because of the way he introduced his topic – looking historically at the reason “Evangelicalism” exists. If there was one thing I would fault him for, it would be on his defense of Martin Lloyd-Jones. Multiple times he tries to show that Dr. Lloyd-Jones was not calling for denominational splits, but even after Murray's explanations of what the Doctor said, I still was not exactly clear what had actually been said. Since so many misunderstood what Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, maybe it was because he was not clear. But, if there is anyone to shed some light on the matter, it would be Murray, being that he was closely associated with Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

Murray's criticisms of men like Graham and Packer are well founded, and well documented – I felt no coercion or bending of facts. The simple truth laid bare before my eyes caused my heart to be saddened. Such great men of the faith, and yet I would almost question their devotion to Christ, in that their understanding of the elementary things of the Gospel is seems to have been darkened. The road to heaven truly is narrow. Murray was very gracious in all his criticisms, doing his best to think the best of the men he criticized, especially when they were those who originally were in the camp of Evangelicalism. Murray is a very insightful author, and communicated well the reasons for the division among evangelicals. And so, “let us entreat the Lord to make us all lively stones fit for his building. Amen!” (p. 318).

1 comment:

Eric said...

"... and yet I would almost question their devotion to Christ." I've had thoughts like these. I believe they put me on the precipice of hell. Please be very careful judging others' faith.

What, exactly, must a person believe to be Christian? Or to ask it another way, what belief, exactly, excludes a person from heaven? In my nearly 40 years as a Christian I have never found a definitive Biblical answer to that question. If the Bible is that non-specific, how can we presume to judge?