Monday, 20 December 2010

Assessing Martyn Lloyd-Jones

After eighteen months of planning and lots of research and writing, the 'Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Life and Legacy' conference took place at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, at the end of last week. We had 13 papers over two days, a mix of longer, specially invited keynote papers, and shorter addresses arranged in panels of two or three papers around a common theme.

Lloyd-Jones polarises opinion sharply, sometimes very sharply indeed, even a full thirty years after his death. For some he has already practically been canonised, while for others he remains a controversial even divisive figure, unfairly criticised as being the person who shattered the unity of British evangelicalism in the later 1960s. There has been very little scholarly, for that read objective and analytical, study of him. Much of the literature has been pretty hagiographic, aimed at explaining and defending him and the positions which he took thoroughout his life, often in the light of more recent concerns and developments. The conference was therefore designed to be a thoughtful and critical, in the best sense of the term, assessement of Lloyd-Jones and his legacy. It ended up being a sympathic gathering which duly noted Lloyd-Jones' undoubted influence and drew attention to some of his real insights, but also tried to address some of the areas where his legacy has been more mixed and perhaps less helpful.

Without going over all of the papers in detail here, in my closing summing up of the conference I outlined six of the main themes that had been uppermost in our thoughts over the two days.

1. The first of these was the matter of context. Much of the work on Lloyd-Jones stresses that he, largely singled-handedly, brought about a renewal of Reformed theology within 1950s evangelicalism. David Bebbington traced the roots of this renewal, and showed that far from him being responsible for that renewal, Lloyd-Jones actually benefitted from a much longer resurgence in Reformed theology that went back to the start of the 1930s at least.

2. The first section of the conference addressed theological themes. Densil Morgan examined the extent to which Lloyd-Jones was really a Calvinist, and argued that in many of his emphases he was more of an eighteenth-century evangelical than a genuine exponent of the Reformed faith. We then had a series of papers which assessed Lloyd-Jones against a number of different theological types. Robert Pope examined his fundamentalist credentials, and then in two shorter papers, one on his views on theological education and the other on his engagement with modern theology, more evidence of that fundamentalism seemed to be presented. In a very revealing late evening paper, William Kay gave compelling evidence of his Pentecostal and Charismatic credentials, and insightfully explored the way in which Lloyd-Jones' pneumatology has been influential for some of the key leaders of British charismatic evangelicalism, Terry Virgo most obviously.

3. I spoke on Lloyd-Jones and Wales, focussing mainly on how his influence in Wales was mediated in the main through the Evangelical Movement of Wales. Then, not without difficulty and with some trepidation, I tried to examine the way in which Lloyd-Jones' legacy has cast a very large shadow over much of Welsh evangelicalism. My comments on the almost cultic status of Lloyd-Jones in Wales, understandably, didn't go down all that well with some delegates, but its perhaps precisely in some of these areas that assessment needs most to be made.

4. We had an American doctoral student from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ben Baillie, give an excellent paper on Lloyd-Jones' preaching, drawing out some of the 'abominations', for which read modern innovations, which Lloyd-Jones thought had destroyed preaching since the end of the nineteenth century.

5. We then focused on Lloyd-Jones and secession. Andrew Atherstone looked at the reaction to Lloyd-Jones' 1966 unity call among Anglicans, in the end giving a much more positive interpretation of his appeal.

6. We rounded everything of with an outstanding paper on Lloyd-Jones' reading of the Puritans, which really ended up being an analysis of how Lloyd-Jones, and other evangelicals, use history selectively to serve present-day concerns.

There's much more that could be said, but now its down to getting the book ready for the press. We're intending a collection of 12-14 essays in a book entitled Engaging with Lloyd-Jones, which is scheduled for publication by IVP in the Autumn 2011. Watch this space . . .!

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Thanks for this review! I am an American pastor much influenced by my reading of MLJ, his biography by Iain Murray, and now enjoying the remastered mp3 messages. I wish I could have been at this conference. Will purchase the book when it comes out. Do you know if any of the audio messages of this conference will be available for download?