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Martyn Lloyd-Jones: What is an Evangelical? (4)

Alright, now the fun begins (long fun at that, sorry). I’ve tried to give the blow-by-blow account of each lecture, but haven’t yet said much about what I think (not that what I think should be treated with more sanctity than what Lloyd-Jones thought). Anyway, I’m not going to do anything fancy here, just list several positives and a few negatives I see in Lloyd-Jones’ answer to the question “What is an Evangelical?”


What I Like in Lloyd-Jones’ Answer
1. I appreciate his stress on the importance of doctrine and definition. “Evangelical” must first of all (though not solely) be a theological category. Going to a traditionally evangelical school does not make one an evangelical. Neither does writing with an “evangelical” publishing house. Nor does a present or prior affiliation with some evangelical organization or parachurch ministry. An evangelical is nothing if not someone who believes certain things.

2. Along these lines, Lloyd-Jones is spot on with his insistence that we state negatives as well as positives. The orthodox party at Nicea objected to earlier compromise solutions, not because they disagreed with the confession being offered, but because the Arians could agree with it to, and they knew they didn’t mean the same thing as the Arians. In a world of linguistic slipperiness and doctrinal indifferentism, we owe it to others and ourselves to state not only what we believe, but what we reject.

3. Continuing this train of thought, I really liked Lloyd-Jones’ warning against additions and subtractions. Rarely are false teachers all wrong. They usually get a lot right. The problem is they leave central elements out (like talking about the atonement without mentioned penal substitution) or add new elements in (like making justification according to the whole life lived).

4. Lloyd-Jones’ constant concern for evangelism and lost souls is encouraging. As we argue about doctrine, we must never do so for the intellectual sport of it. We have no right to defend and define doctrine unless we are broken-hearted over the devastating effects of poor doctrine on the souls of men and women (and children for that matter).

5. Lloyd Jones is right to emphasize the doctrine of regeneration. One of the main problems with the emergent understanding of the kingdom is the stunning absence of any talk about repentance and new birth. It isn’t enough to tell people to go live like Jesus. We need to tell them: ye must be born again. And amazingly, by God’s supernatural grace, some people will be.

6. I’ve always admired Lloyd-Jones for his passion for revival. In other writings he makes clear that by revival he means the sovereign outpouring of the Spirit (ala the First Great Awakening with Edwards and Whitefield), and not manmade revivalism (ala Finney and the Second Great Awakening). More of us should pray, as Lloyd-Jones did, for the powerful, surprising work of the Spirit in our day to reform the church, renew our country, and regenerate hearts.

7. Lloyd-Jones reminds us that ss evangelicals, our attitude and our piety matter as well as our doctrine.

8. I am challenged by the Doctor’s warnings against being schismatic. Conservatives tend to worry about compromise more than unnecessary division, but both are sins. Reformed evangelicals in particular need to consider, from time to time, if we are being too rigid. Lloyd-Jones’ use of Calvin and Philippians 3:15 should convince all of us that some doctrines are simply not as essential as others. Those of us in love with the truth (which we should all be!) would do well to recognize that there is a difference between denying the truth and honestly misunderstanding a text of Scripture. Of course, there’s a danger here too, because almost everyone tries to make their case from Scripture. But Lloyd-Jones (and Calvin, and Paul) are right: on this side of paradise we will not always see clearly, nor will we always see things the same way. The thoughtful, serious evangelical who differs with us on baptism is not a truth-hater or a rebel to God’s word, he is simply mistaken.

9. Lloyd-Jones’ list of essentials hits on the most important doctrines of our faith and the ones that most define us as evangelicals: scripture, justification, regeneration, atonement, and original sin. Indeed, these are essential matters of our faith.

10. I’ll say more about this one in a minute, but I liked Lloyd-Jones’ bit about using “evangelical” as a prefix and not a suffix. I think what he means is that the essentials of our faith–the gospel, the Trinity, the person of Christ, the cross, heaven and hell–should excite our passions more than the secondary matters. If millennial debates get our motor running more than the death and resurrection of Jesus, something in us needs to be re-calibrated.


A Few Concerns with Lloyd-Jones Answer
1. While I agree in principle with Lloyd-Jones’ distinction between essential and non-essential doctrines, the whole discussion left me feeling a little uncomfortable. Of course Arminians can be saved. Predestination is not a salvation issue in that way. But “non-essential” seems a little too tepid. Whether or not God is completely sovereign in saving us is very, very, very important, affecting how we look at God, ourselves, and almost everything else.

I think we need a few more categories besides essential and non-essential (like “darn-near essential,” “pretty much essential,” “kind of essential,” “not essential,” “sort of interesting,” “not worth talking about,” etc.). Otherwise most of our doctrines will quickly get sidelined by “you don’t need to believe this in order to be saved.” I can’t imagine that Lloyd-Jones would want us to treat doctrine that way, but at times it felt like he was veering in that direction.

2. Some of Lloyd-Jones’ analysis reflects too much of his particular bent and situation. For example, Lloyd-Jones was a Welsh, low-church, independent who (it seems) never quite made up his mind on baptism, living in a country of baby-baptizing, high-church Anglicans. I think this colored his view of liturgy and the sacraments (owing in no small part to the dead formalism around him, no doubt). If evangelicals are marked by their freedom in worship, as Lloyd-Jones says, why can’t that freedom include the freedom to use forms? Likewise, I understand opposing sacerdotalism, but why do evangelicals have to have a “low view” of the sacraments? And I’m no fan of a state church, but is opposition to a state church really an essential of the faith? If so, most of our forefathers were not evangelicals!

3. Lurking behind Lloyd-Jones’ address was his desire to see evangelicals leave their denominations and form a new evangelical denomination in Britain. Leaving aside the question of whether the evangelicals should have left or not, the whole business about creating a new evangelical denomination seems far-fetched. An association (like the Gospel Coalition) or a gathering (like Together for the Gospel) sure, but not a church. How would you settle issues like election, baptism, and church polity? You wouldn’t. Or if you did, you would have an “every church for itself” policy. And how would that be much different than an association of like-minded churches?

Moreover, I disagree with Lloyd-Jones that the existence of different denomination implies division. In my opinion, denominations allow for the free exercise of conscience. I don’t consider myself estranged from my Baptist brethren in other churches and denominations. I can have unity with evangelical Baptists by praying for them, partnering with them, and enjoying fellowship with them, all without being in the same official church with them. I’m thankful for them, and thankful that we can each worship God according to the dictates of our conscience as informed by the Word of God.

4. Lastly, I think you could make a case for putting evangelical as a suffix, not a prefix. As I said above, we should all be most passionate about the essentials, but what if by “Presbyterian-Evangelical” you meant “I am not a nondescript evangelical, but an confessional, reformed evangelical”? Would this be so bad? In our day where evangelical means a thousand different things, at least Baptist or Presbyterian or Anglican means only a hundred different things. I am not sympathetic with those who despise evangelicals, but I do sympathize with those who want to be more than just an evangelical.

The bottom line, one I think Lloyd-Jones would agree with, is that we should be thankful for all who hold to the essentials with us. With those essentials in head and heart, go to your local church and preach the Bible as best as you understand it. Conduct your church according to your convictions from Scripture, all the while loving and sometimes working with those who disagree with you on the non-essential matters of the faith.

So here’s the paradox about church unity: we can have it without agreeing on everything, but we can never have it without the truth.

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