Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism
by John Brencher
267 pp.; $49.99, paper
In the opinion of many who heard him personally, Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest preacher of his day in the English-speaking world. And also maybe in the Welsh-speaking world. Yet as the experience of early evangelical history suggests, the permanent legacy of powerful preachers is hard to measure.
The influence of George Whitefield, probably the most effective public speaker of any sort in the English-speaking world over the last three centuries, has been much harder to specify than that of his contemporary (and, despite difficulties, friend) John Wesley. Wesley, though by no means a shabby preacher, left a concrete, researchable legacy not only in Methodism but in paradigm-shaping evangelical initiatives like lay-preaching, small-group meetings, and the publication of hymns. By contrast, Whitefield left a style of preaching that, however influential, was much more difficult to measure. Similarly, it is not surprising that nearly a quarter century after the death of Lloyd-Jones, memories of his influence linger powerfully, but the exact character of his enduring influence is difficult to state with precision.
Lloyd-Jones' memory has been kept before the evangelical public by a remarkably thorough biography from his younger friend, Iain Murray (2 vols. of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones,1982, 1990). It is certainly a concrete legacy of great importance that Lloyd-Jones encouraged Murray in the founding of the Banner of Truth Trust, which has continued to supply the Christian reading public with a nourishing diet of classics, admonitions, and history from an evangelical Calvinist standpoint.
Other interesting books on Lloyd-Jones have been published by friends and family members, including Christopher Catherwood's Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait (1995) and a volume edited by Catherwoood, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Chosen By God (1986). Above all, there remains the written fruit of Lloyd-Jones' sermons and addresses—as of February 2003 an incredible 69 titles are available from 14 different publishers in the United States alone, with smaller numbers in print for the U.K., Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. There is no shortage, in other words, of available reading both for those who remember Lloyd-Jones and those for whom he is entirely a historical figure.
In this ample literature, however, there has not been much analytical, contextual, or critical assessment. To those angles on Lloyd-Jones, John Brencher's new book makes a significant contribution. Brencher was a longtime minister in Britain who sat under Lloyd-Jones' preaching and who later served as president of an association, the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, that Lloyd-Jones had done much to encourage. The book arises from a doctoral dissertation that Brencher wrote late in his ministerial career and that he has now published in revised form in his retirement.
It is a book that appreciates Lloyd-Jones for all of his larger-than-life singularity: a promising physician-turned-preacher, a Welshman active most of his professional life in England, a passionate Christian intellectual, an altruistic midwife to many evangelical enterprises (like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), and a preaching lighthouse at Westminster Chapel in London during World War II and the tumultuous decades following. Yet it is also a book that, more than anything that has yet appeared, dares to question if Lloyd-Jones always made the right choices in his momentous preaching career. Brencher acknowledges Lloyd-Jones' power as a preacher, for example, but wonders if he neglected the potential of parish ministry at Westminster Chapel. He praises him for the conviction of his preaching, but asks if he should have done more in preparing the next generation of evangelical Calvinists. He acknowledges him for his fidelity to Wales, the Welsh language, and Welsh culture, but thinks Lloyd-Jones could have done more to help the Welsh churches about which he always spoke with such affection. Above all, Brencher values Lloyd-Jones' importance for reviving evangelical exegesis, evangelical publication, evangelical student work, evangelical scholarship, and evangelical preaching in mid-century Britain, but also asks if his ecclesiastical separatism did not lead him to squander much of the good he otherwise accomplished.
On this last subject, Brencher dwells at length on the controversial incident of October 18, 1966, when Lloyd-Jones appealed at a meeting of the British Evangelical Alliance for evangelicals in denominations like the Church of England to leave those mixed communions for a purer form of strictly evangelical fellowship. In his thorough canvassing of this dramatic moment, Brencher provides yet an another interpretation of the extemporaneous response to Lloyd-Jones made by the Anglican John Stott, who was serving as the chair of the meeting. He also provides extensive consideration of the all-evangelical fellowships that were in a position to benefit from Lloyd-Jones' appeal (but largely did not), the fractures in friendships that resulted as a result of this appeal between Lloyd-Jones and former allies within the Anglican church, and the long-term impact on the health of evangelicalism in Britain.
Although those for whom Lloyd-Jones could do no wrong may find Brencher's analysis harsh, others (especially Americans) will find it a helpful clarification of issues, personalities, ecclesiastical circumstances, and long-term historical trends that came to a head in that memorable exchange. The same judgment can be made for the rest of Brencher's interpretive study: while it may irritate the disciples of Lloyd-Jones, it is neither vindictive or reductionist in its assessments. The book, in other words, should be read by anyone who takes seriously the important work of unusually blessed preachers, but who also wants to move beyond either simple praise or blame in assessing the long-term impact of such ministry.
Brencher's book, it should be noted, is one of the early volumes in a new publishing venture at Paternoster Press, based in the U.K. Under the editorship of Jeremy Mudditt, Paternoster is now publishing a series of "Studies in Evangelical History and Thought." (Let me forthrightly acknowledge a very modest part in this enterprise as an editorial consultant.) The series is intended for revised doctoral dissertations and other serious monographs on important topics, people, and themes in evangelical life and thought for Britain, North America, and even further afield. Along with Brencher's important study, early volumes in the series include Linda Wilson, Constrained by Zeal: Female Spirituality Among Nonconformists, 1825-1875) (2000); Herbert Boyd McGonigle, Sufficient Saving Grace: John Wesley's Evangelical Arminianism (2001); and Kenneth S. Jeffrey, When the Lord Walked the Land: The 1858-62 Revival in the North East of Scotland (2002).
Mark Noll is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College and the author most recently of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford Univ. Press).
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Visit Books & Culture online at BooksandCulture.com or subscribe here.
Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners and Book of the Week include:
Taken Prisoner | Stories from the far-flung frontiers of the British Empire, 1600-1850, challenge our preconceptions. (Feb. 24, 2003)
Another Third Way? | The mixed record of Catholic social thought. (Feb. 17, 2003)
Divine Numbers | Can you say "Christian" and "mathematics" in the same sentence? (Feb. 10, 2003)
Getting Beyond Victimology | A provocative collection of essays for "the black silent majority." (Feb. 3, 2003)
Strange Bedfellows | Christopher Hitchens and Christopher Caldwell collaborate on a collection of political writing. Has the millennium arrived unnoticed? (Jan. 27, 2003)
Encounters of the Gods | Christianity and Native American religion in early America. (Jan. 20, 2003)
Books Present, Books Past, and Books to Come | Plus: A new format for this column. (Jan. 13, 2003)
Double Indemnity Meets Dead Souls | A conversation with novelist Richard Dooling. (Jan. 6, 2003)
Books of the Year | The top ten. (OK—make that twelve.) (Dec. 30, 2002)
Entertain Us | Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the rapture of distress. (Dec. 16, 2002)
Boys Will Be Boys | A new book by a leading Christian feminist scholar inadvertently reveals the flawed assumptions underlying much talk about "flexibility" in gender roles. (Dec. 9, 2002)
Street Cred | Dave Eggers: The portrait of an artist as a … what? (Dec.2, 2002)
Epicurus'—and Darwin's—Dangerous Idea | How we became hedonists. (Nov. 18, 2002)
Weird Science? | A Darwinian debate continues. (Nov. 11, 2002)
Of Moths and Men Revisited | A Darwinian debate. (Nov. 4, 2002)
Angels in Heaven | A game that's more than a game. (Oct. 28, 2002)
Number One with a Bullet | America's foist family as a tool for evangelism. (Oct. 21, 2002)
Train Up a Child | Helping children to become intimately familiar with Scripture. (Oct. 14, 2002)
Acting Like Those 'Evangelicals' | Guilty as charged? (Sept. 30, 2002)
Ugly Evangelicals | Is this us? (Sept. 23, 2002)
Herbie Goes Bananas | The rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of the VW Beetle. (Sept. 16, 2002)
So Far, So Near | A graduate of Murree Christian School in Pakistan, the site of a deadly assault by Islamic terrorists in August, reflects on his growing-up years, on what has changed in the interim, and on the beleaguered Christian community in Pakistan (Sept. 9, 2002)
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
Read These Next
- TrendingA Tale of Two New York City PastorsOne formed me. The other entertained me.
- From the MagazineHow One Family’s Faith Survived Three Generations in the PulpitWith a front-row seat to their parents’ failures and burnout, a long line of pastor’s kids still went into ministry. Why?
- Editor's PickTheological Education Can’t Catch Up to Global Church GrowthUnless seminaries leave the ivory tower for local leaders in the public square. Like these ones have.