Dr Lloyd-Jones and His ‘Minions’.
In the current Westminster Theological Journal (Vol 61 No 2, Fall 1999) Bob Letham, formerly of England but now a pastor with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Delaware, reviews Alister McGrath’s “J.I.Packer: A Biography” (Baker in the USA; Hodder and Stoughton in Great Britain). He makes many good points. He begins, “After Basil Hall’s ruthless ten-page demolition of his ‘Life of John Calvin’, the intrepid and prolific McGrath has produced another biography of a different kind.” Again, “This is an uncritical biography. Not an adverse word is passed about the hero. Yes, people ganged up on him, not least the nasty acolytes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, But Packer emerges from these pages lilywhite-pure.”
It is in the presentation of why Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones acted as he did that indicates Bob Letham did not know him or the situation in the 1960’s. In Letham’s view, “The new interest in Reformed, or more particularly Puritan, theology in the fifties and sixties was to a large extent scuppered by suspicion and division. Lloyd-Jones’s separatism led to an open split with Stott and Packer … McGrath is correct that Lloyd-Jones was surrounded and influenced by his minions but his account of Lloyd-Jones’ refusal even to listen to Basil Hall as the latter read passage after passage from Calvin in support of Anglican and Reformed doctrine of the church speaks volumes.”
Two complements for Basil Hall, but poor easily manipulated Lloyd-Jones. I wonder who these ‘minions’ or ‘nasty acolytes’ of Lloyd-Jones are? It is usually we Welshmen. Certainly he was our role-model and encourager. His example kept us in the ministry, delivered us from gimmicks, and strengthened us in costly reformation. Through him we encouraged the spread of Reformed Theology and Puritanism in our pulpits, conferences and in the Bookshops we opened where we displayed prominently those volumes.
But that we were his minions who manipulated him? Bob Letham did not know him. Let me note some personal recollections that colour my response to this silly attitude. When Jim Packer collaborated with the Anglo-Catholics E.L.Mascall and Graham Leonard (now a Roman Catholic) in the book ‘Growing into Union’ in 1970 my sense of sadness and disbelief were such that I can still feel it today. This was not the way one wanted the Reformed movement to go. It was scarcely ‘suspicion and division’ that scuppered the new interest in Reformed theology. It was theology and ecclesiology and actions like that.
Bob Letham is aware of some of that as he writes in this review, “It seems to me that ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ is an uncanny rerun in North America of England 1970. Moreover, anyone who has read Packer’s article ‘On from Orr: Cultural Crisis, Rational Realism and Incarnational Ontology’ ‘Crux 32’ (1996) 12-26 may have uncomfortable questions to ask. Packer there unfolds a project to build the unity of the visible church around the doctrine of the trinity and what he calls ‘great-tradition’ Christianity. This is a fine and important argument suddenly spoiled by the dismissive attitude to all who disagree with him. We will leave these people behind, he insists. This is ecumenism with a snarl, reminiscent of what non-Anglicans in England have often had to face from some in the Church of England. How, we may ask, can biblical and historic ecumenism be promoted by such attitudes however much provocation may have arisen? As an Anglican, McGrath’s lack of critical evaluation misses things like this. Again, he does not seem to appreciate that Packer’s involvement in ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’, while commendable from the fact that Rome retains some of the marks of the church – baptism, the trinity, Christology – betrays in its outcome an apparent failure visibly to value those matters the Reformation recovered and Rome still officially rejects.”
Letham puts this down to Packer’s naivety. A less naive and a more sharp man I have yet to meet. Packer is an Anglican. Not a Presbyterian, as Letham has become, nor a Reformed Baptist which I still am.
But to return to this matter of Dr Lloyd-Jones’ ‘acolytes’ pressurising the great man to take a hard-line stance on Packer’s co-operation with sacramentalists or Stott putting his membership of the Established Church before his commitment to evangelicalism. The Doctor drew me into this evangelical debate as to how evangelicals were going to respond to ‘Growing into Union’ in 1970. The Doctor had insisted on raising this issue continually at the monthly Westminster Fellowship of ministers during that year. Where should gospel Christianity go? Was it to follow the way of the super-church set out by the Anglicans based on the doctrine of the trinity and ‘great tradition’ Christianity, or should it cling to the lessons learned at the Reformation which were a statement of New Testament Christianity?
Some of my friends at the Westminster Fraternal grew weary of the Doctor’s insistence on going over this ground at many sessions very very thoroughly, but they had no influence with him at all. It was a crucial matter as far as he was concerned. Then he came to Wales with the same determination, and got in touch with me. He arranged a meeting through the Evangelical Movement of Wales ministers’ committee to be held at Heath Evangelical Church at which the Welsh brethren were also to discuss this. He asked me to open up the question of ‘Growing into Union.’ He had hopes of me in those days because I had been at Westminster, and was a Calvinist and a young turk. But I let him down. I did not have the heart for the subject. I did not see the vitality of the issue. My generation was indebted to Jim Packer. I had read ‘Fundamentalism and the Word of God’ in school before I went to university to study Biblical Studies, and that book helped to give me the Bible. We devoured and debated Packer’s introduction to the Death of Death in 1959 at University and it made things hum. Similarly his ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’ was a clear light in that area of confusion for we new Calvinists. One can forgive a man much when one is in his debt. Packer is an Anglican after all. An Established Church, the Queen the head of the church, bishops and archbishops, altars and christenings? If they had swallowed that they would certainly be as muddled in any plans for ecumenical union. It is par for the course with the Church of England. You buy Stott for his fine commentaries and his wide reading of contemporary culture with its new voices. Stott saves you months of exploring blind allies by his wise opinions. But when Stott or Packer write about church unity then include us out.
I wanted to hear the Doctor speak on preaching and pastoring not these pipe-dream schemes of union which were to come to nothing. But it was too great an honour to turn down so I spoke to those Welsh ministers on Packer’s scheme for unity – ‘Growing into Union.’ I was a great disappointment to the Doctor and a bore to the ministers present. My heart was not in it. The Anglican, David Samuel, had written an unanswerable review of the scheme in ‘The Evangelical Magazine’ and I simply aped that. In the afternoon debate, sitting with the Doctor on the little stage in the back room in the Heath, I pleaded for Packer because of my debt to him, but the Doctor gently pulled my arguments apart. It is not a happy memory. I appreciate what the Doctor was doing now as I did not appreciate it then. He was right and I was wrong.
But as for some yokel underlings stirring the easy-going and gullible Doctor into a course of action he would have been wiser to have avoided – men who write that simply do not know the Doctor. He had friends and supporters whom he patiently taught whose blindness he sometimes groaned over, but we acolytes could no more influence him than the moon give light to the sun.
This approach to Lloyd-Jones and the events of the 60’s and 70’s which has now become the received tradition of Christopher Catherwood and McGrath and now Letham was well answered by Graham Harrison in this year’s Westminster Conference paper of his on Dr Lloyd-Jones. It reminds one of men who reject the Lord Jesus protesting that they respect him but despise his pathetic followers – they want Jesus but not Paul etc – and it is not honest.
Dr Lloyd-Jones himself saw the ecclesiological inconsistencies in both J.I. Packer and in John Stott and their subsequent writings have exonerated the Doctor’s insights.
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