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Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones – A Review by Andrew Roycroft

Category Book Reviews
Date November 29, 2011

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The life and legacy of ‘the Doctor’
Andrew Atherstone & David Ceri Jones (Eds)
Nottingham: Apollos/IVP, 2011
376 pages, paperback, £16.99
ISBN: 978 1 84474 553 1

This title is a collection of essays, part appreciation, part analysis of the work and legacy of Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones stands astride the evangelical history of the twentieth century as (arguably) its most able preacher and most elder statesmen, a man whose biography ranged from a promising career in medicine, to a pastorate in a deprived area of Wales, ministry in Westminster Chapel, London, and enormous influence in the evangelical world more broadly. Rather than biography, the present volume seeks to place Lloyd-Jones’ ministry in its wider context of 20th century evangelicalism, and to assess, with the benefit of hindsight, his distinctives and legacy.

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones ranges across eleven chapters, each of which relate the subject’s life and work to an individual issue. The topics are varied and challenging, ranging from Lloyd-Jones’ representation in biography, through his relationship to his home country of Wales, his perspectives on revival, charismatic issues, preaching, ministerial education, fundamentalism, Barthianism, Roman Catholicism, Anglican secession and the Protestant past. Contributors range from professional academic historians to theologians, with each bringing a distinctive voice on this most interesting of subjects.

Atherstone and Jones start proceedings with an introductory survey of how Lloyd-Jones has been represented in biographical literature. This is an interesting and provocative opening, which sheds light on how ‘the Doctor’ has been portrayed – from the enthusiastic and honouring (Iain H. Murray) through to the critical and analytical (Brencher and Davies) via the familiy tributes offered by Christopher Catherwood. Having been richly blessed by Iain H. Murray’s 2 volume treatment of Lloyd-Jones1, I found it disheartening that the regular (and for me unfounded) charge of hagiography on the part of Murray was casually posited, with little by way of analysis or moderation. The authors are judicious, however, in their analysis of Brencher and Davies, highlighting their respective strengths and weaknesses. Some of Davies’ hypotheses concerning the link between Lloyd-Jones’ distinctives and childhood trauma seem unlikely, if not preposterous. As a reader I am glad that I had worked through Murray’s two volumes before encountering this introduction rather than after, as it may have jaundiced just how reliable I would have held it to be in the light of criticism levelled. Carl Trueman’s charge that there is nothing critical in Murray’s treatment of Lloyd-Jones is utterly mistaken, seeming to ignore the varied negative analyses proffered in both volumes (although they are gentle and respectful in tone) – particularly in The Fight of Faith. Interestingly much of Iain H. Murray’s analysis of the events surrounding Lloyd-Jones in the 1960s is vindicated in Atherstone’s subsequent chapter on Anglican secession (more of this later).

David Bebbington’s treatment of ‘Lloyd-Jones and interwar Calvinist resurgence’ serves as a helpful snapshot of the theological climate in which Lloyd-Jones ministered, and out of which he helped to bolster and increase interest in the doctrines of grace. Bebbington’s tone is helpful in this treatment, showing as it does the historic precedent and preparation for the resurgence that would find full flow in the 1950s, while realistically placing Lloyd-Jones within events.

David Ceri Jones’ treatment of ‘Lloyd-Jones and Wales’ is at once affectionate and accurate, balancing the realism of Lloyd-Jones’ marginal legacy within contemporary Welsh Christianity, with the huge impact for good that he had as a pastor in Port Talbot and a patriot from London. Jones’ tone is at times a little biting, assuming for instance that his subject embodied ‘divisive separatism’ (p.72), but he is also helpfully critical – showing the dangerous tendency of some young men to blindly imitate their hero.

The editing skill embodied in this volume is considerable, and this is nowhere more clearly seen than in its middle chapters. Ian M. Randall’s helpful tour of the main contours of ‘Lloyd-Jones and revival’ lead logically and organically into Atherstone, Jones and Kay’s assessment of ‘Lloyd-Jones and the charismatic controversy’. For me this was a landmark chapter in the book, providing a cool-headed and wide ranging analysis of where ‘the Doctor’ stood on these issues. Using careful research and reference the authors construct a compelling case for Lloyd-Jones’ charismatic sympathies, leaving me with a sense of unease at some of the encouragements which he offered to prominent figures within the UK’s nascent charismatic movement. While this chapter shows its subject’s feet of clay most clearly, Atherstone and Jones’ editorial skill also enables the reader to make suggestive connections between his sympathies in this area and his true burden to see revival come.

Ben Baillie surveys ‘Lloyd-Jones and the demise of preaching’, which brings some of his thoughts from Preaching and Preachers into an historical context. There is little that is new here, but it is a helpful overview nevertheless.

Philip Eveson brings a refreshing glimpse of ‘Lloyd-Jones and ministerial education,’ demonstrating an affection for his subject’s perspective on this issue, while also gently showing some of the inherent contradictions in his overall perspective on theological degrees. Quotation from Donald Macleod shows that while Lloyd-Jones may not have gone through formal theological education, his medical degree and clinical training were formative on his ability to expound God’s Word. This is an illuminating, warm-hearted and at times amusing summary of Lloyd-Jones’ sentiments on ministerial education, with his deep concern for a new generation of preachers being nurtured and educated shining most brightly throughout.

For me, Robert Pope’s ‘Lloyd-Jones and fundamentalism’ is the weakest chapter in this volume. While helpful in places, it did come across to me at times that he was harvesting facts from the life of Lloyd-Jones to support his thesis on the degree to which Lloyd-Jones qualified as a fundamentalist. This is most clearly shown in his citation of Bethan Lloyd-Jones’ encounter with a woman who took Christ’s admonition to literal extremes (p.206) as a normative measure of how she and her husband used a theological framework to govern their insistence on interpreting Scripture with Scripture. The link seems tenuous and the argument conflated. Pope’s tone when handling his subject’s commitment to the literal truth of Scripture does (whether consciously or unwittingly) stray into the patronising at times with the following quotation with regard to creation serving as an example: ‘he nevertheless held those accounts to be true and historical (regardless of obvious differences between the accounts found in Genesis 1 and 2)’. This is a disappointing chapter which adds little to the overall content of the book.

Robert Striven’s treatment of ‘Lloyd-Jones and Karl Barth’ is intriguing and delightfully structured, taking as its point of focus an annotated copy of Barth’s Christ and Adam which Lloyd-Jones had worked through. The ‘Doctor’s’ take on Barth’s thinking is mined from brief comments left in the margin of this book and provides a touching portrait of Lloyd-Jones as pastor-theologian perceptively wrestling with Barth’s distinctive outlook and seeking to come to terms with his place in the evangelical view of Scripture.

John Maiden takes an historical snapshot of ‘Lloyd-Jones and Roman Catholicism’, showing his subject’s deep love for individual Catholics, his refusal to join Protestant societies, and his resolute resistance to Roman Catholic dogma – particularly on the issue of authority. Maiden gives a fascinating account of how Lloyd-Jones’ emphasis moved from ‘positive Protestantisim’ to a more strident (he is careful to mark not militant) engagement with Rome in the context of rising ecumenism.

Andrew Atherstone’s treatment of ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Anglican secession crisis’ is, for me, one of the highlights of this volume. Via sensitive and judicious research, Atherstone carefully traces the contours of Lloyd-Jones’ most famous (or notorious) confrontation within the wider evangelical world. Atherstone’s ear for what happened, his ability to see beyond some of the unhelpful caricatures of Lloyd-Jones’ position on this issue, and his careful archive work on periodicals from the time lend his account depth and veracity. I found it interesting that the long-view assessment provided here largely (although not exclusively) affirms Iain Murray’s account of 1966 and following – earlier charges of hagiography notwithstanding.

The final essay is John Coffey’s ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Protestant past’, which traces the subject’s concern for Puritan and Reformed history, his instrumentality in seeing its recovery, and his use of that history for personal and polemical effect. As further reviews emerge it will be interesting to hear how those who knew Martyn Lloyd-Jones and attended his historical addresses assess Coffey’s depiction here.

The volume concludes with an extensive and helpful Lloyd-Jones bibliography which will no doubt prove most useful to anyone seeking to get first-hand experience of primary sources.

In my opinion this is a helpful book, although one with the inevitable flaws which attend a multi-contributor work. The air of realism, of broad concern for historical fidelity, and of a largely muted esteem for the subject, lend the volume value. My overall impression of Lloyd-Jones remains one of gratitude to God for providing such a man for such a time within evangelicalism. Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones does not airbrush its subject, or refuse to offer criticism, but it holds this degree of intellectual honesty in fairly constant tension with a tone of respect and appreciation for ‘the Doctor’. Certain sections are more easily recommended than others, but overall this is a helpful and incisive treatment of a fascinating subject.


1. Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982 & 1990). You can read Andrew’s review of The Fight of Faith here.

Reproduced with kind permission from Andrew Roycroft’s Double Usefulness blog. Note added.

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