Ernest Kevan – A Review by Greg Goswell
All I knew about Ernest Kevan before reading this book* was that he was the author of The Grace of Law (1964), a study of Puritan teaching on the place of God’s law in the Christian life (the published version of his doctoral thesis), but this useful account of his life introduced me to the founding Principal of London Bible College, and before that, the pastor of three Baptist churches in London. His life covered the first 65 years of the 20th Century and for the last 20 years of that he was an influential evangelical leader in Britain.
Kevan grew up in a godly Strict Baptist household and was converted at age 14. A decline in family fortunes meant that he had to leave school early. Without any formal training, he became the pastor of Church Hill Baptist Church at 21, but what he lacked in education he more than made up through effort, for he knew the value of hard work, so much so that, at one stage, it threatened his health due to nervous exhaustion. From the start of his ministry he preached and showed by his actions that Calvinistic doctrines were not incompatible with evangelistic enterprise.
After ten years he was led to become pastor of Zion New Cross Church, where children’s ministry was a focus and delight, in part because he and his wife were unable to have children. He is not the first or last Christian leader where early work among children and youth helped him to later become an effective theological educator. Through part-time study he earned the BD degree at the University of London and later an MTh from the same institution. At this time, his interest and belief in the importance of doctrine became plain, for he was not one who thought that biblical exegesis made clear enunciation of theology unnecessary.
His love of good doctrine did not lead to a narrow or critical spirit, and he had good fellowship with faithful men outside his own denomination, something that also fitted him for his later college work. In 1943 he accepted a call to Trinity Road Chapel, seeing it as a God-given opportunity to minister in a church with an open communion and many non-Baptist members. This situation was an ideal transition for the next stage of his work, to teach at an interdenominational college, the soon to be started London Bible College. He ministered in the church for two years before taking up teaching at the college, but remained in membership for the rest of his life.
In 1946 he became the College’s first Principal, though he had never been to a college himself. He was a pastor to the students and an effective leader of the staff. The students were prepared to sit for the BD examinations of the University of London. This required the study and evaluation of liberal approaches to the Bible, but this was done in the totally evangelical atmosphere of the college. I remember using some of the duplicated class notes from London Bible College in my own preparation for London BD exams in Australia in the 1970’s. Kevan defended the policy of preparing students for examinations set by a secular university, for he desired to rid evangelicalism of the charge of obscurantism and its addiction to sloppy or no scholarship. He strove to be faithful to the Scriptures and to uphold the highest standards of education in training men and women for Christian service.
Kevan had a vital role in the production of the New Bible Commentary (1953) as assistant editor, and in 1962 he received his doctorate from the University of London for a study of the Puritan view of the law of God. He was not well, however, and had been suffering from angina for several years. He died in 1965, fulfilling his wish to ‘die in harness’.
In the life of Ernest Kevan we see the Christ-like combination of strong biblical convictions, courage to live them out and courtesy to his opponents and those who thought differently to him. Kevan set a new standard for scholarship and theological depth in Bible College training in Britain, but his first love was to preach the gospel, and, for him, the task of scholarship was to undergird and support this first priority. He played an important role in the renaissance of evangelical scholarship in the 20th Century and deserves to be remembered (and emulated) by a rising generation of Bible teachers and preachers.
Leader in Twentieth Century British Evangelicalism
All I knew about Ernest Kevan before reading this book* was that he was the author of The Grace of Law (1964), a study of Puritan teaching on the place of God’s law in the Christian life (the published version of his doctoral thesis), but this useful account of his life introduced me to the […]
Taken with permission from Australia’s online magazine New Life, October 1, 2012.
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