The Significance of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Humorous Interlude

Those who know me offline, or who have been long-time DET readers, know that I like to have a laugh from time to time. This is one of those times. Through the mysterious workings of the internet, it came to my attention that the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London (yes, Spurgeon's church!) has put online a piece written long ago by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is a magzine-style piece that is very critical of the thought and legacy of Karl Barth. It is entitled, "The Significance of Karl Barth."

Now, the things that Lloyd-Jones says about Barth are laughably and obviously misguided to anyone who knows Barth, so there is humor in that alone. The sorts of claims that he makes have been debunked again and again in the secondary literature (even if, unfortunately, there are plenty of people walking around who still hold them - even people who should know better). But an idea popped into my head whereby I might use humor to make even more obvious the absurdity of his take on Barth.

So I submit the below to you all as something like a theological SNL sketch. It is meant in good fun, and as a piece of humorous satire. I certainly mean no ill-will to Lloyd-Jones or his memory (at least, no more than what he bore for Karl Barth). Of course, as with all the best humor, I believe that there is truth to be found here . . .


The Significance of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The passing of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the age of 82 is an event that calls for comment.

As a man, there is only one adjective to apply to him and that is ‘cantankerous’. Everything about him was ornery. He clearly also had some intelligence. Nothing else could account for his tiresome criticism of various theological outlooks. He was said by those who knew him to be a ‘great stubborn mule’. But his obstinacy was seen supremely in his all-but-heroic call for British evangelicals to beat a hasty retreat from their churches to form a new and ostensibly ‘pure’ one (because no one ever tried that before . . .).

There is no question also but that he stood out above all others as a conservative crank in this century. No name has been disparaged more freely not only in Protestant circles but also among Roman Catholics.

He first became known mid-century as the pastor of Westminster Chapel, where the spectacle of his preaching drew significant crowds. This was followed in the 1960s by the now-infamous ‘evangelical controversy,’ alluded to previously, in which Lloyd-Jones called for the formation of a new evangelical church. Fortunately, he was strongly opposed and sternly reprimanded by John Stott. Perhaps Lloyd-Jones’ most notable work is a 14-volume commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

The great question is – What has all this meant from a Christian standpoint? The answer is quite simply – practically nothing! At first many felt that Lloyd-Jones was a great new ally. His attacks on Liberalism and Modernism existed, and he appeared to be reasserting the old Calvinistic position. But alas, it was only a matter of appearance.

To start with he rejected a radical criticism of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, entirely forgetting Calvin’s principle of accommodation. His view of revelation was clearly not that of the Reformers. He affirmed propositional revelation, and elevated affirmation of mythological supernaturalism to confessional status.

‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ and when this canon of judgment is applied to Lloyd-Jones and his works it is clear that the result has been entirely negative.

Though his works and influence have been in existence for over 50 years, he has brought no revival to the church. This is not surprising as his approach, in spite of his denials, is essentially philosophical. His style was involved and difficult and while for a time he produced a crop of intellectual preachers, who were always preaching about the words of the Bible, it soon became clear that they were not preaching the message of the Bible.

He lacked entirely a noticeable influence on the continent, and his influence in the United Kingdom was, while perhaps significant among a conservative demographic, almost entirely negligible. Lloyd-Jones does not appear to have many students at all at the present time, and certainly not any Roman Catholics. It may well be that his greatest achievement will be the dubious honor of having self-consciously encouraged further schism in the church.

As a negative critic of the old Modernism he was unoriginal, but because he tried to bend the Scriptures and their message to his philosophical system (early modern philosophy of science coupled with epistemological foundationalism) and failed to become ‘a fool for Christ’s sake’ in the Pauline sense, and to submit himself to that ‘simplicity which is in Christ Jesus’, his positive contribution to the cause of the Gospel was virtually nil. It is because of this that his name should never be coupled with those of Luther and Calvin. What a difference there is between causing a stir, or even a flutter, in the ecclesiastical dovecotes, and being used of God to produce a reformation and a re-awakening!


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