To ignore that conviction is to misunderstand this gifted little Welshman.
We are delighted to carry in this issue an interview with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who for three decades had a remarkable ministry in central London and whose reputation as an expository preacher has become legend in North America as well. In London, his Westminster Fellowship still provides a meeting place for ministers and an opportunity for that cut and thrust so dear to the heart of one sufficiently identified by British evangelicals as “The Doctor.”
His retirement from Westminster Chapel in 1968 marked the end of a line of distinguished Free Church preachers in the British capital. He had worked with, or in close proximity to, well-known figures such as G. Campbell Morgan, W. R. Sangster, and Leslie Weatherhead, yet Lloyd-Jones was an original who developed his own unique type of ministry.
Basic to it was his strongly held view of preaching as “the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling.” To ignore that conviction is to misunderstand this gifted little Welshman who was sometimes dismissed as quirky and idiosyncratic. He expressed himself forcefully against choirs and songleaders, church processions and liturgical embellishments, public testimonies and responsive readings, pulpit entertainers, and literary lecturers. Why? Out of simple reaction to anything that took time or attention from reading or preaching the Word of God.
There was no self-exaltation in this: he once said he would not cross the road to listen to himself preach, and he seldom referred to himself in sermons. He was hesitant too of putting overmuch emphasis on personal work or counseling, holding that such activity goes up when preaching goes down.
But there was no imbalance. While he gave the impression of being reticent and withdrawn (not the type of pastor you would telephone on a Saturday afternoon without good reason), those who did call on him for counsel found him a caring shepherd. No one knows how many marriages he saved, how many fellow physicians kept the track because of his strong faith, or how many students he guided through theological thickets and personal problems. To those in genuine need he gave unstintingly of his time and wisdom. Letters still come to him from all over the world, indicating how much he meant to former members or lonely wayfarers who regard Westminster Chapel as their spiritual birthplace. The Doctor is remembered, too, for his books, particularly for his meticulous and comprehensive handling of the Pauline Epistles. There was no shoddy or incomplete work here!
Carl Henry’s interview legitimately included a question about mass evangelism, an issue to which Lloyd-Jones responded with candor and graciousness. Some will disagree with him, or possibly be upset. His views deserve a responsible hearing. Agree or disagree, we are called to marvel that God uses different men and methods to bring souls into the kingdom. We do not think it is an either-or issue; churches may and should be rightly involved in mass evangelism, but ought not let the periodic occurrence of a joint crusade become a cop-out regarding the day-to-day, hard-slogging personal witness and evangelism every church and every Christian should be doing.
Lloyd-Jones also found it difficult to understand the position of some in mainline denominations who companied with clergy who denied the divinity of Christ and other cardinal doctrines. Indeed, in 1966 he caused a stir among British evangelicals by challenging them to leave such denominations (perhaps especially the Church of England) for the sake of truth uncompromised. He denied that he was advocating the founding of a new church body. This provoked a rejoinder from John Stott who suggested that both Scripture and history were against such a move, and that differences of belief and practice were matters of secondary importance.
Here, too, things are not quite what they seem. Lloyd-Jones is a great believer in evangelical ecumenicity, and once refuted an American magazine’s description of himself as “the devil’s agent, dividing evangelicals in Britain.” For many years he supported and spoke at Inter-Varsity and meetings of kindred groups. He often traveled to Scotland, where his ministry has been warmly appreciated by the spiritual descendants of John Knox.
He is no narrow-minded bigot. He reads widely in all schools of thought, and encourages others to do the same, but he remains profoundly convinced of one thing lacking today, something that is the greatest need of the church: a return to expository preaching. Spoken by one who could keep people motionless for 45 minutes at a time in the most uncomfortable seats in London, it is a conviction that should give clergy a thoughtful ponder or two. Dr. Lloyd-Jones is engaged on his spiritual autobiography. We will have much to learn from it.
The embassy crisis in Iran has produced a heightened public sensibility and unity unlike anything we can recall since Pearl Harbor.
The crisis comes at an auspicious time: the Muslim world enters its fifteenth century (dated from the Hegira) and can, thanks to petroleum, petrodollars, and political independence, look to a rise in its fortunes among the nations of earth.
At such a point in history we can well ask, “What is our attitude toward Muslims?” One can make a pretty strong case that Americans are conditioned to hate and fear Muslims, or at least disdain them, on ethical, aesthetic, religious, and economic grounds.
However, this approach only imperfectly expresses biblical teaching on relationships with those who have not yet received Christ as their Lord. In examining this we want to focus not on the relation of the U.S. government to the Iranian government, but on the personal attitude of individual Christians in North America to Muslim people in Iran. A later editorial will deal with the issue of statecraft.
Consider 1 Corinthians 9:22, where Paul declares, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” He refused to be enslaved by visceral reaction or cultural preference. Bound only by “the law of Christ” (the essentials of Christian theology and ethics), he set aside all obstacles to casting his life and message in terms accessible to his hearers.
How did this work out? The Book of Acts tells us. In Acts 17 we learn of his visit to Athens, a city so full of idols that a traveler of the day wryly remarked on how it was easier to find a god than a man there. How sickened, even convulsed, must Paul have been when surrounded by a plethora of idols (and the evil spirits they fronted for). Yet because the love of Christ constrained him, he became acquainted with the Athenian way of thinking, showed friendliness to its best parts (its poets and philosophers), looked for neutral or positive elements that could serve as bridges for the gospel (theism, an altar “to an unknown God”), and identified with the felt needs of the people (that altar, phrases like “seek God … feel after him … find him”). In all this Paul, speaking Greek, presented Christ.
How can we who find ourselves so negative toward Muslims (as Paul was toward Athenian idolatry) appreciate them, as Paul appreciated the best in Greek culture? Perhaps we should take steps to become better informed than our folk-cultural sources allow. We might find, for example, that we respond to the imagery of one of Persia’s greatest poets, Omar Khayyám, in the Rubáiyát:
Awake! For morning in the bowl of night
Has flung the stone that put the stars to flight,
And lo the Hunter of the East
Has caught the Sultan’s turret in a noose of light!
Or if we look fairly at religious matters, we see the justice of listing Islam as one of the world’s great monotheisms (along with Christianity and Judaism). These three stand together against the belief in the multiple gods of, say animism or Hinduism. Further, we see in Islam a solemn view of a transcendent God who commands total devotion.
In addition, Paul’s appreciation of the Greeks suggests that he saw them not merely as people with religious interests, but as culture builders, too. Note how Paul often showed sympathy with the Greco-Roman perseverance in athletic training, expertise in government, capability in martial arts, and fairness in civil law. Would he not see Muslims today, likewise culture builders, as working out a cultural expression that partly reflects Muslim theology, but takes into account such other factors as aesthetic aspirations, radical nationalism, industrial growth, and urban crowding?
Might not Paul see a particular Muslim, for instance an Iranian, as a man at once proud of his ancient Persian roots and fretful over a cash flow problem in his shop down at the bazaar? Yes, he interrupts his day five times to kneel and pray to Allah, but he also worries over whether his son will settle down and be a good family man.
Can we not fairly ask the questions, “How do Muslims think? What do they value? What are their hopes and fears?” Paul saw non-Christians as people with needs; he was a Christian with heart, and addressed the whole man. Do we see all Iranians as carbon copies of the Ayatollah Khomeini? Have we taken time to consider where they—and he—might be coming from, what pressures and hopes impel them? We need not fear looking at them as human if we know the consolation of the Holy Spirit; we lead from strength.
We can freely ask, as missionary anthropologist Charles Taber suggests, “How do [Muslims] experience their own particular version of the lostness and alienation of humanity? This might be specially helpful as we talk with students in our midst from Iran.
Paul identified with idolatrous Greeks. Today would he not try to figure out how things look from a Muslim’s-eye view? Would he not take into account a history of virtually ceaseless wars between Christians and Muslims? Would he ignore the massive “Christian” violence of centuries of Crusades directed against the “infidel” Muslims in the Near East? Might he not consider that this and other mistakes have provided at least some provocation for present day Muslim “intransigence?” Further, we see our shortage of oil; they see our extravagance of driving—and the depletion of the deposits of their one big-money export. How would we feel in similar circumstances?
Or consider the effects of creeping secularism. A frog sits in a beaker of cool water being heated slowly by a Bunsen burner. Unaware of the gradual rise in temperature, he passively awaits his fate. When the water finally boils, the frog is dead. The average American sitting in his living room before TV has likewise been bathed for 30 years in the hotting-up sensuality of sitcoms, soaps, variety shows, movies, ads. Were the American of 1950 suddenly plunged into the superheated programming of 1980 he would leap from his house and join a march on Washington to demand that TV clean up its act.
Yet is this not analogous to the way Western culture can burst upon, say, the Ayatollah Khomeini? His culture is decades behind that of the U.S. in “modernization,” yet he and the still largely traditional society of Iran are being suddenly plunged into the West’s secular value system. Is it any wonder he leaps out kicking and screaming?
And is it so surprising that Muslims equate the West with Christianity? Might they not see the U.S. as a “Christian” country just as we see Iran and other Middle Eastern nations as “Muslim” countries? How might a practicing Iranian Muslim view the newspaper report of a sex orgy in Los Angeles or a brawl in New York? Surely as a Christian sex orgy or Christian brawl. How might he view the divorce rate in the U.S.? “Oh,” someone might say, “that’s only the non-Christians!” Is it? The CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll shows no great difference between divorce rates of evangelicals and the general public.
Appreciating Iranian and Muslim strengths and seeing America from an Iranian point of view obviously help us as Christians do a better job of being “all things to all men, that by all means we might win some.” Books like The Gospel and Islam (edited by Don McCurry) and A Christian’s Response to Islam by William M. Miller can help us here.
Yet in spite of such insights, many of us still find ourselves downright angry with Iranians concerning the embassy takeover. How do we handle this?
The answer seems to lie in the balance displayed by Jesus. He was firm yet loving. On one hand he stressed God’s justice and called for repentance, pronouncing woes on the persistently unrepentant. This suggests firmness in the face of intransigence, and advises against any Pollyanna sentimentality toward the Ayatollah Khomeini. Rather, we should vigorously work for just treatment—release—of the embassy captives.
On the other hand, we know Christ primarily not as a fierce judge, but as the One who seeks and saves. Otherwise, who could stand before him? And he died saying of his tormentors, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Not vengeance but abounding graciousness characterized his attitude to them.
His loving toughness warned them of catastrophe to come, yet his tough love maintained an openness to receive them should they repent. That meant a great deal to many in Acts 3 whom Peter pointedly told, “You killed the Author of Life” (v. 15), because Peter was then able to say, “Repent … that your sins may be blotted out.”
Are we who champion that message ready to give it life even in our attitude to those who take humans hostage and inflict what may well be lifelong psychological wounds? The situation calls for spiritual strength: patience in the face of provocation. Have we failed here? Each of us might ask himself the question, “How Christ-like are my thoughts toward the Ayatollah? Am I praying that Christ will illuminate his mind? Have I found Christ’s blend of justice and mercy?”
Missions researcher Edward Dayton has written in another context, “I would like to hoard my love for my wife and children, my mother, my father. For they love me too. Jesus quietly takes me by the arm and introduces me to people I don’t feel very comfortable with, people I suspect don’t love me; and he demands I love them too.”
Hard, hard words.
And what may we expect when we love them this way? That God will be pleased? Certainly. That thousands will be saved? Perhaps. But we must recall that we follow One who was the prototype of such love, yet they took him and.…
As evangelicals we see ourselves at the midpoint between Christmas and Easter. We look back thankfully on the event celebrated by the “Magi,” men called by a term given us by the Medes, inhabitants of northwest Iran. And we look forward in the Spirit of the forgiving and risen Christ to that day when wise men will again emerge in the (Middle) East—and in the West—saying, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?… We have come to worship him.”
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