Finding Clarity in Confusion: Understanding Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 Address

The following was published at Credo Magazine which is a excellent theological resource for scholar, pastors, and lay readers! I highly encourage you to visit their sight.

Confusion hung over the crowd of the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals like a cloud of secondhand smoke. Moments earlier, the famed pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had appealed for the creation of a new evangelical association. He believed an evangelical exodus from mainline denominations would facilitate “a mighty revival and re-awakening.” As he brought his appeal to an end, everyone seemed to know what was expected of him or her. The evangelical leader John Stott shared this impression believing his audience would “go home and write their letter of resignation that very night.” Fearing that this assembly which had been formed to further ecumenicism was about to condemn ecumenicism, Stott broke professional protocol and proclaimed, “I believe history is against what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside of it. I hope no one will act precipitately.”

The battle had been engaged. Yet few in attendance could clearly articulate why these two leaders of British evangelicalism had exchanged blows. Both seemingly advocated for the gospel, the supremacy of the Scriptures and unity. Yet they had both just thrown verbal punches at one another. The crowd was confused. Historians and theologians are still confused about what happened. The debate over whether or not Lloyd-Jones was a unifier or schismatic still smolders in more than one evangelical fire pit and will not be put out anytime soon.

Much of the confusion over what had transpired on October 18, 1966 centered upon the content of Lloyd-Jones’s now famous speech “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal.” Stott and the evangelical press of the day believed that the Doctor’s speech “should be interpreted as calling for evangelicals to leave mixed denominations.” They believed Lloyd-Jones was schismatic, working against the unifying influences that had risen to prominence in British evangelicalism during the 1960s.

By contrast, the supporters of the Doctor believed Lloyd-Jones had offered a positive appeal that had little to do with the creation of a new denomination. His grandson and historian, Christopher Catherwood, concluded, “The doctor was arguing for unity, not for division or schism.” The debate over whether or not Lloyd-Jones was a unifier or schismatic still smolders in more than one evangelical fire pit and will not be put out anytime soon.

Though many scholars huddle about the fires that seek to illuminate the Doctor’s intentions, little effort has been devoted to understanding why Lloyd-Jones’s speech proved confusing. Though scholars have credited Stott, the evangelical press, and Lloyd-Jones with igniting the fire of controversy, they have not examined why Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 address was so ready for the kindling.

Why the Confusion?

Lloyd-Jones’s address lacked clarity in part because it lacked Scripture. Though Lloyd-Jones believed evangelicalism had reached a “most critical moment” in 1966, he approached this monumental times with a closed Bible. He referenced the Word of God only twice during his speech, mentioning Acts 2:42 and the “First Epistle to the Corinthians.” He spent more time discussing the Reformation than exegeting the Word of God. Consequently, J.I. Packer would conclude the Doctor had contended for a kind of Puritanism. Other listeners believed the Doctor had been consumed with denominational concerns. Catherwood wrote his grandfather had placed “his emphasis on structure rather than doctrine.” The Doctor had been misunderstood because he stood upon logic and church history instead of the Scriptures. Because of this mistake, he suffered the loss of both friends and influence.

The Lessons of Failure

Pastors, theologians, and lay leaders should take note of Lloyd-Jones’s failure. The man who had devoted his life to glorifying God through sermons designed “to make doctrine real to the heart and therefore permanently life-changing” had stepped out from underneath the shadow of the Scriptures. Without the Word of God, the Doctor’s logic and knowledge of church history proved to be as vibrant as a water-soaked piece of charcoal. He read his Bible regularly. He knew it and loved it. At the very end, when he couldn’t speak, he would point to verses out of it.

If Christians wonder into ecclesial, social, or political spheres without the Scriptures, they too risk being misunderstood by their listeners. Such presentations may win some adherents in the moment, but they will not advance the gospel, strengthen the Church, or edify local congregations. Lloyd-Jones correctly noted, “You cannot build up a church on apologetics, still less on polemics. The preacher is called primarily to preach the positive Truth.” The Christian’s ability to influence others rests upon his or her ability to exegete and teach the gospel. The Christian has no other power. The people of God must ground their arguments in the Word if they hope to influence hearts.

Lloyd-Jones: A Man of the Scriptures

In many respects, Lloyd-Jones would recover from the wounds of the 1966 controversy because he never wandered far from the Scriptures. Over the course of his life, he lived by the maxim, “Any doctrine that we claim to believe from the Bible must always clearly be found in the Bible.” Three years after the controversy of 1966, the Welsh pastor delivered perhaps his most famous lectures in Philadelphia. These addresses would later be edited and published under the title, Preaching and Preachers. His influence did not stop with this volume. Crossway and Banner of Truth continue to release new editions of his sermons and lectures which cover everything from Romans to the Psalms to the theology of parenting. He was a profoundly biblical man. As his daughter Elizabeth Catherwood noted, “He read his Bible regularly. He knew it and loved it. At the very end, when he couldn’t speak, he would point to verses out of it.” The Doctor remains a fixture upon the evangelical mantel because he loved the Word.

Lloyd-Jones, the Scriptures and 1966

Even his 1966 address had been sparked by his earlier exegetical work. Many of the arguments the Doctor put forward in 1966 had appeared in a booklet he wrote in 1962. In those pages, Lloyd-Jones built his understanding of ecumenicism upon his exegesis of John 17 and Ephesians 4. The booklet restated the conclusions of numerous exegetical sermons he had preached at Westminster Chapel in the 1940s and 1950s. Though Lloyd-Jones shared only his logical conclusions in 1966, they were conclusions that had been extracted from the Scriptures. He had not abandoned his principles. Rather, he had forgotten to fully share them. This oversight doomed the Doctor’s address.

The Scriptures clarify and empower our thoughts; our thoughts do not clarify and empower the Scriptures. Regardless of the Christian’s training, intellect, and persuasiveness, nothing can compensate for the absence of the plain and powerful words of the Scriptures. As Lloyd-Jones said in 1969, “What matters is not the man or his ideas: it should always be this Word, for it alone is the sources of the preacher’s authority.” May God keep us grounded in this Word.

Do Not Be Afraid. Storms Are Coming.

storm-is-comingLife is hard. Life is really hard. You might even say it is hell on earth. Picking up on this reality, one marketer said,

There are lots of hells…There’s no-time hell, stressed out hell, bored hell, out-of-shape hell, lonely hell, overworked hell, no budget hell, debt hell, bad-hygiene hell…human-relations hell, disorganized hell.

To market well you must offer salvation from the hells of this life.

The question facing you and me today is not, “Will we have trials?” The question is, “how do we handle our trials?” Such pessimistic thinking is not purely the work of secular Debbie-downers who kill puppies for fun.

The idea that our lives are lives predicated upon suffering is an intimately biblical idea. The Forty-two chapters in Job, The five chapters of Lamentations, the over 60 Lament Psalms, and large portions of every Old and New Testament books address the topic of suffering. Jesus affirms the reality of human suffering when he talks about the wise-man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish-man who built his house on the sand (Math 7:24-27). Both men are hit by the storms of life. Both men suffer. The one who stands upon the rock of Christ is not destroyed by trials. The hellish things of this fallen world do not overcome the one who built his life upon the cornerstone that the builders rejected.

We know God will carry us through our trials. We have the head knowledge. And yet, we still found ourselves fearful, confused, afraid when we see the dark storm clouds of life come sweeping across the horizon.

We come across the disciples in state of astonishment and fear In Mark 10:32-34. They are walking towards Jerusalem fearful, confused, and afraid because dark clouds hang over their future. They are afraid and amazed. The term for amazement used here is not happy amazement. This is not the amazement we feel when a homerun clears the upper deck of the Brave’s Stadium or when a ballerina spin elegantly across the stage. This is a frightful, an apprehensive amazement. It is a feeling similar to what a mom feels when the see spaghetti on dangling form the roof while her children look innocently on from the table with blank stares on their face. This is the amazement one feels as he watches a car flip across the freeway.  The disciples and those following Jesus are a mess.

Sensing their hearts, Jesus calls the twelve disciples to himself and shares these words:

See we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.

We should take time to consider and ponder Jesus’s words because they show us how to navigate the hellish trials of this life. As the famous Pastor D. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote,

“In many ways the prime business of the preaching of the gospel is to prepare men to stand up to these things.”

If our gospel is powerful, meaningful, and adequate for all of life, then it must empower us to survive the storms of life and even the great crisis of death itself. All Christians need to be about the business of understanding how the gospel sees us through trials.

But before we dive into the beautiful truth that the can survive trials because Jesus saves, I want to spend a few moments understanding why the disciples and the others following Jesus are afraid.

To get the full context for Jesus’ s words, we need to travel back a few verses. In Mark 10:24, we read, “And the disciples were amazed at his words” The more Jesus talks, the more astonished the disciples become. In verse 26, we read, “And they were exceedingly astonished.”

What were this earth shattering words? Look at Mark 10:24b-25:

Children how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

The disciples had accidentally constructed a theology that very much paralleled many of the ideas found in today’s Health and Wealth gospel. The disciples believed that wealth, health, power, and long life were all signs of God’s favor. To be successful in the world meant one was favored and blessed by God. A few verses earlier in Mark 10:13, they had attempted to keep the little children away from Jesus because the infants were insignificant in their minds. The disciples naturally assumed that God is not interested in the poor and unimportant things of the world.

But Jesus disagrees and is not mercifully ripping their bad theology apart. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus, the disciples were sure that the rich young ruler would be saved and welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.

Sadly, the opposite happens. The rich young ruler is not he leaves sorrowful because he will not give up all his wealth and follow Jesus.

And then Jesus get to these words:

Children how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Wealth is not the ultimate sign of God’s favor. God is. God love is not measured by wealth, the size of your health, or the success of your children. God’s love is measured by Jesus’s death for you and me and by the presence of his church. Those who follow Christ get Jesus and his church.

Jesus says it this way in verses 29-30: “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now In this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Often we are prone to doubt God, to panic, and to be fearful when suffering and trials come because we have unknowingly embraced a health and wealth gospel. We follow the theology that lead some churches in Nigeria to name their building things like, “The Winners Chapel.” We function like many of Ghana’s Christian couples who changed their wedding vows from: “For Better or for worse” and “for richer or for poorer” to “for better or for Best” and to “for richer or for richest.” We have equated God’s love with out stuff instead of with Jesus’s death and resurrection.

When we get diagnosed with cancer, when our child is arrested for stealing, and when our granddaughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, we are left with fear and astonishment because our false gospel was shattered by reality. We get mad and depressed and scream at God, “How could you let this happen? How dare you not give me all the things that I have demanded from you?”

We have assumed that salvation and God’s love equals a life of no suffering. And now, we have no category from which to understand the evil and hardships in our life.

We struggle because we miss that fact that Jesus promises that we will gain him and lose wealth and family and friendships. Hardships are not a sign that God has left you. As Llyod-Jones reminds us,

No where does the Bible tell us that immediately you become a Christian all your troubles end, and that the remainder of the story is that ‘all lived happily ever after.’ Nothing of the kind.

All people struggle with the storms of life.

Rather, we know God is close by. We have his church; we have fellow believers who care for us and minister to us. More importantly, we have Jesus. No matter what happens in this world, no matter what we suffer or lose, we will be with Christ in paradise. As Glen Scrivener wrote,

“Jesus entered our hell so we could have his heaven. . . . Jesus joins us in our failures so we can join him in his family.”

Do not assume that God’s favor equals earthly peace because Jesus is our goal and ultimate hope. Success and glory is find in the throne room of heaven and not in our bank account. Storms are coming. Abandon any theology that cannot make since of them.