Book Review—Evangelicalism Divided

Reviewed by Andrew David Naselli.

Murray, Iain H. Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000. Hardcover, 324 pages. $23.00.

(This review was originally posted here with an annotated bibliography of other reviews of this title and interviews with Iain Murray.)

Purchase: BOT | CBD | Amazon

Special Features: Apendices, Title Index, General Index

ISBNs: 0851517838 / 9780851517834

LCCN: BR1640 .M877

DCN: 270.8209045

Subjects: Evangelicalism

Iain Hamish Murray (b. 1931) has authored over two dozen books on historical theology from a Reformed perspective. His mentor was David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whom Murray assisted at Westminster Chapel from 1956 to 1959 and about whom Murray wrote a stirring two-volume biography (vol. 1, vol. 2). In 1957, Murray co-founded the Banner of Truth Trust, which has published his many writings and for which he serves as Editorial Director.

Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided traces the new strategy by prominent American and British evangelicals such as Harold Ockenga, Edward Carnell, Billy Graham, John Stott, and J.I. Packer from about 1950 to 2000. He concludes that their strategy failed to fulfill what it promised but instead compromised the gospel itself. What follows summarizes the eleven chapters:

1. “Setting the Scene” (pp. 1-23) explains the history of theological liberalism and pinpoints Schleiermacher “as the chief source of the massive change which has occurred in the historic Protestant denominations during the last two hundred years” (p. 11). As it did in Germany, liberal theology “opened the way” in England and America “for the idea that belief is no essential part of being a Christian” since “true experience can exist irrespective of belief” (p. 12). Prior to the 1950s, evangelical leaders—many known as “fundamentalists“—clearly opposed liberalism (pp. 13-17), for example, by refusing “to co-operate in evangelism with non-evangelicals” (p. 14). The “new evangelicalism” changed this strategy (pp. 19-23).

2. “Billy Graham: Catalyst for Change” (pp. 24-50) details Graham’s ecumenical evangelism. It describes his connections to Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and evangelical and non-evangelical leaders. “Clearly the new evangelical alignment was prepared, if need be, to lose the support of ‘extreme fundamentalists’” (p. 35). “Only one senior evangelical voice,” Lloyd-Jones, warned evangelicals of compromising with liberals (p. 44). In 1966, Stott publicly rejected the position of Lloyd-Jones, who rightly predicted that the new evangelical strategy “would be bound to promote the doctrinal indifferentism characteristic of the ecumenical movement” (p. 45).

3. “High Aims, Wrong Priorities” (pp. 51-78) argues that the new evangelicalism compromised by allowing pragmatism “to override biblical principles” (p. 51). Examples of pragmatism include the invitation system in Graham’s crusades (pp. 51-54) and Graham’s policy to cooperate with liberals in evangelism (pp. 58-75). In a 1997 public interview with Robert Schuller, Graham unambiguously embraced a form of universalism (pp. 73-74). In the 1960s, both Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaeffer advised Graham against his ecumenical strategy (pp. 75-77).

4. “The New Anglican Evangelicalism Versus the Old” (pp. 79-111) highlights the public fallout between Lloyd-Jones (”the old”) and Stott and Packer (”the new”), which “marked the saddest period in [Lloyd-Jones’s] life” (p. 110). Murray quotes D.A. Carson’s observation regarding Lloyd-Jones: “What was at stake for him was the gospel … his reading of trends was both accurate and prophetic” (p. 98n2).

5. “How the Evangelical Dyke Was Broken in England” (pp. 112-48) argues that the flood that followed the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Keele in 1967 was a devastating consequence of compromise.

6. “Retrospect: A Different Approach” (pp. 149-72) argues that “when churches lose their influence” and “moral decline is obvious in places which once owned biblical standards,” “the spiritual decline” is probably “due to a fundamental failure to understand and practice what Christianity really is” (p. 151).

7. “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” (pp. 173-214) exposes some level of compromise on biblical inerrancy by scholars such as F.F. Bruce, James Dunn, R.T. France, Edward Carnell, David Hubbard, Mark Noll, David Bebbington, Alister McGrath, and Anthony Thiselton.

8. “Rome and New Division” (pp. 215-49) exposes the compromising Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement led by Packer and others. ECT’s danger is advocating “a public policy which implies that there is no vital and essential difference between Christianity and Roman Catholicism” (p. 243).

9. “The Silent Participant” (pp. 250-71) qualifies that although some evangelical leaders did not tolerate “indefinite and superficial teaching” (p. 251) and even retained orthodoxy, they sought success in worldly ways (pp. 254-57). Christianity is not immune from Satanic and demonic attack (cf. pp. 257-68).

10. “‘Church’ and the Unresolved Problem” (pp. 272-93) emphasizes the nature of the true church and restates the prophetic message of Lloyd-Jones against ecumenism.

11. “From the Quarries to the Temple” (pp. 294-318) ends the volume with six conclusions, including these three: “A great deal of the confusion which has divided evangelicalism has been related to the question, ‘Who is a Christian?’” (p. 299); true Christians may have serious disagreements (pp. 306-13); and it is difficult “for leaders to look in different directions at once” (p. 313).

Many have criticized Murray’s book for not being an exhaustive treatment of evangelicalism from 1950 to 2000 (cf. reviews listed here by Nicole, Searle, and D. Wright), but that misses his point. Murray is purposely selective with reference to evangelicalism’s compromise and decline (cf. Murray’s interviews and articles listed here). His book, however, is not as clear as it could be for at least five reasons: (1) its progression is not immediately clear by the chapter titles; (2) its chapters lack titled subdivisions; (3) its prose is a bit thick at times; (4) its prose jumps around chronologically and geographically, which may confuse some readers; and (5) it seems to assume that readers have some prior knowledge about certain people and events. He also marginalizes fundamentalism (cf. reviews listed here by Pettegrew, Sidwell, and Straub). Nevertheless, the volume is fascinating, well-documented, sobering, earnest, gracious, and highly relevant for modern evangelicals. While acknowledging my limited perspective, I think that Murray’s argument is convincing.

naselli.jpgAndy Naselli is currently working on a Ph.D. in Theological Studies with a concentration in New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he serves as teaching assisting to Dr. Robert Yarbrough, research assistant to Dr. D. A. Carson, and part-time Greek faculty. He earned a B.A. in Bible from Baptist College of Ministry (2002), M.A. in Bible from Bob Jones University (2003), and Ph.D. in theology from Bob Jones University (2006). He and his wife Jenni live on campus at Trinity in Deerfield, Illinois.

 

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