Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Pietism, Part 2

This post follows directly from the last post seen below or by clicking here.

Inevitably when there is a split or a schism both sides look towards their leader for inspiration, counsel and advice on almost everything, and that explains in my opinion how Martyn Lloyd-Jones acquired an almost absolute intellectual influence over the conservative evangelical world. I find it especially interesting to compare Martyn Lloyd-Jones with the other leading evangelical figure in Wales during the Twentieth Century, R. Tudur Jones. Both were Evangelical Calvinists when it came to strict spiritual matters but they differentiate when it came to matters of public theology. On one hand R. Tudur Jones was Vice-President of Plaid Cymru and also the Editor of both their Welsh and English newspaper, he was a keen supporter and advocate of welsh language civil rights groups such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) and UMCB (Bangor Welsh Students Union) and he also played a leading role in the pacifist movement in Wales. On the other hand Martyn Lloyd-Jones kept himself to strict spiritual matters only, limiting himself to the four walls of the Church, he was essentially a pietist. And i should note, at this point that I agree with Prof. R.M. Jones when he said that pietism is tantamount to heresy.

But was Lloyd-Jones really a pietist? His faithful followers would argue that he wasn’t a pietist by going on to explain that all he believed was that the clergy should not meddle with politics and social matters. Christians in general should do, Lloyd-Jones’ limitations was only directed towards church leaders. Until fairly recently I was happy and accepted that explanation of Lloyd-Jones’ thought towards the public sphere. But when I delved into his hagiography written by Ian Murray I soon discovered that Lloyd-Jones’ attitude towards public theology was fundamentally more different than that of R. Tudur Jones than what I had originally thought. I was lead to believe that the differences between Lloyd Jones and Tudur Jones’ were only minor differences, different emphasis and nothing more. But after a closer look I discovered that the difference between the two brothers stance on public theology was vast.

It was in 1980, when Lloyd-Jones was nearing the end of his life long ministry, he gave an interview to the magazine Christianity Today. The interviewer asked him “what do you think Christianity ought to say to the economic situation today?”, and he answered as follows:

I think the great message we must preach is God’s judgment on men and on the world… The main function of politics, culture, and all these things is to restrain evil. They can never do an ultimately positive work.

Lloyd-Jones’ emphasis here is clear to us all; he sees the things of the public sphere in a negative and in a sin restraining way – it’s a get our hands dirty and get the job done as fast as possible and then get out even faster type of mentality. Tudur Jones on the other hand enters the public sphere with positive overtones; he sees a Christians ingenuity and activity in the public sphere in positive and creative light and he even sees it as an act of praise to God.

Considering Lloyd-Jones’ almost absolute influence over the conservative evangelical tradition I was bought up in it comes as no surprise that on the whole the tradition that I was bought up in is a pietistic one. My parents, thank God, are not pietists and neither were great men like R.M. Jones, Geraint Gruffydd and the already mentioned R. Tudur Jones. But R.M. Jones’ anti-pietist remarks are heard, even cheered, but hardly have they been acted upon unfortunately. So on the whole the current young generation of evangelical Christians in Wales are still pretty pietistic and this is to the detriment of Welsh public life and also contact points for mission. Much of this, I would argue is down to the influence of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, not the man himself, but the lasting influence of his miss-emphases in relation to the public sphere.

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4 Responses to “Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Pietism, Part 2”

  1. Dr David Ceri Jones Says:

    Rhys: couldn’t resist replying to your blog comments on Lloyd-Jones, I’m glad to see any reassessment of his influence and legacy, and am currently attempting that myself through a biogrpahy of J. Elwyn Davies and the Evangelical Movement of Wales. Having said all that, I think your piece needs to be informed by a much more rigorous sense of the historical context.

    Firstly I think you completely misunderstand pietism (if you’ve got this from Bobi Jones’ highly pejorative language, I can understand why – do you really think that the Moravians, Francke, Zinzendorf etc were heretics?) – there was certainly an element of withdrawl from the world in Lloyd-Jones’ thinking – go back to his Aberavon days and his advice to the Church Secretary, E. T. Rees to leave the Labour Party after his conversion, but that wasn’t pietism – I’d argue that you’ve got the wrong label – fundamentalism might be a better fit.

    I’m not sure about the comparison between Lloyd Jones and R. Tudur Jones either – let me bold – who reads RTJ today outside a limited Welsh-speaking academic(ish) community? MLJ’s books are read widely, the wordly over and are translated into many languages. They have very different concerns don’t they – MLJ, the preacher and evangelist; RTJ something very different. People are still meeting Jesus and being converted through MLJ’s sermons are they not?

    You say that both MLJ and RTJ were strict Calvinists – really? MLJ was a moderate Calvinist to be precise. RTJ was heavily influenced by Karl Barth was he not? To me that raises big questions.

    And then what about 1966 – there’s so much myth and misunderstanding surrounding this event as to make a dispassionate judgement difficult. Too much of the discussion wants to paint MLJ as a harsh separatist, which I think is unfair. MLJ’s big appeal was that evangelicals of whatever persuasion should stand together – that’s all. The challenges facing evangelicalism (and have they really changed?) as he saw it were such that we needed to come together and give a united witness, whether Anglican, Baptist or whatever. He did not advocate the setting up of any new organisations, leave alone denominations. Maybe you should read his lectures and sermons from the mid-1960s to get a fuller picture, and then engage with the pretty substantial literature that has been produced on the debate since then.

    There’s much more to be said – I’ve not got into RTJ’s Christian nationalism here (I’m no expert on this!), suffice to say that I find his line of biblical reasoning unhelpful and unconvincing. I question the accuracy of the first line of Faith and the Crisis of a Nation – ‘Wales, in 1890, was a Christian country’!! Isn’t there a danger that we can let our political/cultural identity dictate our reading of Scripture?

    Anyway glad to see some creative thought on the evangelical legacy of Lloyd Jones!

  2. Dafydd Says:

    Without getting into the issue of the Lloyd Jones legacy, I would take issue with your general branding of the younger generation of evangelicals as pietists (in the sense that you use the word) Whilst there is much which needs to be done as regards the Christian witness and involvement in society, it is very easy to brand those who are not involved in our activities with various names. There are those among the younger generation of Christians who are heavily involved in much work which touches the world in various ways – but not maybe prominent in CYIG. Their quiet involvement in their local communities is as much needed as those who would get involved in a more prominent and public way. We need also to consider that when people get out of the student life/lifestyle, and get into jobs which demand much time, or start families, then the opportunity for involvement in some activities is very much curtailed. However their sphere of involvement then changes. Let’s not accuse them of opting out of their responsibilities. Also let us remember that evangelistic proclamation is also a valid and vital witness, so be careful before knocking that.
    For my own part I have felt that piety in the sense that you use it is not so much the problem. The problem would be much better described as apathy. In a society where everything is put on a plate for us – fro instant coffee to online entertainment and social networking, it is easy to sit down and let other do the worrying for us. And as someone who was a student in the seventies and who believed that all things were possible that is a really worrying trend. In someone else’s words – Evil abounds when good men do nothing

  3. welshwilderness Says:

    Diolch Dafydd – I think you have summed up what I was trying to say in a much more elegant way. Perhaps ‘apathy’ is indeed a better way to describe young Evangelicals general lack luster involvement in anything except the church and family sphere. Whatever we call it I’m sure you’d agree with me that it is to the detriment of Welsh public life and contact points for mission.

  4. Herb Shattuck Says:

    I have been looking for a full reprint of the 1980 Christianity Today interview with the late doctor. Can you help???

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