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What is an Evangelical?

02 Jun

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones on “What is an Evangelical?”

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Dr. Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1899 – 1 March 1981) was a minister in the 20th century who spoke concerning the issues within evangelicalism with an almost prophetic character. Lloyd-Jones recognized that evangelicalism, in a desire to influence wider society and academia, was making compromises that would lead to the inevitable decline in gospel preaching and godly living. At the 1971 IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) conference the doctor spoke on the topic “What is an Evangelical?” While addressing the particulars that an evangelical believes, Lloyd-Jones stated “the first is the doctrine of Scripture.” In the extract below the preacher expands what a true evangelical should believe regarding this central doctrine.

            The basis of faith says: ‘We believe in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.’ I contend that it is not enough just to say that; we have got to go further. There are people who claim to subscribe to that doctrine, who, I would suggest, in some of their statements raise very serious doubts as to whether they really do accept it…

            It seems to me that we have got to spell out much more clearly the whole notion of revelation. It is difficult to do that in a short statement. The basis speaks of ‘the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness’, but we must go beyond that. We have got to assert today this category of revelation. We have got to exclude the notion that men have arrived at the truth as a result of searching and thinking, or by means of philosophy. We must affirm that it is entirely given, that ‘holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Pet. 1:21), or, as Paul is constantly reminding his readers, that his gospel is not his own, ‘For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:12). We have to underline in a new and very definite way the whole notion of revelation and also, in the same way, of inspiration, showing that by inspiration we do not mean that these men were inspired in the way that certain poets have been ‘inspired’ and given glimpses into truth, but that they were actually controlled by the Holy Spirit. ‘Borne along’, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:21, or as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’; it is ‘God-breathed’. These things we must assert with particularity.

            In the same way we have got to assert today that we believe that Scripture contains propositional truth. This has often been the dividing line between evangelicals and pseudo-evangelicals. I have noticed over the years it is one of the first points that indicate a departure from an evangelical position when men begin to object to, and to reject, propositional truth, as Karl Barth did and as most of his followers still do. But we claim that in the Bible there are propositions, truths stated in propositional form, with regard to God and His being and His character, and many other matters. We have got to assert this element of propositional truth.

            Likewise we have to assert particularly the supernatural element in the Scripture. What do I mean? Well, we have got to emphasize that we believe in prophecy in the sense of foretelling. The emphasis today is on ‘forthtelling’. We admit that we agree that prophecy is forthtelling but, over and above that, it is foretelling. To me one of the profoundest arguments for the unique inspiration of the Scriptures is the truth of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy. We have got to emphasize this extraordinary manifestation of the supernatural.

            We have also to insist upon a belief in the literal truth and historicity of the miracles of the Old and the New Testament, because there are people who say that they can still subscribe to our general statement about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, who increasingly are denying the historicity of many of the Old Testament miracles, and indeed are trying to explain away some of the New Testament miracles in terms of science or psychology. We must assert the historicity of these manifestations of the supernatural.

            Then the next thing to be said under this heading of Scripture is that we must believe the whole Bible. We must believe the history of the Bible as well as its didactic teaching. Failure here is always an indication of a departure from the true evangelical position. Today there are men who say, Oh yes, we believe in the Bible and its supreme authority in matters of religion, but, of course, we don’t go to the Bible for science; we go to it for help for our souls, for salvation and help and instruction in the way to live the Christian life. They are saying that there are, as it were, two great authorities and two means of revelation: one of them is Scripture and the other is nature. These they say , are complementary, they are collateral, and so you go to the Scriptures for matters concerning your soul, but you do not go to them to seek God’s other revelation of Himself in nature. For that, you go to science.

            You are familiar with this view which, it seems to me, is not only extremely dangerous, but tends to undermine our whole position. We have got to contest it, and contest it very strongly. There is one thing about this present tendency which is quite amazing to me, and it is that those who advocate it seem to think that they are saying something quite new; but it is not new. It is precisely what Ritschl and his followers were teaching a hundred years ago. ‘Judgments of fact’ and ‘judgments of value’, as they called them. It is just a return to that. That is how evangelicals in the last century went astray in the 1840s and subsequently. That is precisely how it came about. Their argument was that they were merely out to defend the truth of the gospel against this increasing attack from the realm of natural science. And that was the method they adopted. They hold that the Bible is only concerned with ‘religious’ truth and so, whatever science may discover, it cannot affect this truth.

Our friends today with the same motive- and let us grant that their motive is good and true- are doing exactly the same thing. It seems to me that in so doing they are on the same path as the followers of Ritschl and others, and it always ends in the same result, namely that the gospel itself is compromised. We must assert that we believe in the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and all other biblical history.

Source: The full manuscript of Lloyd-Jones’ address may be found in Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered On Various Occasions 1942-1977. Edinburgh U.K.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. (pages 299-355).

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