Martyn Lloyd Jones in 2015

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2015 has been a bumper year for the cottage industry that is Martyn Lloyd Jones hagiography. There has been a new, short biography written by his grandson, Christopher Catherwood;  a first biography of his wife, Bethan Lloyd Jones, and the film Logic on Fire - The Life and Legacy of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones was released earlier this year. I'm a fan of the Doctor, as many others are, such as guns, Tim Keller and Mark Dever.  Both books and the documentary are worthy of engagement....

Logic on Fire is a well produced film by Media Gratiae. It contains interviews with some of Lloyd Jones' contemporaries, some of the good and great of American evangelicalism, random people who might have had a connection with Lloyd Jones and young Americans who obviously like him. The family of Lloyd Jones are quite prominent in the film, though I'm not sure that really helps the documentary a great deal. At some point, however, I think it might have been helpful for someone to have pointed out that Dr Lloyd Jones was a mere mortal just like the rest of us.

The film is a quality production and for those who are interested in Dr Lloyd Jones I am sure it will be thoroughly enjoyed. I particularly appreciated the contributions of those who had personally known the Doctor - especially Iain Murray, Geoff Thomas and Eryl Davies. At one point in the video part of a recording of Lloyd Jones' sermon was played. It was a surreal experience and, although it is great preaching, it did very much feel like it was from another age. I don't think that's wrong. That was his genius. He was able to communicate with the people of his time.

One of the themes that comes out of the film is that there is something missing from modern day Christianity. At one point a contributor speaks of the Holy Spirit and preaching and says that she hears men preach these days and 'They are on their own'. The implication is that there are times when the Holy Spirit is with preachers and other times when the Spirit is not. This is just shabby theology. The glory of the gospel is that we're never on our own. Though there is a sense in which you can see where she is coming from: certain sermons do come to us more powerfully than others. However, how does one differentiate whether you are on your own or not? It's just all far too subjective. The 'something is missing' aspect of Logic on Fire romanticizes the past. There is a right and proper aspect of our faith yearning, longing for more of God, cultivating the awe of God. The language of the Psalms and Song of Solomon are full of this. However I fear that this longing for revival at times lacks the Biblical emphasis that it needs. The language of 'Look at how they lived in Acts and then how look at how poor we are',  isn't nuanced enough nor does it reflect the teaching of the Epistles.

I am a huge fan of Dr Lloyd Jones. I have recently re-read his magnificent sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, only this morning I read this from Ephesians 5, 
Anything that you and I tend to set up as the big thing, the central thing in our lives, the thing about which we think and dream, the thing that engages our imagination, the thing that we live for , the thing that gives us the biggest thrill, if it is anything other than God, it is idolatry 
He was truly a colossus,  a godly man, a great preacher, a loving husband, a caring father and obviously a doting grandfather. At the end of the documentary Vernon Higham said that in his last meeting with Dr Lloyd Jones, as he was leaving the room, the Doctor called him back and said 'Remember, I'm a sinner saved by grace'. I suspect that we may need to remember that message more and recognise some of his failings and idiosyncracies so that we might benefit even more from his ministry.

With the DVD you get a lovely hardback book with photographs and a couple of sermons and for those who love Dr Lloyd Jones Memorabilia there are various niche postcards. Sadly there was no beermat or novelty flags.

Martyn Lloyd Jones - his life and relevance for the 21st Century by Christopher Catherwood (DMLJ's grandson) is the most disappointing of the materials published this year. This book proved two things to me which I had always suspected 1) Never let a family member write a biography 2) It is unlikely that those who have commended the book have read it. I have problems with the book on a whole number of levels. First of all the book tells me more about Christopher Catherwood's views than it does about DMLJ. He attempts to give a defence of sola scriptura and yet it would seem Catherwood doesn't really understand it. He nearly goes as far to say that unless you can show me a chapter and verse for it I will not believe it. On the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and Lloyd Jones' views he argues Lloyd Jones has clearly articulated his position and so you can read his doctrine of the sealing of the Spirit.  He is neither Cessationist nor Pentecostal, he is in some half-way house of believing in the continuation of the gifts in theory (but don't dare practice them in Westminster Chapel). Catherwood's contention is that this is the biblical position.

There's a strong defence that Westminster Chapel had a solid community attached to it with those staying around all day on a Sunday. I wonder f the numbers stated by Catherwood are greatly exaggerated or not, as those who were there at the time claimed the figure was nearer 200 rather than 400. In the Lloyd Jones documentary his youngest daughter states that when Dr Lloyd Jones retired the congregation went down immediately by 800 people. The diaspora that took place to London churches from the Chapel over the following 10 years showed that they were congregating to hear a man. I don't think we should be ashamed of saying this. At that time, with evangelicalism so weak, we needed a lion like Dr Lloyd Jones in the pulpit. He travelled the country preaching midweek here and there. He would not have had the time to be a pastor to the people. In the providence of God he was raised up to be a preacher to whom people in the UK rallied. I don't think it's unfair or disrespectful to say he had a poor ecclesiology at a local congregational level and at the denominational level, too. Whatever one thinks, in 1966 Dr Lloyd Jones did not have a clear idea what he was calling people out to. In his chapter on Baptism in Great Doctrines of the Bible he ends up with a position of adults only by sprinkling. There is a lack of clarity in his thinking on ecclesiology.

In describing the current minister, Greg Haslam, as having a 'strongly theologically reformed ministry', Catherwood shows he has very little understanding of reformed theology. We are told twice that no-one loved the creeds and reformed confessions more than Dr Lloyd Jones and yet he never taught them in his congregation, not even to the young people. The author claims that many Anglicans left the Church of England in the wake of his call for evangelical unity in 1966. Again he overstates that 'Many Anglicans seceded'. Andrew Atherstone puts the number at around 20 over the following 10 years but none of them were leading churchmen.   

It is a very personal book and Catherwood's previous work 'Martyn Lloyd Jones - A family portrait' published in 1995 was more helpful. His influence in Wales is completely left out whilst 9 marks, Capital Hill Baptist Church and Mark Dever get name checked numerous times. Overall it's a disappointing and unbalanced book. It's aimed at being more of a discussion than a biography but I suspect more distance to the subject would have helped and, dare I say it, sharper editing.

Far Above Rubies - The Life of Bethan Lloyd Jones. Lynette Clark has written a biography of Dr Lloyd Jones' wife. This is the first biography of her and draws heavily on family remembrances. Initially the book began to grate on me. Bethan Lloyd Jones was the cleverest, most beautiful, the funniest of women, a memoriser of poetry, a brilliant tennis player etc. She had 27 wedding proposals of which Dr Lloyd Jones was the first and the last. However, as the book progresses we are given a glimpse into a woman who, at times, struggled with anxiety.

I again felt that family reflections were given too much prominence and I would have particularly liked to know how they as a married couple coped with some of the struggles and stress points that they must have gone through. However, as you read the book, you do warm to Mrs Lloyd Jones. Particularly moving is the period at the end of her life after the death of her husband. Lynette Clark brings out powerfully how Mrs Lloyd Jones in one sense gave up her husband  to the wider church. His visits to many congregations and conferences which had such an impact upon the wider evangelical scene meant that he was home much less.  There's a fascinating subject on issues of conscience on which her and her husband differed.

There is no office in the church of 'minister's wife' and yet we need to be aware that the wife of a minister can either make or break a man's ministry. We should be very grateful for Mrs Lloyd Jones and to Lynette Clark for writing this book.
Posted December 11, 2015 @ 9:24 AM by Paul Levy

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