Twentieth Century Evangelicalism

John Brencher first attended Westminster Chapel in 1951 when Martyn Lloyd-Jones was at the height of his powers and this book was originally his doctoral thesis written in 1997. The author was living in London at a time when there were several men with great pulpit ministries, including W.E. Sangster and Leslie Weatherhead, and he clearly thought it important to research this period and its great preachers and to come to some evaluation of their place in the Evangelicalism of the century. Although he is clearly an admirer of 'The Doctor', he is not uncritical, and there are illuminating insights into his failures as well as his strengths. Anyone who has had the benefit of Lloyd Jones’ ministry will recognise, perhaps with a chuckle, the 'insignificant-looking figure, short in stature and pugnacious in appearance, with a great domed cranium, head thrust forward, a fighter’s chin and a grim line to his mouth'.

There are already substantial biographies of Martyn Lloyd Jones, and Brencher draws heavily on these, as well as using much new material from archives, minutes of meetings, sermons etc as well as interviewees and correspondents. The book is arranged on thematic lines, so it would be useful as a reference book for those studying, for example, his preaching or the history of Westminster Chapel. The first chapter covering his early life, medical training and call to the preaching ministry sets the scene and later chapters covering his unease with the ecumenical movement and his apparent call to evangelicals to leave the denominations enable readers to concentrate on those areas which they may find of interest.

The central chapters I found somewhat wearisome, with great detail about Lloyd-Jones’ splits with John Stott and James Packer and his consequent loss of influence amongst the evangelical community, apart from with those who agreed with his stance on ecumenism and the denominations. This may be of interest to those who remember the events and the chief players in the various dramas, but it all seem rather irrelevant to the subsequent UK church scene.

His love of Wales and his attitude to the English provide interesting material for a later chapter, and the book finishes with explorations of the nature of his leadership, which some may find surprisingly autocratic, and an assessment of his influence. The fact that I did not finish the book thoroughly, merely skimming through the last three chapters, may give an indication of its nature, and my recommendation would be that, although it is clearly well researched and thorough, the subject matter does not make for an exciting read!