Tag Archives: What is an Evangelical?

“That Old Witch, Lady Reason!” Part 2

The quote in the headline is from that great and glad saint, Martin Luther, who knew that reason and philosophy (in particular, Aristotelian philosophy) had gotten the church into the predicament it was in at the time of the Reformation. Last week I wrote an article on the problem with reason inspired by the work of another Martyn, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book, What is an Evangelical?

There is nothing wrong with man’s reason, of course, except when it is raised above God’s Reason, as the LORD Himself indicated…

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:7-9 (ESV)

In all of his writings on this, though, it’s important to say that Lloyd Jones was not anti-intellectual…

Not Anti-intellectual

Of course, Jones himself was a medical doctor before becoming a pastor, and he himself was surely one of the brightest men of his generation, but he had seen foolish reasoning and philosophy turn many against Christ, and such was true, not only of philosophy, but also academia and scholasticism…

“…the evangelical is not only distrustful of reason, but he is also distrustful of scholarship. Here we are, belonging to IFES, students and members of universities, and I am saying that the evangelical is distrustful of scholarship, and I maintain that! What do I mean? Let me try to make it plain. The evangelical starts from the Scriptures. He also reads the history of the church, and there he finds that the history proves what has been emphasized in the Scripture, that when men trust to reason and to understanding they go astray. He also finds that the men whom God has had to raise up and to use to call back people to the faith have often been very simple men. Not always, of course – I mentioned Luther and others, and I could have mentioned Calvin – but so often this has happened, that the revival in the church and the calling back of the people to the true faith has been done through the medium of someone quite unknown.

“(This) does not mean he is anti-intellectual; it does not mean that he becomes obscurantist; but it does mean that he keeps reason and scholarship in their place. They are servants and not masters.”

Note: the “evangelical starts from the Scriptures”. We always start there! How then, does reason serve us? Like this…

The business of reason is to teach us how to believe. It is an instrument, and the trouble always arises when people allow reason to determine what they believe. In other words, instead of submitting themselves to the Scripture, they turn to science, to philosophy, or to one of a number of other disciplines, and their position is determined by these things.

“Not what you think, but how you think, that is the place of reason, and I would say exactly the same of scholarship.” Lloyd Jones says.

Nor is the good doctor asking us to stay away from University study of these matters…

I recall one well-known evangelical leader who always used to tell such men, ‘Whatever else you study at Oxford or Cambridge, don’t study theology or you’ll lose your faith.’ That is something which I do not commend…That is the spirit of fear, and it leads to an obscurantism where you bury your head in the sand, and you are not aware of what is happening…There is no need for us to be afraid of scholars if they are not Christians because they base their position on reason, and it is a simple matter to debate with them because they do not know the Scriptures. You can easily show them that what they have been saying they have spun out of their own minds.

In all this, the great question we must ask in all manners of study is this – What does the Bible say? The Scriptures are our authority. They are not reason – they are revelation, revelation from God. And here is the result…

Men who have felt called to ministry…have gone into the seminaries as evangelicals and true evangelists…have come out denying everything, and sometimes even departing from the faith altogether. If that has not happened, they have come out dead, trying to be scholars and having lost the edge of their zeal and their enthusiasm…Therefore, if an evangelical is not distrustful of reason and of scholarship; he is blind to this clear testimony of the history of the Christian church throughout the centuries.

How many times was the Apostle Paul called the “fool”? Yet today he is the wisest of all, for his attention and concern was not on the “debater of the age” but on the Lord of the Ages. May it be so with us as well.

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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Uncategorized


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“That Old Witch, Lady Reason!”

If you want me to read a blog or pick up a book, just tell me that it has book recommendations in it. I just read a blog this morning, for instance, which offered the 5 top books which a pastor whom I appreciate would take on a deserted island. And then, only last week, I picked up a book called You Must Read, which had the favorite book from 32 current Christian leaders, one of whom was another pastor I like named Alistair Begg. Begg’s recommendation? – a classic which I can now highly recommend: Martyn Lloyd Jones’, What is an Evangelical?

Lloyd Jones’ book is short, a collection of three lectures he gave in 1971 at the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), sort of a British Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

And it seems that the second of the three lectures (I haven’t gotten to the third yet) is the heart of the work, where Lloyd Jones goes to pains to give the various characteristics of an evangelical. In Jones’ mind, there are surely true Christians outside of evangelicalism, but when Christianity loses its evangelical emphasis, well…

You can be a Christian and yet defective in your doctrine, but our concern and our endeavor is to have the true doctrine presented in its fullness because we believe that it is only as this is believed and preached and propagated that men and women are going to be converted and added to the church. When the church has gone wrong in doctrine, she has ceased to be a converting influence.

In short, when you meet a Christian unconcerned about the plight of the lost, you are meeting someone who though perhaps truly saved, is nevertheless sorely confused about biblical truth.

Distrust Reason – The Message of 1 Corinthians 1 – 4

And one of the characteristics of an evangelical really resonated with me –

“…the evangelical distrusts reason and particularly reason in the form of philosophy.”

I have personally seen this again and again. It happens when someone raises up their own reasoning or the reasoning of another above the Bible. I spoke on this in my sermon three weeks ago, when we looked at the end of Luke 10 where Martha was frustrated that Mary was not doing her share of the housework, opting instead to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teaching. In response to out-of-sorts Martha, Jesus said, “…one thing is necessary”, and it wasn’t making sandwiches for guests. He continued, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 (ESV) Logic and reason dictate that housework and cooking are priority – time with God is therefore nice but unnecessary – and most people live by such reasoning. However, Jesus said that sitting at his feet was the true priority.

The classic place where reason is raised above Scripture is in regard to Scripture itself. “It has so many errors and contradictions in it,” critics say. Yet Jesus Himself was content to trust all of Scripture as coming from the mouth of God. He said, “Scripture cannot be broken.” John 10:35 (ESV)

If not the death-knell of faith itself, such elevation of reason is almost always the death-knell of zeal. Jones makes this point by appealing to Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians…

Philosophy has always been the cause of the church going astray, for philosophy means, ultimately, a trusting to human reason and human understanding. The philosopher wants to encompass all truth; he wants to categorize and explain everything, and that is why there are no more important passages in the Scripture for us at the present time than the First Epistle to the Corinthians, starting in chapter 1, at verse 17, and going right the way through to the end of chapter 4, with especial reference to chapter 2.The apostle’s whole contention in those chapters is that things were going wrong in Corinth because they were beginning to bring back faith in human wisdom, philosophy; and his point is to show that this is diametrically opposed to the preaching of the gospel.

Jones quotes 1 Corinthians in at least two different places, showing that the Apostle Paul was the original distruster of reason and philosophy…

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV), or,

“If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (ESV)

Continued next week…

Click here for John MacArthur’s top five books on a desert island…


Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Uncategorized


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