Catch the Vision

3 04 2008

I’m very grateful to Colin Campbell from the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast for drawing my attention to this excellent title by John J. Murray, published by Evangelical Press. It hadn’t been on my radar at all, and I am very glad to have had the opportunity to read it and be inspired by its contents.

To those of us who were blessed to be born in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, it seems unthinkable that there was a time when quality Reformed literature was not readily available on demand. Murray’s book traces the roots of those privileges, showing the disfavour that Reformed teaching had fallen into in the wake of liberal scholarship’s onslaught, and those individuals raised up by God to see its restoration to the forefront of evangelical thinking.

While a host of Christian figures make cameo appearances in the book – ranging from Geoff Thomas, through W.J. Grier, to Arthur W. Pink – Murray’s main content hangs on the lives and histories of certain prominent individuals and movements. He traces the Reformed recovery through the lives of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Geoffrey Williams and the Evangelical Library, James I. Packer and the recovery of Puritan literature, Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth Trust, and John Murray. The tone of the book is one of gratitude to God for His hand in each of these people and movements, coupled with a plea to the current generation of Christians to ‘Catch the Vision’ for themselves. Murray is not uncritical of the Reformed movement which arose in the mid-Twentieth Century, highlighting significant points at which it missed its opportunity to enjoy greater influence, and suggesting remedies for these deficiencies in our current climate.

Certain sections of the text are notable for the way in which they evidence the clear providence of God in allowing Reformed doctrine to enjoy influence. Arguably the most prominent example of this is found in the chapter on Geoffrey Williams, who was responsible for founding the Evangelical Library. With a deftness of touch, Murray describes Williams’ seemingly random conversation with a Welsh pharmacist in London which led in turn to his meeting Lloyd-Jones, which in turn brought the Evangelical Library to London, and its influence to the wider world. It is in these moments of apparent coincidence that God’s gracious providence is seen most clearly at work, and the true catalyst behind the Reformed recovery is revealed as the Holy Spirit Himself.

I found this book a joy to read. I had already encountered a lot of what Murray covers through the two volume Banner biography of Lloyd-Jones, written by Iain H. Murray, but it was a particular blessing to have these issues covered in such small compass, and in such succinct language. The overwhelming emotions which the book prompted in me were those of joy in the providence of God, and sadness at the fact that the Reformed recovery has not been more widespread in its influence. Murray challenges us as readers to recognise our responsibilities in our own generation, and to make every effort to keep the vision of the glory of God alive in our theology, as well as in our family and church life.

In concluding the book I began to think about the ways in which God may be moving in our own generation. I’ve covered this briefly in the past, but it is clear to me that the work begun through Lloyd-Jones and others is very much alive in our generation. It is interesting that in contending for the sustained contemporary worth of Puritan literature for the Church that Murray inserts the following quote:

‘As furnaces burn with ancient coal and not with the leaves that fall from today’s trees so my heart is kindled with the fiery substance I find in the old Scripture-steeped sermons of Puritan pastors’.

This is a quote from John Piper, and it seems particularly pertinent in the light of today’s evangelical climate. While it would be easy to be overwhelmed by the effects of post-modernism (with its emergent and divergent expressions in society), and to feel apprehensive about what will prove to be “post-postmodern”, it is a reassurance that God is still at work in our generation: in the same way as he was in the mid-Twentieth Century. Piper’s ministry in particular is serving as a portal into the whole range of historic Reformed Christianity. Young people who are finding themselves hungry for the content-laden discourses emanating from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, are also discovering other treasures in the preaching and writings of people like D.A. Carson, John Owen, Sinclair B. Ferguson and David Wells – not to mention a whole host of other Reformed theologians, pastors and missionaries.

My prayer is that the current sense of recovery in Reformed doctrine will carry deep implications in our own generation and that to come. Amidst decline and declension, how we need to pray for a God-impassioned, God-centred, God-exalting love for a theology which holds Him at the centre, and the glory of His name as supreme.

Murray’s book is an inspiration, but also an invitation to seek a similar work of God to be fanned into flame in the Twenty-First century.




One response

5 04 2008

Thanks for the review Andrew. We have the book here at Inspire so I may be picking that up for myself soon.

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