Catch the Vision?

My dear former pastor John J. Murray recently published a brief history of the recovery of Reformed thought that occurred largely in the early 1960s.  He looks at men like Lloyd Jones, Geoffrey Williams, James Packer, Iain Murray and Prof. John Murray.  The book is well written and an enjoyable and informative read but the most important section is right at the end when Murray picks up on “the vision unfulfilled,” highlighting where the vision of the early 1960s has not come to pass and what is required to recover it.  Murray highlights three points in particular where recovery is necessary:

First Murray highlights that it is vital to maintain “a full-orbed witness to the Reformed faith.”  That is, the church has a duty to confess the whole counsel of God and can not be satisfied with doctrinal minimalism.  Here he quotes Prof. John Murray who asked the question, “Is it sufficient to have a common denominator confession, general and broad enough, to express the faith of all true evangelicals, but lacking in the specifics on which such evangelicals are divided?”  Prof. Murray answered his own question by noting, “the confession to be made is the whole counsel of God.  There is no restriction that may properly be devised, proposed or imposed.  Its faith is the whole counsel of God.”

John J. Murray argues that being satisfied with minimalistic doctrinal confessions simply to achieve unity is to “go back on what has been a development of creeds and confessions of faith over the centuries and … discard[s] the work of the Holy Spirit in the generations of Christian history.”  He further argues that a “full-orbed witness safeguards against the danger of doctrinal indifferentism” quoting Carl Trueman to the effect that minimalistic statements of faith imply “important areas of doctrine, such as sacraments, salvation and the last things are marginalised, relegated to irrelevancies and sometimes all but forgotten.”

So to recover the Reformed faith a desire to recover and confess the whole counsel of God is required.

Second Murray argues “it is vital to maintain zeal for church reform.”  He quotes Packer who stated that “Puritanism was essentially  a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism and spiritual revival…”  Murray notes that the reformed recovery of the early 1960’s was largely lead by parachurch organisations (in which Murray himself was involved) whose expectation “was that as a result of the new understanding, new church life and order would arise.”  Highlighting Westminster Chapel as an example Murray notes the movement never really became embedded in the church.  The Chapel itself “resembled more a preaching station than a church.”  Murray’s solution is a return to doctrinally rich church centered reform, “It is clear that the way of trying to unite evangelicals by common adherence to a minimum of essential scriptural truths has not been a success.  The only way that this can be done is through the restoration of a fuller, stronger testimony to the New Testament concept of the church.  She has been formed as a visible, corporate entity under the Headship of Christ and in submission to his Word as her only rule.  She has no authority to limit her corporate testimony to the truths essential to be believed in order to be saved … Is the teaching on government, worship and ministry vital to the well-being of the church?  If we are convinced that they are, we will hold them and seek that the church be restores as near as possible to the pattern set out in Scripture.”

So to recover the reformed faith we must be willing to be reformers and to be reformed.

Third Murray believes the vision of the early 60’s stalled is because “it did not reach down to the level of the family in the way that it did in the Puritan era.”  Murray believes we have essentially lost a robust doctrine of the family, “Reformed Christians, whatever our view on baptism, must place greater emphasis on the solidarity of the family.  The family is a God-given pattern and forms an essential feature of God’s created order.  The created order of the family is not ignored but taken up in God’s redemptive provision.  How good it would be to see that vision restored to church life today!”

So to recover the reformed faith we must take our family responsibilities seriously.

It is not surprising that some evangelical reviews of Murray’s book have been lukewarm as in his concluding diagnosis he points out the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelicalism.  For my part, Murray’s analysis is accurate.  Whilst we may have seen a revival of interest in the doctrines of grace and an abundance of good literature reprinted we have seen a corresponding collapse in any doctrine of the moral law, a revolution (for the worse) in worship practices and have reached a stage where even ‘reformed’ evangelicals can openly question the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture.  We do desperately need to “catch the vision” that Murray outlines, but I suspect for most of evangelicalism that will involve a 180 degree turn from the direction they are headed in.

2 Responses to “Catch the Vision?”

  1. Marty Foord Says:

    Hey DJ,

    Thanks for the review of this book. I hadn’t heard about it and look forward to reading it. Even though I’m single, I do believe there needs to be a fresh emphasis on the family, particularly as our culture is more and more devaluing it.



  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Marty

    The book is an easy read and gave me a change from the 17th C! John J. Murray (like his namesake) is solid on the free offer too – although that is not covered in this book.

    Yes, family is very important and is under real pressure in society. The church needs to equip families to withstand this.

    Looking forward to catching up next week.


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