August 20, 2017

Book Review: Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided

James Singleton

FrontLine Jan/Feb 2004.

Editorial Note: In light of our recently published issue on Convergence, this review from 2004 concludes with some probing questions that sound particularly applicable to our current situation.

Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.

This is an incisive and amazing book. Although its author would not identify with Biblical Fundamentalism, his criticism of Evangelicalism from 1950 to 2000 parallels that of a card-carrying Fundamentalist.

Chapter one sets the scene. Murray would argue that the present crisis goes back to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). Growing up in an age of unbelief, Schleiermacher departed from the theology of his German Reformed Church and denied the deity of Christ, the vicarious atonement, and eternal punishment. But rather than becoming a spokesman for Enlightenment rationalism, he adopted the Romanticism of Rousseau and pantheism, arguing that “religion is primarily not a matter of doctrine but rather of feeling, intuition and experience” (p. 5). Later he seemed to move closer to orthodox Christianity by giving prominence to the person of Christ. This, however, was a subjective Christ, a mere man, rather than the God-man of Scripture. To him, Revelation was unnecessary since Christ was to be found within. Schleiermacher believed “that it matters not what we believe so long as our hearts are right” (p. 9).

After briefly showing how this departure from historic Christianity was addressed in Britain (one of the fascinating aspects of the book is the British scene, which is not well-known to Americans, although parallel defections from the faith occurred in both countries), Murray turns to American events. The defection in the Presbyterian Church USA in the 1920s followed the teaching of Schleiermacher. To counter this, J. Gresham Machen of Princeton Theological Seminary wrote Christianity and Liberalism (1923), which concluded that whatever the new religion of liberalism was, it was not worthy to be called New Testament Christianity.

Initially, the terms Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism were used interchangeably. Machen and others refused to use the word Fundamentalism since “its statements of belief were brief and lacking the doctrinal coherence to be found in the churches at an earlier date” (p. 17). Others rejected the term because of its emphasis on separation and lack of emphasis on change in the contemporary culture.

Machen, however, soon withdrew from Princeton to form Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Not content with some of the emphases of Westminster, Harold Ockenga and Edward Carnell, graduates of Westminster, made a departure that resulted in the formation of Fuller Seminary. Ockenga was its first president, and Carnell his successor. Unlike Westminster, Fuller would include Fundamentalists with the aim of reforming the movement. Ockenga condemned the extreme separation of the Fundamentalists, opting instead to train men at Fuller who would infiltrate the denominations and recapture them for Biblical Christianity. This was Ockenga’s “new” Evangelicalism.

Chapter two provides the catalyst for change and covers the rise of Billy Graham. Ockenga, the philosopher of the new movement, realized that it needed a popularizer who would proclaim and practice it before the general public. Influenced by Ockenga, Graham’s father-in-law Nelson Bell, his wife Ruth, and Carl Henry, Graham’s crusades moved increasingly in the direction of inclusivism.

On the American side, Graham’s ecumenical evangelism was seen in the New York Crusade (1957). This new policy of uniting evangelicals and liberals under a common banner in order to impact a city became international in Graham’s Greater London Crusade at Harringay Arena in 1954.

Graham and Bell projected their policy of attempting to influence liberals to accept the authority of Scripture by establishing the periodical Christianity Today. Carl Henry, the first editor, took issue with the strategy “that for the first two years they would emphasize points of commonality with ecumenical Christians, thus establishing the widest possible readership” (p. 36). In England, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones refused to chair the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association First World Congress on Evangelism (1966). Another Englishman, John Stott, supported Graham’s crusades and opposed the views of Lloyd-Jones.[1]

According to Lloyd-Jones the big issues were not church unity, but rather, “What is a Christian? How can we get forgiveness of sins?” and “What is a church?” (p. 48)

In chapter three, “High Aims, Wrong Priorities,” Murray says that New Evangelicalism had “lost its way” in the United States by the late 1960s (p. 51). He concludes that the cause for this was an emphasis on pragmatism rather than Biblical principles. Murray is critical of the closing invitations at the Graham crusades, which he views as confusing a physical action with genuine savingfaith. The Graham organization justified weaknesses in the invitation system on the basis that it provided a visual demonstration of the crusade’s success. Liberals such as Leslie Weatherhead, a sponsor of the crusade, differed with Graham’s theology but still participated in order to influence people toward liberal churches.

Murray details Graham’s growing affinity with the Roman Catholic Church. He writes that, while Graham professed no change in his doctrinal beliefs, “he had come to accept the primary ideas of ecumenism that there is a shared experience of salvation in Christ which makes all differences of beliefs a very secondary matter” (p. 69). While Carl Henry wanted unity among evangelicals, he warned that Graham could not “work for evangelical unity while acting as though ecumenical unity was of more importance” (p. 70).

Fidelity to Scripture had yielded to desire for numerical success. Both Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaffer warned Graham that his wrong direction distorted the gospel.

Chapter four, “The New Anglican Evangelicalism Versus the Old” and chapter five, “How the Evangelical Dike Was Broken in England,” delineate the downgrade in England.

Chapter six, “Retrospect: A Different Approach” shows that many saw the alternatives as a Fundamentalist separation on the one hand and an ecumenical Catholicism on the other. Murray rejects this false antithesis in favor of a Biblical definition of Christianity to discern between the true and the false. He illustrates this with the positive results seen in both the Protestant Reformation and the Wesleyan Revival when the banner of regeneration was lifted high in eras of spiritual apostasy.

Chapter seven, “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” documents the impact of a “transference of leadership from preachers and pastors to Evangelical intellectuals teaching in the academic world” (p. 173). As Evangelicals sought to gain credentials to impress the secular world, they slowly downplayed or denied the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Revealing is the assertion that, in order to gain recognition from the denominations, Fuller sought accreditation from the American Association of Theological Schools. According to Murray, this involved acting on principles that were “ultimately incompatible”: upholding the inerrancy of Scripture and remaining open to liberalism (p. 188).

“Rome and New Division” is the subject of chapter eight. Murray states that Evangelicals did not visualize a reunion with the Roman Church during their initial contacts with the ecumenical movement. That began to change, however, in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1994 this new wind was seen in the publication of Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, in which major doctrines such as justification by faith alone were downplayed in order to facilitate collaboration between the two groups to counter the rising tide of secular humanism and the spread of Islam. A major factor in this doctrinal compromise is the Charismatic movement, whose “unifying ability” is related to a “doctrinal vagueness” (p. 243).

“The Silent Participant” of chapter nine is “the flesh” of the Christian, which leads him to seek success “in ways which the New Testament identifies as worldliness” (p. 255).

Chapter ten, “‘Church’ and the Unresolved Problem,” delineates the basic difference between the Roman Church, which posits salvation in membership in the Roman communion, and the Evangelical movement, which puts the gospel first.

In chapter eleven, “From the Quarries to the Temple,” the discussion returns to the unifying theme of the book: who is a Christian? The book proposes that the Evangelicals’ attempt to avoid the rut of Fundamentalism on one side of the road caused them to fall into the rut of inclusivism on the other side.

Murray is correct: Evangelicalism is divided. The desire for academic recognition and worldly success has diluted Biblical Christianity and paved the way for the formation of a one-world church for the Antichrist. In spite of some “warts” in their battles with liberalism, the Fundamentalists were correct in their emphasis.

If Fundamentalists are to avoid the pressures that have ravaged Evangelicalism, they face at least three challenges in the future:

  1. The rise of a new generation of Fundamentalists who have grown up without knowing the scars of battle in liberal and apostate denominations and the necessity of separating from those groups. It was just such a group as this that produced New Evangelicalism in the 1940s.
  2. The desire for academic recognition in the religious world. This desire leads to minimizing the irreconcilable differences between true Christianity and liberalism and fails to recognize that those who teach Biblical infallibility and inerrancy will never receive recognition in the religious field. Realizing this, the New Evangelicals sacrificed the gospel to the pride of intellect.
  3. The quest for numerical success and the loss of a “remnant” theology, which values truth above bodies, buildings, and budgets.

Will Fundamentalism remain true to its heritage, or will it produce from its ranks another generation of New Evangelicals? Whither Fundamentalism?


The late James Singleton was a leader in the FBFI who pastored in Arizona for most of his life.

(Originally published in FrontLine • Jan/Feb 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. The author heard Dr. Bob Jones Jr. at the First World Congress on Fundamentalism at Edinburgh, Scotland, warn the English people that Stott was no friend of Biblical Fundamentalism. []


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