Review of Iain Murray’s “Evangelicalism Divided”


Iain H. Murray. Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000. Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 2000. x + 342 pp.

Iain Hamish Murray (b. 1931) has authored over two dozen books on historical theology from a Reformed perspective. His mentor was David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whom Murray assisted at Westminster Chapel from 1956 to 1959 and about whom Murray wrote a stirring two-volume biography (vol. 1, vol. 2). In 1957, Murray co-founded the Banner of Truth Trust, which has published his many writings and for which he serves as Editorial Director.

Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided traces the new strategy by prominent American and British evangelicals such as Harold Ockenga, Edward Carnell, Billy Graham, John Stott, and J. I. Packer from about 1950 to 2000. He concludes that their strategy failed to fulfill what it promised but instead compromised the gospel itself. What follows summarizes the eleven chapters:

  1. “Setting the Scene” (pp. 1-23) explains the history of theological liberalism and pinpoints Schleiermacher “as the chief source of the massive change which has occurred in the historic Protestant denominations during the last two hundred years” (p. 11). As it did in Germany, liberal theology “opened the way” in England and America “for the idea that belief is no essential part of being a Christian” since “true experience can exist irrespective of belief” (p. 12). Prior to the 1950s, evangelical leaders—many known as “fundamentalists“—clearly opposed liberalism (pp. 13-17), for example, by refusing “to co-operate in evangelism with non-evangelicals” (p. 14). The “new evangelicalism” changed this strategy (pp. 19-23).
  2. “Billy Graham: Catalyst for Change” (pp. 24-50) details Graham’s ecumenical evangelism. It describes his connections to Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and evangelical and non-evangelical leaders. “Clearly the new evangelical alignment was prepared, if need be, to lose the support of ‘extreme fundamentalists’” (p. 35). “Only one senior evangelical voice,” Lloyd-Jones, warned evangelicals of compromising with liberals (p. 44). In 1966, Stott publicly rejected the position of Lloyd-Jones, who rightly predicted that the new evangelical strategy “would be bound to promote the doctrinal indifferentism characteristic of the ecumenical movement” (p. 45).
  3. “High Aims, Wrong Priorities” (pp. 51-78) argues that the new evangelicalism compromised by allowing pragmatism “to override biblical principles” (p. 51). Examples of pragmatism include the invitation system in Graham’s crusades (pp. 51-54) and Graham’s policy to cooperate with liberals in evangelism (pp. 58-75). In a 1997 public interview with Robert Schuller, Graham unambiguously embraced a form of universalism (pp. 73-74). In the 1960s, both Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaeffer advised Graham against his ecumenical strategy (pp. 75-77).
  4. “The New Anglican Evangelicalism Versus the Old” (pp. 79-111) highlights the public fallout between Lloyd-Jones (”the old”) and Stott and Packer (”the new”), which “marked the saddest period in [Lloyd-Jones’s] life” (p. 110). Murray quotes D. A. Carson’s observation regarding Lloyd-Jones: “What was at stake for him was the gospel . . . his reading of trends was both accurate and prophetic” (p. 98n2).
  5. “How the Evangelical Dyke Was Broken in England” (pp. 112-48) argues that the flood that followed the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Keele in 1967 was a devastating consequence of compromise.
  6. “Retrospect: A Different Approach” (pp. 149-72) argues that “when churches lose their influence” and “moral decline is obvious in places which once owned biblical standards,” “the spiritual decline” is probably “due to a fundamental failure to understand and practice what Christianity really is” (p. 151).
  7. “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” (pp. 173-214) exposes some level of compromise on biblical inerrancy by scholars such as F. F. Bruce, James Dunn, R. T. France, Edward Carnell, David Hubbard, Mark Noll, David Bebbington, Alister McGrath, and Anthony Thiselton.
  8. “Rome and New Division” (pp. 215-49) exposes the compromising Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement led by Packer and others. ECT’s danger is advocating “a public policy which implies that there is no vital and essential difference between Christianity and Roman Catholicism” (p. 243).
  9. “The Silent Participant” (pp. 250-71) qualifies that although some evangelical leaders did not tolerate “indefinite and superficial teaching” (p. 251) and even retained orthodoxy, they sought success in worldly ways (pp. 254-57). Christianity is not immune from Satanic and demonic attack (cf. pp. 257-68).
  10. “‘Church’ and the Unresolved Problem” (pp. 272-93) emphasizes the nature of the true church and restates the prophetic message of Lloyd-Jones against ecumenism.
  11. “From the Quarries to the Temple” (pp. 294-318) ends the volume with six conclusions, including these three: “A great deal of the confusion which has divided evangelicalism has been related to the question, ‘Who is a Christian?’” (p. 299); true Christians may have serious disagreements (pp. 306-13); and it is difficult “for leaders to look in different directions at once” (p. 313).

Many have criticized Murray’s book for not being an exhaustive treatment of evangelicalism from 1950 to 2000 (cf. reviews below by Nicole, Searle, and D. Wright), but that misses his point. Murray is purposely selective with reference to evangelicalism’s compromise and decline (cf. Murray’s interviews and articles below). His book, however, is not as clear as it could be for at least five reasons: (1) its progression is not immediately clear by the chapter titles; (2) its chapters lack titled subdivisions; (3) its prose is a bit thick at times; (4) its prose jumps around chronologically and geographically, which may confuse some readers; and (5) it seems to assume that readers have some prior knowledge about certain people and events. He also marginalizes fundamentalism (cf. reviews below by Pettegrew, Sidwell, and Straub). Nevertheless, the volume is fascinating, well documented, sobering, earnest, gracious, and highly relevant for modern evangelicals. While acknowledging my limited perspective, I think that Murray’s argument is convincing.

Annotated Bibliography

This selection of over thirty reviews and related resources reflects a spectrum of perspectives.

  • Beckwith, Roger T. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Churchman 116 (2002): 160-63.
    “For a work that is concerned with fellow Evangelicals, and is so frankly critical of named contemporaries, this is a graciously written volume. . . . When one sees the beginning of the story in relation to the end, it is difficult not to feel that the case is impressive and that it is time to consider our ways. If we learn nothing from this book, we will show ourselves very foolish” (p. 160). Murray “assumes that this is the true Evangelical position. For example, he holds that the Church of Rome is no church, whereas Hooker held that it was a corrupt and heretical church, but a church nonetheless” (p. 160). Murray “rather tends to see everything in black and white” (p. 161). Nevertheless, “the book remains a powerful indictment” (p. 161). “As an old friend of Jim Packer and John Stott (who hopes to remain their friend after this!) I have to confess that their leadership has not always impressed me. John Stott, it seems to me, has been too retiring, and Jim Packer has made errors of judgment” (p. 162).
  • Challies, Tim. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Posted on March 2, 2005.
    “While he is unafraid to name names, he avoids slander and conjecture, always speaking in love and always providing ample support for his claims. . . . This book is fascinating, disturbing and critically important. I hope many evangelical pastors and leaders turn to this book to help them understand where evangelicals have come from so they can make necessary course corrections to lead where we need to go next. I give this book my recommendation.”
  • DeBoer, Louis F. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. American Presbyterian Press. N.d.
    “Unfortunately, when it comes to drawing and [sic] hard, fast, and concrete conclusions from all this, when it comes to applying Biblical solutions to this problem he is extremely weak. At this critical juncture of the book Murray’s trumpet gives a most uncertain sound.There are no clarion calls for the Lord’s people to separate from apostasy and unbelief. . . . In his conclusions he sees the entire problem as an overreaction to the ‘separatism’ practiced by American Fundamentalists.In a way, therefore, he blames those who have heeded the Scriptural commands for separation from apostasy and unbelief as causing the drive of evangelicals into the ecumenical movement.He sees separatism as unloving and does not seem to allow for any separation from erring brothers other than is generally practiced by denominations upholding their doctrinal distinctives. . . . The most discouraging part is the response.If that is all British Christianity can muster it truly seems to be both dead and buried.If you want to academically study some British church history you should read this book.Otherwise you ought to save your money.If you want to read something on this subject that will challenge you to defend the faith and stir you up to a more militant faithfulness to Scripture and the Lord Jesus Christ I would heartily recommend Ashbrook’s book, ‘The New Neutralism II.’”
  • Gilbert, Greg. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Posted on N.d.
    “Murray has been criticized by some for seeming to ignore the good that some evangelical leaders have done in favor of focusing on their mistakes. Perhaps, but then again, Murray is not writing a comprehensive history; he is not writing biographies of these men. He is making an argument that men like these made categorical mistakes that affected evangelicalism in a negative way. . . . This book is an extremely important and well-aimed call for the church to recapture its principles, to define clearly what it means to be a Christian and to fortify itself against intruders. . . . Perhaps the most penetrating of Murray’s arguments is that the evangelicalism of the last fifty years has pursued success and influence in ways that smack more of the Kingdom of this world than of the Kingdom of God, ‘in ways,’ Murray writes, ‘which the New Testament identifies as “worldliness.”‘ . . . Every pastor and church leader should read this book and take heed that he does not fall into those temptations. He should take care that he does not, in the interest of his own influence or acceptance in the community, open the gates of God’s church to the enemy. If the integrity of the church is compromised, then its mission, too, is lost. The world will not be affected by a church that is no different from it-that has no stronger beliefs, no higher standards. God calls His church to be set apart. Iain Murray has given a sharp and needed rebuke to those in the latter half of the twentieth century who forgot that call, and a strong encouragement to the church today vigilantly to guard its identity.”
  • McCune, Rolland D. Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism. Greenville, S.C.: Ambassador International, 2004.
    McCune includes Murray’s work in his selected annotated bibliography: “The problems and misfortunes of evangelicalism principally in Great Britain as depicted by a biblically conservative Englishman. The book opens with a brief history of the formation of liberal theology and the controversy it generated in America. It goes on to show the influence of Billy Graham and his inclusive evangelism policies in England and the opposition they received from Bible believers led mainly by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones [sic]. Leading evangelical churchmen such as J. I. Packer, John R. W. Stott, and others eventually acceded to and joined in with the changes brought by the new evangelicalism and thus weakened considerably the Bible-believing separatist cause in the UK” (p. 356).
  • Murray, Iain H. “Divisive Unity.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12 (2001): 231-48.
    John MacArthur asked Murray “to give a summary of his recent book Evangelicalism Divided at the Shepherds’ Conference at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California on March 11, 2001. This article is the substance of his address. References for all quotations given here will be found in the book itself” (p. 231n1). Abstract: “Murray introduces the origin of Evangelicalism Divided by recalling a meeting in 1966 at which Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke on ‘Evangelical Unity,’ and had his position challenged by John R. W. Stott, who closed that meeting. The anniversary of that meeting and another series of circumstances led Murray to research and write Evangelicalism Divided. A review of nineteenth-century British church history revealed the cause of the division: liberalism that crept into the church allowed for a faith in Christ without revealed truth and an authoritative Bible, i.e., a new definition of a Christian. When this happened, some evangelicals left the mainline denominations, but others remained and maintained a close tie with other evangelicals who had left. When Billy Graham came to England, he was welcomed by evangelicals, but at first shunned by denominational leaders. Yet when the leaders saw Graham’s large crowds, they accepted him. Some understood the leaders’ change as a new openness to the gospel, yet those leaders were just using Graham as a tool to bring people into their churches. Under the pressure of ecumenism, Graham and others began to think in terms of winning denominations back to evangelicalism, and eventually fell into the error of compromising evangelical doctrine. Two basic problems contributed to the division of evangelicals: neglect of what makes one a Christian and neglect of the depth of human depravity. Lloyd-Jones diagnosed the problem as an evangelical dependence on human methods and a failure to rely on the Holy Spirit. He offered a positive alternative to evangelicals: dependence on God alone and the sufficiency of the Word of God.”
  • ________. Interviewed by Mark Dever. “Great Lessons from Great Men.” September 1, 2006.
    Abstract: “In this interview, Reformed evangelical statesman and British author Iain Murray assesses the state of evangelicalism in Britain and America. What’s the state of preaching today? Is hyper-Calvinism a threat? When do Calvinists become prejudiced in their thinking, and what does John Wesley have to teach them? Also, more Martyn Lloyd-Jones stories from this former Lloyd-Jones assistant!”
  • ________. Interviewed by Mark Dever. “Jonathan Edwards and Evangelicalism Divided.” May 26, 2001.
    The discussion on Evangelicalism Divided occurs in the second half of the hour-long interview. Abstract: “Iain Murray, co-founder of The Banner of Truth Trust and author of numerous books, talks about his recent biography of Jonathan Edwards. Can one glorify God without enjoying God? Did the fear of hell and the preaching of brimstone enhance Edwards’ effectiveness? Murray also reflects on his controversial latest release Evangelicalism Divided, in which he attempts to clarify what ‘Evangelicalism’ is and how it has been diluted by the ecumenical movement. And his insightful critique of the Billy Graham Crusades is sure to raise some incredulous eyebrows. Buckle up-this one’s apt to turn your evangelical world turned upside down.”
  • ________. Interviewed by Mark Dever. “A Writer’s Retrospective with Iain Murray.” November 19, 2002.
    Abstract: “The influential co-founder of The Banner of Truth Trust and long time Presbyterian pastor Iain Murray looks back over his shoulder at the past 50 years of his own ministry and writing. From his definitive biography of D. Martyn Lloyd Jones to his insightful critique of the ecumenical movement in Evangelicalism Divided, Murray has been at the center of both shaping and assessing the last half century of British Evangelicalism. In this interview he gives us a guided tour of what he wrote, why he wrote it, and the effect of his works on Evangelicalism at large. Grab some popcorn and settle in for a delightful hour of conversation with one of the most influential churchmen of the past half-century.”
  • ________. “Reviewing My Reviewers.”
    (This article appears to be introduced by someone other than Murray and then written by Murray, but it does not clearly indicate its author.) “Evangelicalism Divided is said to have given a very incomplete history of evangelicalism over the last 50 years. . . . [M]y book never set out to be a history of evangelicalism: that is the reason why those who played no part in the division-such as the leaders of the Proclamation Trust-are not included.” Murray then refutes “a second and more serious criticism” that questions “whether the division was not, after all, more to do with churchmanship than with any real defection from evangelical belief.” Murray cites John MacArthur’s recommendation of his book: “It is one of the best and most eye-opening books I have read in years.” He concludes, “Who is right in these assessments is no small matter. The questions raised by Dr. Lloyd-Jones in 1966 are still more pertinent than they were then.”
  • ________. “A Response to Roger Nicole.” Founders Journal 42 (Fall 2000): 11-12, 20.
    “I agree with your reason for the summary you gave towards the end on evangelical growth. If people thought my book was intended to be a history of evangelicalism as a whole in the last fifty years it would leave them with a wrong negative impression” (p. 11). “My main point is the historic evangelical understanding of what it means to be a Christian and how that was challenged (chapter 1) by the liberal contention that it is not essential to believe any set of doctrines to be a Christian. Granting the excesses of fundamentalism, on that issue they were clear. . . . But ecumenism, as liberalism, for the most part assumed a different definition of a Christian from that of evangelicals, and the issue of division, as I have tried to relate it, became whether or not evangelical convictions are necessary to be a Christian. On that issue Graham, Stott and Packer have quite clearly taken a position which none of them took in 1950 and which would have been opposed generally throughout evangelicalism at that date. I think the documentation on that point is unanswerable” (p. 11). “Among ‘our ranks’ pragmatism is probably more widespread than wrong beliefs” (p. 20).
  • Nicole, Roger. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Founders Journal 42 (Fall 2000): 7-10.
    “God has placed us evangelicals in a time of unparalleled opportunity that we should be eager to seize for the blessing of His people and for His glory. Rev. Murray’s book should alert us to the dangers that are ever threatening. One of these is surely the temptation to dilute the truth in order to accommodate the greatest number possible. But another danger is to permit ‘Evangelicalism’ to be divided and thus to blunt the force of our united witness. It is my prayer that we may by God’s grace avoid both of these” (p. 10).
  • ________. Interviewed by John H. Armstrong. “A Reformation & Revival Journal Interview with Roger Nicole.” Reformation and Revival 11:3 (2002): 146-74.
    “The strength of this book is that Rev. Murray has documented a certain slippage that has occurred in certain sections of the evangelical world” (p. 168). However, “Murray blames this erosion, at least in the main, on four people. These people are seen as those who misled others. These four are John R. Stott, James I. Packer, Billy Graham, and Harold J. Ockenga. All four of these people are evangelical heroes to me. I think very well of them. I don’t think they are responsible for this slippage because they themselves have not slipped at any major point. It is extremely unfair to blame them and Murray’s argument is thus very one-sided, as if evangelicalism had really slipped as a complete movement. In fact there have been enormous gains made by evangelicalism, even more than may have been anticipated. For instance we now have the majority of the seminary students studying in evangelical schools” (p. 168).
  • Payne, Tony. “Understanding the Times.” Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Briefing Web Extras. N.d.
    “Good histories have explanatory power. Judged by this standard, Iain Murray’s history of crucial developments in evangelicalism over the last 50 years is a very good history indeed. It is one of those rare books that repeatedly provokes the ‘aha’ experience. It shows, more effectively than any other book I have read, how the sense of common belief, identity and purpose shared by evangelicals around the world in 1950 had almost completely collapsed some 50 years later.” It “helped me to understand the background reasons for many things that have puzzled me in recent years. Like many, I was dumbfounded when in 1995 J. I. Packer signed the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ document. Murray’s book provides the background, showing that Packer’s position at this point was not the result of some sinister conspiracy, nor of some momentary lapse, but the logical end-point of positions that had been taken long before.” It “is a powerful, useful and very readable book. It offers a convincing explanation of why worldwide evangelicalism is in such a divided and sorry state at the opening of the 21st century. In doing so it provides a powerful challenge to evangelicals to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to work together in the unity that can only come from the gospel.”
  • Pettegrew, Larry. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. The Master’s Seminary Journal 12 (2001): 117-19.
    Murray “has provided an invaluable study of the changes and concessions in evangelicalism in the last fifty years” (p. 117). “Another strength of this book is the author’s ability to identify compromises in evangelicalism in a gracious manner. Murray is never shrill” (p. 118). Unfortunately, “the fascinating events leading to the split of Billy Graham from such American revivalists as John R. Rice, Bob Jones, and Monroe Parker are omitted” (p. 118). “I’m not sure that Murray gives American fundamentalists their due. Murray is respectful of fundamentalists and aware that ‘fundamentalism often suffered from hostile misrepresentation’ (298). On the other hand, he seems to share J. G. Machen’s criticisms of fundamentalism, and also adds a few of his own (17, 298). Though Murray’s passing criticisms of fundamentalism are no doubt true of some fundamentalists, many fundamentalists do not fit the standard caricature” (p. 118). “Evangelicalism Divided is a great book, and all who are concerned about the dilemma of evangelicalism-indeed the future of Christianity-will benefit greatly by familiarizing themselves with the information contained in it. I enthusiastically recommend it” (p. 119).
  • Riddle, Jeffrey T. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Faith and Mission 20:2 (2003): 124-25.
    Murray “does not hedge in his criticism of evangelicals who have attempted to work within the bounds of academic biblical scholarship in the name of bringing ‘intellectual respectability’ to evangelicalism. Murray is unsparing in his criticism of evangelicals such as F. F. Bruce and I. Howard Marshall who have labored as professed evangelicals within secular universities” (p. 125). “Murray’s work is a provocative and informative interpretation of contemporary evangelicalism. Some, no doubt, will be offended by his frank criticism of acknowledged evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham. Others might even see his comments as narrow and unkind. . . . Murray’s analysis cannot be accused of either ‘belligerence’ or of ‘false charity’” (p. 125).
  • Roets, Jacques. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Mid-America Journal of Theology 12 (2001): 312-16.
  • Rush, John H. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Emmaus Journal 12 (2003): 202-4.
    “The main thrust of the argument is that evangelicals, in their desire to shed the exceeding narrowness of fundamentalism, have moved to the opposite extreme of toleration-even in regard to the essential issue of what it means to be a Christian” (p. 203). “Murray reminds us that we must not compromise essential biblical truths in the interests of acceptability and popularity. His reminder is timely” (p. 204).
  • Schaeffer, Francis A. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1982.
    “This problem which started some two hundred years ago has within the past two decades come to the forefront among evangelicals. It is a problem which I (and others) began to address publicly in the mid-sixties, again in the seventies and repeatedly in the eighties. We can be thankful for the many who have taken a strong stand on this; but we must also say, sadly, that the problem continues and is growing. Evangelicalism is divided, deeply divided. And it will not be helpful or truthful for anyone to deny this. It is something that will not simply go away, and it cannot be swept under the rug” (book 5 [The Great Evangelical Disaster], part 2, chapter 2).
  • Searle, David C. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 19 (2001): 85-89.
    “By any standards, this is an extremely impressive work and reformed Christians will be deeply indebted to Iain Murray for his immense scholarship, inexorable logic and clear passion for the purity of the church and the glory of God. However, I would respectfully suggest there are several areas in which many reformed evangelicals will beg to differ with him. First must be the interpretation he gives to the Martyn Lloyd-Jones address in 1966. . . . Those evangelicals who have served a lifetime in mainline denominations without let or hindrance by liberal colleagues will be disappointed that Murray seems unable to understand or empathize with their position” (p. 87). “A further disappointment for some readers will be the astonishing selectivity the author chooses to exercise” (p. 88).
  • Sidwell, Mark. “A Call to Separation and Unity: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and ‘Evangelical Unity.’Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 3 (1998): 35-62.
    The purpose of this article is to learn from someone unconnected with American fundamentalism “but who came to the same or similar conclusions about the practice of separation” (p. 35). Militant orthodoxy in Britain has included men such as Charles H. Spurgeon, E. J. Poole-Connor, W. P. Nicholson, and Ian Paisley (pp. 36-40). This article highlights Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), a puritan evangelical. He opposed Billy Graham’s crusades because of his Arminian system of public invitations and sponsorship by liberals and Roman Catholics (p. 43), and he also opposed the modern ecumenical movement (pp. 44-46). This built to a climax in the 1960s and peaked with his address to the Evangelical Alliance on October 18, 1966: “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal” (p. 51). When he finished this opening session of the national assembly, John Stott, that evening’s session chairman, “unexpectedly arose to take exception to the Doctor’s comments” (p. 53). From this point Stott and J. I. Packer parted with Lloyd-Jones (cf. p. 57). Sidwell’s summary is informative and his comments insightful.
  • ________. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Biblical Viewpoint 38 (April 2004): 100-101.
    “Murray, although to be commended for this work, is not entirely sympathetic to American Fundamentalism, or at least he does not feel constrained to defend it. Also Murray differs somewhat in his view of issues relevant to fundamentalism. For example, he continues to support evangelicals in the Church of England if they are resisting these comprehensive and ecumenical trends. In this he differs from some of the free-church evangelicals in Britain. . . . But this is still an excellent book. Careful research and clear argument give great weight to Murray’s study. In fact, the book seems to have attracted much more attention from contemporary evangelicalism than most Fundamentalist writings on such topics. Although most of the reaction has been negative, perhaps Murray will succeed in confronting evangelicals in both Europe and America with the demands of purity and discipline necessary to protect the gospel from corruption” (p. 101).
  • Sproul, R. C. “The Roots of Division.” Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Table Talk (January 2001): 61-62.
    “Because I read so much, it is a rare event when I find a book that yields a true epiphany. But this one did. As soon as I finished Murray’s book, I decided to order 20 copies so I could give one to every board member of Ligonier Ministries, every member of our executive staff, and every elder of my local church. . . . The book is a keen critical analysis of the history of evangelicalism in Great Britain and the United States” (p. 62). “The fundamentalists were evangelicals who refused to negotiate the foundational doctrines of historic Christianity. They tended toward separatism and a desire to remain unspotted by the world. Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, the result of a split by the faculty of Princeton Seminary, was content to remain small in size but enormously large in terms of long-term theological influence” (p. 61). New evangelicalism’s “vision was good and the motives were righteous. However, according to Murray’s analysis, the results were disastrous, both in England and the United States. . . . As evangelicals rose in number, they began to look and think more and more like Schleiermacher. During the 1990s, neo-evangelicalism moved so rapidly that it became a movement that would have been better spelled without the ‘e’ in neo. Murray’s critique is as kind and gracious as it is revealing and devastating. The icons of modern evangelicalism are shown as falling into egregious strategic errors that have weakened the evangelical faith at its very core. The bridges built to reach the mainstream became a two-way street by which those who sought to influence the liberals were themselves influenced. The story of how and why this happened could serve as a wake-up call for all of us to fight with all our might against our tendency to value cultural acceptance and the power of numbers above fidelity to the truth of God. We need to read Murray’s book and read it again, because what we do today counts forever” (p. 61).
  • Stott, John. Interviewed by The Briefing. “An Interview with John Stott.Briefing Web Extras. July 2002.
    “I never like talking or writing about people behind their back! Iain Murray is a good evangelical brother, who has done some conscientious research in Evangelicalism Divided. Nevertheless I don’t think your summary of his argument is altogether fair. Speaking for myself, I am not conscious of having ‘put aside’ any evangelical distinctives ‘in order to have a wider influence with the denominations.’ For this savors of a theological compromise of which I don’t believe I have been guilty. No, our decision at the Keele Congress (1967) was to get involved in both the secular world and the visible church, because we saw it as our God-appointed duty to do so. During the last 50 years I have seen the evangelical movement grow in size, scholarship and influence. What worries me now is that we are more a coalition than a party. We need to rally to the evangelical flag, as I have tried to argue in Evangelical Truth (2000), maintaining Trinitarian Truth in love (Eph 4:15).”
  • Straub, Jeff. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 6 (2001): 117-22.
    “For the first time, the history of the decline of evangelicalism is set forth. As it has grown larger in size and stature, its doctrinal core has dissipated. Theological certainty has given way to pragmatic opportunity. Murray tells us why this has happened” (p. 117). “Murray’s work provides an important historical contribution to the current understanding of the contemporary theological world. He rightly sees the problems endemic in evangelicalism and shows great courage in bringing this story out into the open” (p. 119). “However, for the fundamentalist, Murray’s work is less than satisfying. It suffers from a very poor understanding of historic fundamentalism and unfortunately has left out much of its criticism of the new evangelicalism, displaying a significant bias. Fundamentalism was an important voice of dissent raised against the new attitude. Murray briefly introduces fundamentalism in the first chapter and offers simplistic comments on its nature and importance” (p. 119). “Murray baldly asserts the failures of fundamentalism without the slightest warrant or supporting evidence of any kind” (p. 120). “He either is unaware or intentionally ignores the fundamentalist literature in defense of separatism” (p. 120). “Separatism is not an idea rooted in dispensationalism as Murray implies” (p. 121). “Murray offers little by way of remedy for the problems of evangelicalism. His observations are so general as to have no real impact. . . . Murray has done a good job diagnosing the cancer, but by disparaging fundamentalism, he has offered to the patient very little hope. If the answer is not in separation (a withdrawal of fellowship), then what is it?” (p. 121). “While Murray’s work provides a valuable record of the decline of new evangelicalism, he sadly offers no real corrective to its malady. He has told the evangelical church it has a terminal cancer that if not checked, will lead to further death and decay. If separation is not an option for the evangelical church, if the cancer is not removed, the theological decay and doctrinal compromise will continue unabated and the theological core of evangelicalism runs the risk of dissipating into oblivion” (pp. 121-22).
  • Talbot, Mark R. “Contending for the Faith.” Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Modern Reformation (May/June 2001): 48.
    Unlike every other review, Talbot does not name names. “Names aren’t important here since I’m not trying to assign blame. What is important is assessing a bad strategy.” He supports Murray’s thesis. “Any strategy that requires or encourages us to back away from necessary controversy is ultimately unfaithful.”
  • Tinker, Melvin. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Churchman 115 (2001): 74-81.
    “Perceptive, highly readable, fascinating, disturbing, frustrating, but above all, extremely important” (p. 74). Chapter 5 practically casts Packer and Stott “as the villains of the piece” (p. 76). “The final chapter is one of the most irenic and moving pleas for a greater understanding and indeed, rapprochement, between all sincere and earnest evangelicals I have read” (p. 78). Nevertheless, it is a “half book” that is “significantly and woefully lacking in presenting a complete picture” (p. 78). “Murray sadly gives the appearance of being selective in his material and perhaps more than a little ‘one-sided’ in the presentation of it” (p. 80). “This book is a ‘must’ read, but do bear in mind it is only part of the picture, albeit a significant part” (p. 81).
  • Wells, Tom. “An Assessment of the American Role.” Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Reformation Today (July/August 2001): 11-15.
    “Spurgeon had warned against a ‘downgrade’ in the late 1800s and subsequent events in England seemed to bear him out” (p. 11). Murray’s book “is not, of course, a history of evangelicalism but a record of its divisions. It goes without saying that it is not a perfect book, though I have found very little with which to disagree. . . . [I]t does not hold out much hope for the future” (p. 14).
  • Wright, Ben. Response to Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Posted on December 30, 2005.
    “Murray’s unique contribution to me is two-fold. First, his documentation is impeccable. . . . The only substantial factual disagreement I can recall of those that I read is tangential and only bolsters the integrity of those who are on his side of the battle. . . . Murray’s second contribution is his tone. He tells the story in a voice that cannot conceal the heaviness of heart with which he writes-a heaviness sourced in two layers of sadness. The first is that the story took place. The second is that it has to be told, and he is the one telling it. . . . This book ought to be mandatory reading for all evangelical seminary students and pastors. . . . But thank you, Dr. Murray, for your courage, your thoroughness, and your willingness to tell a story that needed to be told.”
  • ________. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Posted on August 12, 2005.
    Evangelicalism Divided by Iain H. Murray is the best depressing book I have ever read.”
  • Wright, David F. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Reformation and Revival 10 (2001): 121-36.
    This “weighty treatise” is “a relentless exposé of the inadequacies of many of the leading evangelicals of the past half-century” (p. 121). “The villains in Murray’s piece are James Packer, John Stott, Colin Buchanan, Alister McGrath and other such luminaries in the Anglican evangelical firmament. There are precious few heroes-Gerald Bray almost alone among Anglicans, along with Martyn Lloyd-Jones” (p. 123). Murray’s defense of Lloyd-Jones is not factual (pp. 124-29, 133). “Behind Murray’s criticisms I rarely glimpsed a passion for the gospel except in terms of purity of doctrine and church” (p. 132). “Yet it is undeniable that the Scriptures afford us little straightforward counsel in coping with our modern evangelical confusions and divisions-anymore than they did in the sixteenth century. In broad terms I find neither Old Testament nor New Testament support for a separatist tendency to break away into conscience-driven disengaged communities. . . . Nor, (if I may speak as a church historian) does the track record of separatism-overall, on balance, in the round-encourage one to back it as a lasting winner” (p. 133). “This book will provoke much debate but do little, I fear, to heal our divisions, although it strikes a more conciliatory note in the final chapter” (p. 134). “It is the kind of book that, even when it wins the arguments, ends up losing the case” (p. 136).
  • Zahl, Paul F. M. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Modern Reformation (Sept./Oct. 2001): 48-50.
    “The objection is almost unanswerable. While Iain Murray is somewhat unfair to a number of outstanding Christian personalities in England, he also forces the reader to decide between two opposing schools of thought within Evangelicalism. That is a good thing” (p. 48). The book “suffers from its length and discursiveness. The reader sometimes stops and wonders, What is Murray really saying? What is he claiming and arguing for? I believe Murray’s argument is well, even irenically, summarized in the six general conclusions found on pages 297 to 318. But it takes a long time to get there” (p. 49).
  • Zartman, Joel. Review of Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided. Posted on February 10, 2006.
    “This is both an interesting and a dull book. Murray doesn’t write with any great liveliness or humor. Very serious, almost grim, he is quite the quintessential presbyterian [sic]. What makes it interesting are the insights that he gives, and the indictments. . . . My only complaint is that Murray is not incisive enough. This is an indictment, a strong indictment, but he backs off on pushing what he needs to push hard. It will not do to find a moderating position and thus somehow find the center by avoiding the periphery of the target. I appreciate Murray’s serious religion and seriousness about religion. I wish he were not so intent on being nice.”

Andrew David Naselli
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois
August 29, 2007

Related: Review of Rolland D. McCune’s Promise Unfulfilled


  1. says

    You conclude that “I think that Murray’s argument is convincing.” Do your refer to your statement (early in the review) that “their strategy failed to fulfill what it promised but instead compromised the gospel itself”? Or to a fuller thesis of some sort? (I’ve not read the book, so can’t determine that.)

    Thanks for the lengthy bibliog. of reviews–a lot of work and much appreciated.

  2. says

    Good question, Rod. What I intended to communicate with my concluding sentence is that I agree with Murray’s overall thesis, and the bit you quoted is one way of summarizing his thesis.

  3. David Bissett says

    Thank you for this summary and review — and the various items you have attached. It is most useful. As a friend of Iain’s (and an avid reader of his fine books) I think you are accurate and fair here. Men in ministry ought to read this book and accept its conclusions.


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