I recently came across a blog post written by Tim Keller on his City to City Blog that spoke to my heart. The application for me and my ministry is clear, and I thought I would pass it on to see if it was as helpful to others. Tim wrote ....
D.M. Lloyd-Jones once had a memorable encounter with T.T. Shields, the pastor of Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto, and a leading defender of orthodoxy against the growing liberal theology of the churches in Canada. Shields regularly attacked other church leaders in both his preaching and his writings. Lloyd-Jones shared virtually the identical theological positions with Shields, but he believed "'that the Baptist leader (Shields) was sometimes too controversial, too denunciatory and too censorious.' Rather than helping young Christians by the strength of his polemics against liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics, Lloyd-Jones believed that Shields was losing the opportunity to influence those whose first need is positive teaching.” (I. Murray, D.M. Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, p.271). We should recall that Lloyd-Jones was quite willing to engage in polemics himself. He and John Stott clashed publicly over whether evangelicals should remain in the Church of England. (Lloyd-Jones said they should not.) And yet Lloyd-Jones opposed making polemics a major part of one’s ministry, and challenged Shields.
In their meeting, Shields asked Lloyd-Jones if he enjoyed reading the works of another contemporary defender of orthodoxy. Lloyd-Jones said that he seldom read the author, because, “he doesn’t help me spiritually.” Shields responded: “Surely you are helped by the way he makes mincemeat of the liberals?” Lloyd-Jones responded: “You can make mincemeat of the liberals and still be in trouble in your own soul.” This touched off an extended debate. At one point Shields said that he was only doing what Paul did to Peter—contradicting and opposing him. Lloyd-Jones responded “The effect of what Paul did was to win Peter round to his position and make him call him ‘our beloved brother Paul’ [2 Peter 3:15]. Can you say the same about the people whom you attack?” For this Shields had no answer. The simple fact was that his polemics were really designed simply to stigmatize and marginalize his opponents, not persuade them. Suddenly the younger Lloyd-Jones appealed to Shields in a bold way. In the 1920s, Shields had expected an appointment to McMaster University, but theological liberals blocked it. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that from that time it had changed the tone of his ministry. “Dr Shields, you used to be known as the Canadian Spurgeon, and you were…but over this McMaster University business in the early twenties you suddenly changed and became negative and denunciatory. I feel it has ruined your ministry. Why don’t you come back! Drop all this, preach the gospel to people positively and win them!” (Murray, p.273)
On the lips of someone else, this could be seen as an appeal to “just preach Jesus” and not care about sound doctrine. But it is hard to accuse Lloyd-Jones of that. Rather, Lloyd-Jones was standing in the tradition of Gillespie and Alexander. Polemics is medicine, not food. Without medicine we will surely die—we can’t live without it. This is why “polemical theology’ must be a required part of every theological curriculum. Yet we cannot live on medicine. If you engage in polemics with relish and joy—if polemics takes up a significant percentage or even a majority of your time and energy—it is like trying to live on medicine alone. It won’t work, for the church or for you. That was Lloyd-Jones’s message.