Several weeks ago I finished reading Iain H. Murray’s The Unresolved Controversy: Unity With Non-Evangelicals. Sometimes some of my best readings are from booklets, and this one is no exception. It only has thirty pages and in normal reading, people can read its entirety in one hour or so. But this one took me a few days to finish it, not because it is written in Greek or Hebrew, but its content forced me to think through several theological and pastoral implications. It is that kind of reading.
I am a fan of Iain Murray, largely because of my love for the Banner of Truth books and his keen observations in historical theology (e.g., Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000). In fact, I often tell our congregation that if they want to understand our present problems in our “evangelical” churches, they need to read Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided.
However, if anyone feels intimidated by a 342-page book, that’s when the 30-page The Unresolved Controversy comes handy. As Murray explains at the onset, this booklet is actually a result of the address he gave at the Shepherds’ Conference in 2001, when he was invited by Dr John MacArthur to talk about the main theme of his book Evangelicalism Divided. In fact, I was at the event when Murray gave the address. But honestly, how often and how much do you remember every message that you hear? So, this little booklet refreshed my memory of the event, but most of all, it reminded me of what it means to be an evangelical and why unity with non-evangelicals is impossible.
Regarding the latter, Murray offers two fundamental reasons: 1) the way in which the definition of a Christian had been changed and underminded and 2) compromise of biblical anthropology, namely the depravity of man. The first deals with “Who is a Christian?”, while the second deals with “How sinful and dead is a sinner?” All that is to say, those two reasons deal with the heart of the gospel. In fact, isn’t that what an evangelical is – a gospelised and gospelizing person?
In fact, what Murray points out shape everything we do. For instance, if we cannot define who is a Christian, how are we to practice church membership and church discipline? Who gets baptized? Who is invited to the Lord’s Table? Also, if the pastoral ministry is primarily about equipping the saints, how is that possible if we cannot define who is a saint and aint? According to Murray:
Wrong teaching about Christ and the gospel, according to Scripture, is deadly dangerous. Out of good motives we may seek to win influence for the gospel among those who are not its friend, but when we do so at the expense of truth, we shall not prosper in the sight of God (p. 24).
O, how I wish many professing Christians would take heed!