Tuesday, March 26, 2019

David Lloyd George: The Great Outsider by Roy Hattersley

Abacus, 2010, 709pp

You'd think it couldn't happen here. A populist with a shady private life ascending the highest political office in the land. I mean, this was Great Britain, not brash and gaudy America. Certainly not in the staid Victorian/Edwardian era. Never. But it did happen here. David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in 1916 and remained at the top until after the fall of his coalition government in 1922. 

A statue situated just outside the walls of Caernarfon castle captures David Lloyd George in full oratorical flight. This was his old stamping ground, where the future Prime Minister made his name as a fledgling politician. He championed the great causes of Welsh Nonconformity; temperance, disestablishment, education and land reform. In an era when politics was dominated by the aristocrat scions of Britain's top public schools, Lloyd George was a cottage bred boy, the product of a National School. Even when he became Prime Minister, Lloyd George was driven by an outsider's sense of grievance.

I started reading Hattersley's biography when we holidayed in Caernarfon in the May/June 2018 half term break and finished it on the flight home from our main summer holiday in Switzerland in August. Just taken me until now to write up a review. It was somehow fitting to read about the great man as I sat on the beach at Criccieth, the town Lloyd George made his home, or at least, where his wife and children made their home. He spent most of his time in London, even over the Christmas hols. 

Lloyd George's father died when he was young. His maternal uncle, Richard Lloyd took him under his wing and made every effort to make sure he had a good start in life. Lloyd belonged to the Campbelite sect of Sandemanian Baptists. So much as he aligned himself with any denomination  later in life, Lloyd George continued to identify himself with the Baptists. Hattersley records that he went to hear 'Dr. C. H Spurgeon' at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. 

Lloyd George made his reputation as a fiery orator, speaking to packed public meetings on subjects close to the heart of Liberal Nonconformity. He was involved in the 'Tithe Wars', a protest against a loathed tax that made Nonconformist farmers pay their dues to the Church of England. In a public meeting to discuss the tax a clergyman pointed out that people would have to pay Lloyd George his solicitor's fee if they consulted him on legal matters. The politician snapped back that only if they consulted him people had to pay. The 'tithe' forced Chapel-going farmers to pay for the clergyman's sermons even if they did not attend his services.

There was more to Lloyd George than campaigns and speeches. He was also a capable administrator. He proved an adroit President of the Board of Trade in Asquith's Liberal government. He was one of the great Chancellors of the Exchequer. Lloyd George introduced many of the social security benefits that we now take for granted including the old age pension, sickness and unemployment benefits. He fought for reform of the House of Lords, which led to the introduction of Life Peers. He brought swathes of reforming energy to his ministerial tasks. When the Great War broke out Lloyd George was appointed as Minister of Munitions. It was his belief that the war was being lost for want of artillery shells. He brought in men with experience of private business to help run the department. By the time his ministry ended the department was producing as many shells in a month as had previously been manufactured in a year. The ready supply of ordinance enabled the creeping artillery barrages that helped win the war.

The hesitant Asquith didn't cut it as wartime Prime Minister. Lloyd George took the helm and became the Man Who Won the War. He often clashed with Field Marshall Haigh's over his attentional tactics, but felt he lacked the political clout to remove the popular supreme commander. The war ending in victory, Lloyd George set his sights on making Britain a Land Fit for Heroes. He won the post-war General Election, which placed him in the incongruous position of being a Liberal Prime Minister in charge of a Conservative government. Roy Hattersley contrasts Lloyd George with a previous Liberal Leader, “Campbell-Bannerman 'always thought more of his policy than he did of himself'. When Lloyd George became PM, he ensured the death of the Liberal Party by reversing the order of priorities.” 

That, in essence was the problem with Lloyd George. His elevated sense of self made him think that everything was about him. The inward curve of self-love twisted his life out of shape. His long suffering wife had to put up with his long term absences from the family home and a string of adulterous affairs, all discretely covered up by a deferential media. He could be manipulative and devious in relation to his political allies. In relation to his opponents he was often merciless in misrepresenting them in order to score points and win his argument. Yet Lloyd George was also driven of a sense of crusading righteousness. He was an outspoken opponent of the Boer War, which he saw as a bullying campaign on the part of the British against a small nation. In a speech he claimed that when he stood before God on the day of judgement, the Almighty would let him in to heaven because he was 'for the Boer'. Evidently he had listened none too carefully to C. H. Spurgeon, who would have told the statesman to repent from his sin and trust in Jesus for salvation.

Hattersley tells the story well and is not afraid to criticise Lloyd George's conduct when censure is called for. As is often the case, great men have great faults. One wonders how Lloyd George would cope with being PM today. His private life would be all over the Tabloids for a start. He'd give Boris Johnson a run for his money on that front. But unlike the Tory wannabe, the Welsh Wizard was a master politician and mighty orator. If a pro-Breix PM, he'd no doubt run rings around the EUrocrats and just about everybody else to get us out of Europe on good terms.

Lloyd George's instincts were those of a socially conservative Chapel Boy (not always carried through into his private life), wedded to the Liberal values of free trade and social justice. Maybe he would be the man to lead the Social Democratic Party out of the wilderness and into power, who knows? The Great Outsider reminds us of what great political leadership can accomplish. But Lloyd George's statues in Caernarfon on and Parliament Square should  have feet of clay to remind us that the man immortalised in bronze was possessed of the kind of destructive drives that ruin lives and bring  the most high flying of political careers crashing to the dust. He was a great man and a great sinner. Would that he had heeded Spurgeon as the preacher pointed him to a great Saviour. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Affinity Theological Studies Conference: 'The Worshipping Church'

Panel of speakers (minus one) 
The Affinity Theological Studies Conference is unique among a plethora of events in the Evangelical and Reformed world. Most other conferences revolve around addresses, lectures or preaching. They contain very little conferring, apart from an occasional discussion panel. Even there, any conferring usually takes place among the speakers, not conference delegates. This one's different. The papers are circulated beforehand with a view to having them discussed in the conference. First in small groups and then in plenary sessions. The papers will be published in due course, so I'm not going to attempt to summarise their contents. An outline can be seen here. Titles and authors listed below. Rather than delivering the papers, the authors simply introduce them before delegates head off to chew the fat.

I chaired our group and tried to ensure that our discussions had a practical bent. What would we do differently in response to the material in the papers? As it happens, members of our group were of one mind on most things, but there are always differences of nuance and emphasis to tease out. Discussion times flowed well, but never became especially heated. 

For me, I won't be implementing massive changes in my approach to leading worship. But I hope reading and discussing the papers will make me a a bit more thoughtful about the way I do things in future. It's a fair point that while preachers spend hours preparing to preach, little thought can go into the main prayer of a Sunday service. We can easily get stuck in a rut and become samey and boring. Keeping fresh takes effort. I'm not convinced that we should be using read prayers, though. The Spirit gifts pastors and teachers to lead worship and well as preach. But progress in gifting is both possible and necessary. When it comes to preaching, Bob Letham commended Augustine's dictum that preaching should, 'make clear, delight and pursuade' (Paper 3). That too takes work. 

So-called 'worship wars' seem to have died down of late. Congregations aren't splitting over styles of worship. Differences have now become settled, with some churches adopting a progressive approach and others maintaining a traditional stance. There are biblical principles at stake here and Paper 2 in particular took us back to the New Testament's teaching on 'gathered worship'. Yes, there is such a thing, insisted David Kirk, alongside 'whole of life worship'. Sometimes differences over worship styles can be down to cultural perspectives. Most in our group seemed to agree that we need to be contemporary, while at the same time consciously part of a worshipping tradition that goes back over 2,000 years. Before that even, if you include psalm singing (which we should!) and Old Testament worship (Paper 1). Papers 5 & 6 wrestled with managing change and what it means to be 'conteporary'. 

Yes, we who lead the gathered church in worshipping God need to give attention to the form, content and cultural relevance of our services. Sure. Paper 4 also reminded us that worship should stir the affections to the adoration of the our Father by the Son and through the Spirit. As Jonathan Edwards wrote,
That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wouldings [i.e. wishes to act] raising us but a little above a state of indifference. God in his word, greatly insists upon it that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit and our hearts be vigorously engaged in religion.
Prayer, singing, Scripture reading, preaching, Baptism and the Lord's Supper should be a means by which the hearts of worshippers are moved to worship. The affections raised should be appropriate to the truth proclaimed, ranging from godly sorrow over sin to joy inexpressible in the Lord. The truth bit needs underlining in our sentimental age. We look not for emotional outbursts, but a heartfelt response to God's Word. Edwards posited that the development of godly Christian character is the acid test of whether affections are truly of the Spirit. Emotional spasms won't produce the fruit of the Spirit. Only the word of truth and power of God can do that. 

Speaking of the Spirit, some papers gave attention to the way in which the Holy Spirit is especially present with the church gathered in worship. That gave rise to discussion on how that can be, given a) the Spirit is omnipresent and b) he dwells within each individual believer. We considered texts such as Ephesians 2:19-22, which speaks of the gathered church (note 'built together') as a 'dwelling place of God in the Spirit' and, of course the favourite verse of small churches, Matthew 18:20. In his introductory remarks to his paper Stephen Clark helpfully reminded us that while the Spirit is with the people of God when gathered and scattered, he may be more powerfully present at some times than others. The Spirit is not a force, but a sovereign person of the Trinity. His influences and effects therefore vary, both in relation to the individual believer and gathered churches. Our God seems to take special delight in drawing near to his gathered people, Psalm 87:1-3. 

Few things have been more divisive in Evangelical circles than what goes on in gathered worship, which is a great shame. But even in the church of the New Testament there was potential for division. Jewish believers with their tradition of psalm singing in the synagogues had to accommodate Gentile believers who composed new songs to the Lord. Gentiles, who were accustomed to boozy singalongs in their pagan days had to learn sing the psalms of Israel, now 'not drunk with wine...but filled with the Spirit', Ephesians 5:18-20. This involved both Jew and Gentile submitting to the other in the Lord, rather than splitting from one another, as they developed a distinctive Christian culture of worship (Ephesians 5:21). There's a lesson  there for our day and the divide between 'progs' and 'trads'. With great pastoral wisdom John Calvin shows us a more excellent way than acrimony, 
The Master... did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages)... Because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practises and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge of what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe. (Cited in Paper 5).
Paper 1: A biblical theology of worship (Mark Johnston)
Paper 2: ‘When you come together’ (David Kirk)
Paper 3: Worship and aesthetics: a historical survey – with particular reference to Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Luther, Zwingli and other Reformers (Bob Letham)
Paper 4: Worship and the affections (Graham Beynon)
Paper 5. Worship today: maintaining continuity with the past and across the world (Ray Evans)
Paper 6. Worship today: contemporary expression of worship in one’s own culture (Stephen Clark)

The next Affinity Theological Studies Conference will take place in March 2021. The topic may be eschatology, but that's still to be decided. The Doctrine of God also merits attention, especially the Trinity in historical, biblical and theological perspectives, the eternal submission of the Son to the Father (or not!), one God 'without body, parts, or passions', divine sovereignty vs Open Theism, etc. Theme, 'Behold your God!'