1966 And All That: Basil Howlett's Evangelical Journey

I was recently lent a book entitled 1966 And All That: an Evangelical Journey, by Basil Howlett. The title is a reference to a meeting at which Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones spoke in that year calling for Bible-believing evangelicals to break away from liberal, modernistic denominations that were denying the gospel, to form separate churches. When the Doctor had finished speaking, the Reverend John Scott stood up and contradicted him, urging evangelicals to stay put.

The book is really a kind of spiritual autobiography during which the author seeks to justify his secession from the British Baptist Union. Until I read this book, I had not realised just how liberal and compromised the traditional British free church denominations and their leaders had actually become. Howlett records some of their contributions which I reproduce below:

  • In 1961, Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly declared that he will see atheists in heaven.
  • In 1962 John Robinson the Bishop of Woolwich wrote a book called Honest to God in which he denied the existence of a personal deity.
  • In 1965 Donald Soper, the Methodist leader, proposed a ban on Bible reading, saying that the Scriptures were 'intolerable'.
  • In 1965 Leslie Weatherhead, a leader within the Congregational Church, published a book called The Christian Agnostic in which he said that the Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found, whether traditional Christian teaching or through Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism or even atheism.
The author describes how, while he attended a liberal Baptist theological college in Manchester, evangelical students were ridiculed and sidelined while students who stood up and preached a denial of Christ's divinity or the power of His cross to save, were congratulated and lauded by the college tutors. It was only hearing Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones preach at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1961 that this young theological student's faith in the Bible and the gospel was restored. Having spent several years working in a mixed denomination, the author and his fellowship finally decided to leave the Union. There was a great deal of publicity when he and his young family were turfed out of the manse and the fellowship evicted from the very church premises that they had paid for and maintained for so many years. The Lord had graciously provided new premises for them in their town of Cheltenham which by all accounts was blessed many times over. He recounts some wonderful conversion stories of some of the most ungodly people who were called by Christ unto salvation.

This book helped fill a gap in my own historical knowledge of British church history in the 20th century. It talks about the foundation of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and why so many born-again believers found a spiritual home therein. 

The ultimate challenge for me is my own church's association with a so-called mixed denomination. Congregational churches in Britain during the 20th century embraced liberalism, doubts, compromise and general spiritual apostasy like all the others. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder that the declining fortunes of the Congregational church is the direct corollary of God's judgement upon it. There are many protestant chapels now upon which new owners have written signs such as Carpet Showroom or Art Gallery, and God has written alongside them ICHABOD: the Glory has departed from Israel. Knowing however that Salem Congregational Chapel is a fully independent and autonomous organisation, I do not feel particularly contaminated or corrupted by the liberalism and unbelief of previous generations. 
This is a book I recommend. It was in fact given to the church by Richard Johnson, one of our preachers, who worshipped with us for a time. It was a most excellent gift which I intend to share.