This book helps to fill in an important segment of 20th century church history. The Inter-Varsity Fellowship (IVF, later UCCF) played a vital part in evangelical witness – establishing a younger generation in definite biblical faith and, by various agencies, seeking to recover historic Christianity in an era of widespread apostasy. The Tyndale Fellowship (TF) formed in 1945 has hitherto been one of the lesser known of these agencies.
By a thorough use of committee minutes and other sources, Professor Noble has documented the history of this branch of IVF, which had its base at Tyndale House in Cambridge.
The intention of TF was to act as a research wing of the movement – raising the level of evangelical scholarship, producing literature and aiding evangelical students of ability to pursue careers in the academic world, where they could counter the influence of the dominant theological liberalism.
Of Tyndale House, Don Carson has written, ‘I know of no other Christian institution with comparable global influence for such comparatively little investment’.
A book of this nature is not intended for the popular market. The narrative proceeds in chronological sequence and is densely packed with details of names, committees, and financial matters.
But the work is lightened with attractive sketches of men who were prominent – too many of whom have passed on without notice of their work being left to posterity. Interest is further sustained by the attention the author gives to points of theological tension.
The main problem facing TF was the disrepute in which Evangelicalism was regarded in the university world on account of its ‘fundamentalism’. The solution proposed to overcome this prejudice was to show by exacting scholarship that Evangelicals are not obscurantist and anti-intellectual.
Yet how to do this when the IVF (and TF) basis of belief affirmed the ‘infallibility of Holy Scripture’ (surely the starting point for ‘fundamentalism’?) was indeed a difficulty. This is a recurring topic in Professor Noble’s record. One means of attracting greater sympathy for the evangelical position was to say that ‘infallible’ does not mean ‘inerrant’ – an opinion that was certainly not that of the founders of the IVF.
A subject not dealt with in the book (except for the striking instance of Archbishop George Carey) was the extent to which men once closely identified with IVF and TF moved to broader beliefs. It is pointed out how, before the history of the sixty years closed, the question of members of TF having to adhere to and sign the IVF basis of faith was discussed on numerous occasions.
It would appear that from the outset of the TF there was a difference in judgement over whether the first need was for strong biblical theology (as advocated by Lloyd-Jones and Packer) or for specialist technicians on the text of Scripture who could meet liberal scholars on their own ground.
That good has been done by TF is beyond doubt – but we believe the good would have been greater if the second view had not prevailed.
Professor Noble occasionally creates some doubts in our mind over his accuracy. He appears to rely overmuch on memories contributed long after the events themselves and without any supporting evidence.
Geoffrey Bromiley, for instance, is quoted from a letter in 2004 on the ‘pet aversions’ Lloyd-Jones is said to have shown at a conference in 1941, while Peter Cook writing in 1998 is given as his source for faulty information on a conference in Cambridge in 1953 – faulty because, contrary to his statement, I was not present on that occasion.
It is a pity that more correspondence was not available to Noble, especially from Douglas Johnson and Oliver Barclay (the IVF leaders who constantly worked to stem drift within the movement).
The concluding pages of Douglas Johnson’s book, Contending for the Faith: A history of the Evangelical Movement in the Universities and Colleges (Leicester, IVP, 1979) give a warning that is missing in Noble – ‘In the light of its past history, and in the experience of Christians everywhere, the biggest single danger to the Evangelical Movement at each stage comes not from its declared opponents, but from some of those who claim to be its friends’ (p.342). Yet if a fuller history of the period is every written, Noble’s book will be an important source.
Tyndale House and Fellowship: the first sixty years is published by IVP (336 pages; £19.99; ISBN 1-84474-095-6)