Fighting The Good Fight: The Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS - September 8, 2016) -- I don't recall the first time I heard the name of Lutheran scholar, theologian, and apologist, John Warwick Montgomery. Maybe it was in connection with apologist Josh McDowell, who quoted from him in his influential book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Or maybe it was my youth pastor Ross Suave who had a knack of introducing me to formidable Christian thinkers. I'm not too sure.
What I do know is that I've been an admirer of Dr. Montgomery's work most of my Christian journey. At various junctures in my walk with Christ, Dr. Montgomery has been a guide, a voice of reason, a mentor-at-large, and professor. I even chose the first seminary I attended based upon the fact that he was one of the teachers, eventually quoting heavily from him in my doctorate dissertation.
At 84 years old (born October, 18th 1931 in New York, a naturalized British citizen), Dr. Montgomery has led a fascinating life. From early debates in the "God is Dead" controversy in the 1960's, to his famed search for Noah's Ark in the 1970's, to his academic work in apologetics, history, philosophy, and law, to his popular works on Sherlock Holmes, J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, to his biographical research into the life and witness of Martin Luther -- Montgomery's pen has seldom run dry.
With multiple degrees and books, countless articles, debates, TV appearances, and an international apologetics symposium (in Strasbourg, France, one which my son just attended), Dr. Montgomery is one of the leading voices of classical, Biblical Christianity.
So when I heard that WIPH & STOCK Publishers had released his autobiography (something he told me about when he was speaking in New Mexico), I quickly got a copy. The book is entitled Fighting the Good Fight: A Life in Defense of the Faith.
In twelve short chapters, Montgomery gives an overview of his life, works, and witness, quickly pointing out that the reason he wrote the book was not to be "self-serving," but to give God the glory -- soli Gloria Deo (which he reiterated in a recent email to me).
On every page of the book one will find the wit and wisdom of Montgomery, joining him in his journey from New York to the halls of universities, pulpits of churches, and courtrooms around the world. The only complaint I have of the early chapters is that I wish he wrote more about his upbringing and influences. I'll need to wait for a biography for that, I suppose.
I was particularly impressed with the middle sections of the book detailing his seminars, debates, and lecture tours. Here one finds Montgomery the clear thinker, debater, and apologist. In chapters seven through nine one finds Montgomery the lawyer, learning about his time in England defending human rights cases. In the final chapters one finds Montgomery the international scholar and Christian eclectic (his interests range from cars, books, wine, food, computer technology, to Sherlock Holmes, to you name it). I remember the last time I was with Dr. Montgomery. He asked to visit "antiquarian" bookstores as he called them. While hunting the shelves he found books on a vast range of topics, demonstrating his prodigious interests. If the autobiography does one thing, it shows the wide-ranging curiosities of a man dedicated to Christ.
The second half of the book is the appendix. And let me tell you, they are as witty and informative as the body of the work. Here one will find pictures, letters, documents (oral arguments, etc.), and a host of other items related to Montgomery's life and ministry. One of my favorite appendices is 1. Here we find Montgomery's "Likes and Dislikes." In it one learns that he likes "classic Lutheran, Evangelical theology," but dislikes "Any theology demeaning the historicity and/or full authority of the Bible." One finds that he likes "High liturgy, especially Anglican," but dislikes "Happy-clappy, particularly if employing overhead projectors and marimbas." I found myself laughing out loud and agreeing with much of his "likes."
One of the most heart-felt discussions in the book is concerning his divorce from his first wife, Joyce Anne Bailer, as he states, "whom I had dated my senior year in high school." And though Montgomery doesn't go into great detail (as he shouldn't), the reality of his divorce paved the way for an open discussion of divorce and the Bible. In the end Montgomery "sent a letter, apologizing for my own contributions to the problem..." Yet the marriage wasn't salvaged. The divorce was investigated by his denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, upon which the church deemed the divorce "biblically justified" and Montgomery's "ordination was therefore not imperiled."
On a brighter note, Montgomery met Lanalee de Kant, professional harpist, at an Episcopal church in California. They began to date, and a "whirlwind romance' commenced. They flew to Europe where they were married at the historic Lutheran Eglise de St. Pierre le Jeunne. The rest, if you will, his history, they've been happily married for years, ministering together around the world.
But more than just reading about John Warwick Montgomery, take some time to read his works. Here are some of my favorites:
History, Law and Christianity
Faith Founded on Fact
Myth, Allegory and Gospel
The Shape of the Past
The Shaping of America
The Suicide of Christian Theology
The Transcendent Holmes
Where is History Going?
Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question
Human Rights and Human Dignity
And to learn more about Montgomery's work from other Christian scholars, a recent collection of essays in honor of Dr. Montgomery entitled, Tough Minded Christianity: The Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery was released by Broadman and Holman in 2009. The book describes Montgomery as "a living legend in the field of Christian apologetics who has earned eleven degrees in philosophy, theology, law, and librarianship, debated historic atheists including Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and influenced the work of bestselling authors..."
In the end, Montgomery exudes with his life a quest to know Christ -- both in the Word (Scripture) and in the world (creation), living his life -- soli Gloria Deo -- for God's glory alone. It's a fitting ending to his autobiography when we states, "So I leave you, gentle reader, with that oft misquoted and misunderstood aphorism of Martin Luther: "Pecca Fortier" -- "Sin bravely" -- but which he followed immediately with the word (invariably left out) "sed fortius fide et gaude in Christo, qui victor est peccati, mortis et munde" -- "but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly still, for he is victor over sin, death and the world."
If one thing can be said about Montgomery it is this: that he believes, lives for, and rejoices in Christ boldly and bravely. This alone is worth celebrating while reading about a life dedicated to the defense of the faith.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He's a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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