Leslie Land and His Forgotten Influence on the Evangelical Church - an Interview with Author Ian Shaw

Ian Shaw, Professor Emeritus at the School for Business and Society of the University of York, UK, has just done the church a great service by writing a well-researched book on the life of Leslie Land, a rather forgotten pastor in mid-20th-century England who influenced his generation and the next more than most of us could imagine.

            The book, Leslie Land: His Life and Ministry, will be published through Joshua Press, an imprint of H&E Publishing, later this year. He has graciously accepted to answer some questions about Leslie Land and this new biography.

What inspired you to write this book?

            Well, I guess there may be direct and more distant inspirations. It must have been the early 1950s when, as a little boy, I first heard Leslie Land. I was sixteen when he left his church in Leicester, in the English Midlands. A small group of us went to visit him one Saturday morning, uninvited. It must have been the first time a pastor had talked to me as one Christian to another. I never forgot. When he died after a long illness in 1985, I wrote a couple of obituaries. The seeds were sown.

            Over the last decade I have transcribed and published a series of his studies on the second advent of Christ, and written a series of articles about him, but it was the awareness that I had probably the most complete deposit of information about Leslie Land that eventually pushed me to make a fuller record.

Can you give a brief overview of Leslie Land's life?

            The facts – as much as we know them – are readily told. I tell the story in the opening pages of the book. Tracing his life is like a jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces. He was brought up in Derbyshire, an English county. ‘William Leslie Land, born 20 January 1903 at Wirksworth; son of Samuel Land, retired Draper and Outfitter. Educated at the Grammar School, Wirksworth. Admitted 1 March 1921.’ So reads the Christ’s College, Cambridge, Admissions Book.

            He became a science teacher at a private college on the south coast of England and quickly rose to be the Headmaster, when still in his thirties. He left the college just after the Second World War and after a brief spell at a church in the south of England was called to Melbourne Hall, Leicester, where he stayed for fourteen years until 1961. He suffered the early onset of a serious degenerative illness and died in 1985. His wife, Katherine, survived him for a few years as did their son, Peter, who himself had lifelong learning and social disabilities.

How difficult was it to gather information for this book?

            Katherine Land, who I never spoke to face to face, was shown one of the obits I wrote. She asked someone to mail to me a small number of artefacts from his ministry – his annotated bible, some sermon notes, and so on. Someone else – a man who had been a minister in Leicester at the same time as Land - mailed to me some reel-to-reel tapes of Leslie Land. I felt a kind of obligation.

            Another unusual factor is that Melbourne Hall at that time produced a monthly church magazine of sixteen closely typed pages. Three or four of these pages would be taken up with an extended outline of a Leslie Land sermon. The church would bind the magazines between hard covers every three years. I don’t know any other church that would do that. One way or another I was given all but one of the bound volumes covering his ministry. So, although he never wrote anything for publication – despite Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging him to do so – there is a rich archive of his ministry.

            Preserving the archive is, as it happens, one of the challenges regarding Leslie Land, and one I have not been able to resolve. I have a significant number of audiotapes of his ministry and have had them digitised, but they need a permanent home.

            I have to say that it was not easy to find a publisher, and I owe a debt to Professor Michael Haykin in this regard. I think this is partly because we have yet to see an adequate account of the remarkable growth of a Reformed understanding of the Christian faith that took place during the middle of the last century, and which continues to spread in other parts of the world at present. I suspect there is a kind of Christian romanticism about more distant history.

How important was Land’s friendship with Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

            Absolutely central to all that followed. I stumbled across this when reading a volume of Lloyd-Jones’ letters edited by Iain Murray and available through the Banner of Truth Trust. I found two letters to Leslie Land. I asked Iain if there were more letters, and he loaned me all the surviving letters that Lloyd-Joes had written to Land. The letters in the reverse direction sadly have not survived. They would have been fascinating.

            You can read the growing friendship in the tone of ‘The Doctor’s’ often barely legible handwriting! Leslie Land clearly had a growing conviction that God was calling him to the ministry, and the letters through the late thirties and the forties trace this. Lloyd-Jones spoke at Land’s induction to Melbourne Hall, Leicester, in 1947 and Land preached quite often at Westminster Chapel through the 1950s. Melbourne Hall continues to exercise a faithful ministry in the heart of Leicester, the most ethnically diverse city in the UK.

What challenges did Land meet, and what lessons can we draw from the way he faced them?

            Thank you for asking. There certainly were challenges - of a personal nature and those that I perhaps can call “ecclesiastical.” Even at this distance, one should express matters carefully, but I think there is evidence that the elders of Melbourne Hall thought they were bestowing a great honour on Leslie Land when they called him in 1947. There is an anecdote – and I think a well-founded one – that they seemed somewhat rebuffed when he said he would give prayer to whether he should accept the call!

            I may be wrong, but there is evidence that there were some in the leadership of the church who never quite accepted him. He may well have encountered indifference and even a modest hostility from some. In his final letter to the church when leaving he felt he should say, “I have not shrunk from passing on to you the whole counsel of God. I have sought to emphasise none other loyalty than Christ and his word. It would be foolish to imagine that everyone in so large a fellowship is ‘with me’ in the strong evangelical position I have sought to maintain.”

            At the personal level, I have referred to the challenges he and Katherine met in their family life. Leslie Land was a “glass half empty” man. Twice during his ministry he took absences from the pulpit of several months. There is a very helpful letter that Lloyd-Jones wrote to him on one such occasion, that I quote in the book, and which is in full in Iain Murrays’ edited volume of Lloyd-Jones letters. I think this should encourage us, to read of someone who never had it easy, but whose life and ministry were blessed to others, perhaps to a far greater degree than ever he realised.

From my experience working with some secular publishers, I know that they prefer books about well-known personalities, and I saw this trend in the church as well (readers seem to be drawn to books on well-known figures, even if there have already been a great number of other books). Why do you think we should recover lesser-known figures like Leslie Land?

            An interesting question, though not one that has a simple answer. I said a moment ago that I think there sometimes is a hint of romanticism when we read of people like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and so on. Now Leslie Land was not an ordinary person in the sense that perhaps you or I may be, but I read this following comment from an Evangelical Movement of Wales posting:

“To win (God’s) praise one does not need to be wonderful or striking; it is given to those who may do no miracle (John 10.41) – to those who trust Him when everything is dark; to those who keep their faces toward the morning; to those who, through headache and through heartache, quietly and doggedly do their appointed bit… to those who help a brother or sister by the way; to those who look for a city which has foundations.”

Leslie Land had exactly this kind of faith.

I know from experience that, after spending so much time studying and writing about a person, an author can feel like he has a new, intimate friend. Does Land seem particularly close at any moment of your day? Is there a particular lesson that has impacted your life? 

            I can say, paradoxically, that since his death I feel I have lived with him. Over the years my concern that the life and work of this man should not be forgotten has gained momentum, and this book is, perhaps, the capstone. Though there is more work for someone to do.

            In my academic and scholarly life, (I am a social scientist), I have found myself writing of various people who have at one level been forgotten. The committed Catholic scholar who was my PhD examiner; the oldest sister of the poet, T S Eliot, and various others. I have found myself entering into conversations with the dead! But with Leslie Land I have listened more than spoken. There is a sense in which I love the man – for his utter faithfulness, his humanity, his intellectual grasp, his gift (and grace) of being able to present profound truth in seemingly simple ways.

Do you have a favorite quote from Land?

            Mmmh! Not one perhaps. But one can hear a recurring hallmark of his ministry when he says, “I know that it is not easy or pleasant to have to say these things, and it does not make for popularity. But…faithfulness, not popularity will count in the day of Christ.”



Simonetta Carr