Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Preaching and Preachers, Revival and Religion

mljA few months ago I finished Iain Murray’s condensed version of his two-volume biography on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1899–1981. For those who do not know of “The Doctor,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones left the medical profession to be a preacher. From the late 1920s to the 1970s he was a powerful Calvinistic evangelist, whose pastoral labors took his to Wales and London, England.

Situated at Westminster Chapel, Lloyd-Jones impacted many prominent scholars (J. I. Packer and Iain Murray), interacted with dozens of evangelical leaders, and carried out a preaching ministry that shaped the likes of John MacArthur and John Piper. Though a generation removed from the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd, his expositional commitment and doctrinal convictions have been carried on in his preaching, his writing, and his publishing house—the Banner of Truth Trust, which was begun under his ministry.

In short, Lloyd-Jones lived remarkable life as a man committed to prayer and evangelistic, expositional preaching. I benefitted greatly from reading his biography, especially in his treatment of subjects like preaching, revival, religion, and evangelism. In what follows, I have listed a number of his insightful comments on these and others subjects.

May they spur you on towards love and good deeds and (re)fuel in you a hunger for the Word of God rightly preached and warmly embraced. Continue reading

Was Martyn Lloyd-Jones a biblical theologian?

Over the last two weeks, I have been making my way through Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Not surprisingly, I have appreciated Lloyd-Jones’ pastoral forthrightness, his homiletic wisdom, and his overwhelming confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, but what I have been surprised by is his emphasis on biblical theology. He writes:

If then I say that preaching must be theological and yet that it is not lecturing on theology, what is the relationship between preaching and theology? I would put it like this, that the preacher must have a good grasp, of the whole biblical message, which is of course a unity. In other words, the preacher should be well versed in biblical theology which in turn leads on to a systematic theology.

It is not enough merely that a man should know the Scriptures, he must know the Scriptures in the sense that he has got out of them the essence of biblical theology and can grasp it in a systematic manner. He must be so well versed in this that all his preaching is controlled by it (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 1971, p. 66, 117).

As I ponder these quotations, the question forms in my mind, does Lloyd-Jones conceive of biblical theology in the same way that we do today? Or does his mention of biblical theology simply mean theology that comes from the Bible? Not being a Lloyd-Jones expert—having only read Preaching and Preachers once, listened to John Piper’s biography a handful of times, and heard a couple audio sermons—I am not the best one to answer the question, but let me propose a few thoughts.

First, Lloyd-Jones radical commitment to expounding the Scriptures, sometimes one word at a time, reveals a doctrine of God’s Word that affirms inspiration, authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity. The significance of this is that, though his sermons were often atomistic, they exalted the Scriptures in the same way that modern biblical theologians do.  Both biblical theology and Lloyd-Jones believed that all Scripture is God-breathed and thus at every level is useful for teaching, reprooving, correcting, and training in righteousness.

Second, from the passages quoted above, it is evident that Lloyd-Jones recognized the unity of the Bible. He commends and demonstrates in his preaching an intratextual approach to preaching that again is commisserate with biblical theology.  He could be criticized for filling his sermons with too much extraneous theological content, but in so doing he was drawing from vast resevoirs of Scriptural Truth.  So, this too demonstrates a biblical-theological commitment.

Third, as a Reformed pastor, Lloyd-Jones would have been familiar with Princeton’s Geerhardus Vos and his Biblical Theology. First published in 1948, this landmark volume would have been released in the middle of Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit ministry.  Moreover, Banner of Truth claimed the copyright of this book and began publishing it in 1978.  Certainly, he must have been aware of Vos’s redemptive-historic approach to the Scriptures.   With this said, it is unlikely that Lloyd-Jones would use “biblical theology” in a non-technical sense.

Fourth, another reason for believing that Lloyd-Jones used the term “biblical theology” in its technical sense and not just as a passing reference to theology that adheres to the Bible is that Edmund Clowney was in the audience when the Welsh doctor gave these lectures (see Lloyd-Jones preface where he thanks Professor Clowney).  It seems probable that in his presence, Lloyd-Jones would have used the term in its more technical sense.  Since, eight years earlier, Clowney had published his own treatise on Preaching and Biblical Theology.

So considering this scant evidence, should we say that Lloyd-Jones is a biblical-theologian? Tentatively, I respond in the affirmative because it seems that Lloyd-Jones usage of the term was done with specificity to commend the importance and place of biblical theology in preaching.  Likewise, the context in which he spoke certainly would have required a technical usage. However, the more pressing question becomes, did Dr. Lloyd-Jones adhere to a biblical theology in his own preaching? Here I must concede to those of you who have read and heard more of Lloyd-Jones than myself. Still from the little I have read and heard, it seems that his surgical precision with the text masked any overt notions of biblical theology. Nevertheless, from his comments in Preaching and Preachers and his absolute commitment to reading the Scriptures theologically (64-65), I would conclude that underneath his preaching mantle the good doctor was also a well-informed biblical-theologian. Certainly, his preaching was marked by theological acuteness and biblical faithfulness, and together I think this commends at least tendencies towards biblical theology, if not a purposeful use of the discipline.

In that spirit, may we continue to study the story of redemption found in history and then unleash its power in faithful exposition of its individual texts. This is what Martyn Lloyd-Jones did and is something that young preachers should consider and imitate as they see his faithful application of a biblical theology.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

What Martyn Lloyd-Jones has to say to Emergents and the Evangelical Left

Reading books from earlier generations is helpful in evaluating the proclivities and overemphases of our own generation.  Reading Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachershas reminded me of that truth this week.  For in his classic work on preaching, the good doctor reflects on the condition of preaching and its primacy within the Christian church.  Informed by the timeless wisdom of the Scriptures, he speaks to many cultural trends sweeping through evangelicalism today.  In particular, he addresses emergent tendencies to exchange preaching for dialogue and the evangelical left’s push to advance social justice, environmental care, economic revision, and other secondary matters to the forefront.

Considering the manner in which we speak about God, Lloyd-Jones recalls Moses encounter with God at the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6), and he says, “our attitude [in how we approach God] is more important than anything we do in detail as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God is always to be approached ‘with reverence and with godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire’ (47).   The eminent pastor goes on to explain:

To me this is a very vital matter.  To discuss the being of God in a casual manner, lounging in an armchair, smoking a pipe or a cigarette or a cigar, is to me something that we should never allow, because God, as I say, is not a kind of philosophic X or a concept (47).

While surely not denying the place of Christian conversation about the things of God, Lloyd-Jones admonition to preach the Word with fear and trembling is forceful.   He challenges preachers seeking to rightly divide the Word to also faithfully present the Word as a divinely authorized message from God himself.   The manner is as important as the means.  Explication of the Scriptures devoid of proper gravity minimizes divine authority.  In Lloyd-Jones estimation, this kind of preaching fails to convey the seriousness of the message we preach.  This raises a series of questions for budding preachers to consider:

What kind of message does it send  when a sanctuary is converted into living room?  Or what is the effect on the church when pulpits are replaced with bar stools?   Or how is the message of God perceived when the preacher dons a pair of sandles and a hawaiian shirt?  Surely, these things have little bearing on the content of the message, but might they distort the seriousness of the Scriptures?  The good doctor thinks that such mishandling of God’s Word is a case of malpractice.

Lloyd-Jones book also confronts another modern issue, namely the promotion of a socialized gospel.  In an age where evangelicalism sees to be splintering and the evangelical left calls for renewed attention to matters of society and culture, Lloyd-Jones words remind us of Christ’s central mission and the church’s singular purpose–to proclaim the gospel of salvation.  Lloyd Jones writes:

Take all this new interest in the social application of the Gospel, and the idea of going to live amongst the people and to talk politics and to enter into their social affairs and so on [Read: incarnational ministry and missional church]…The argument was that the old evangelical preaching of the Gospel was too personal [i.e. individual], too simple, that it did not deal with the social problems and conditions.  It was a part, of course, of the liberal, modernit, higher-critical view of the Scriptures and of our Lord….The very thing that is regarded as so new today, and what is regarded as the primary task of the Church, is something that has already been tried, and tried with great thoroughness in the early part of the century (33).

Lloyd-Jones reminds us that a socially-minded gospel, fueled by liberalism, has “already been tried.”  Not surprisingly, the idea of socializing the gospel, incarnating the church into the clothes of the culture, is not new.  Though emerging churches and leftist evangelicals may think of themselves as cutting edge, Lloyd-Jones replies in the words of Solomon “there is nothing new under the sun.”  He continues:

I have not hesitation in asserting that was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was the ‘social gospel’ preaching and the institutional church. [Why?]  The people rightly argued in this way, that if the business of the Church was really just to preach a form of political and social reform and pacifism then the Church was not really necessary, for all the could be done throught the political agencies (34).

Lloyd-Jones’ warning here is that when Christians fail to uphold the central message of the Bible, the message of forgiveness and eternal life purchased on the cross of Christ, the church is undone.  When emphases are on this world only, and fail to consider the eternal realities of heaven and hell; or when the exclusive message of Jesus salvation is broaden to some kind of pluralism or universal inclusivism, as are growing among even evangelicals today, then the long-term result will ultimately be empty churches.  He offers a better, more biblical way.

My objection to the substitution of a socio-political interest for the preaching of the Gospel can be stated more positively.  This concern about the social and political conditions, and about the happiness of the individual and so on, has always been dealt with most effectively when you have had reformation and revival and true preaching in the Christian church.  I would go further and suggest that it is the Christian Church that has made the greatest contribution throughout the centuries to the solution of these very problems.  The modern man is very ignorant of history; he does not know that the hospitals originally came through the church… The same thing is true of education…The same is true of Poor Law Relief and the mitigation of the sufferings of people who were enduring poverty (35-36).

My argument is that when the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it…The other people talk a great deal about the political and social conditions but do little about them.  It is the activity of the Church that reallys deals with the situation and produces enduring and permanent results.  So I argue that even from the pragmatic standpoint it can be demonstrated that you must keep preaching [the gospel:God, man, Christ, response] in the primary and cental position (36).

May we hear the words of this faithful preacher, evaluate our own commitment to gospel proclamation by them, and go forth preaching with greater boldness and clarity.