Friday, January 13, 2012

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones Edited by Andrew Atherstone & David Ceri Jones. Review Part 4

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The life and legacy of 'the Doctor',
Edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, IVP/Apollos, 2011, 370pp

And so it's time to wrap up this series of posts on Engaging with Lloyd-Jones. The book is a timely reminder that the 'Doctor' was one of the key figures in 20th century Evangelicalism. In fact it is difficult to understand the recent history of Evangelicalism in the UK and beyond without factoring in the life and ministry of the Geneva gown-clad preacher.

This symposium reflects the fact Lloyd-Jones' life and teaching is racked by apparent contradictions. He helped to spearhead the recovery of Reformed doctrine and gave encouragement to the burgeoning Charismatic movement. He despised anti-intellectualism and emphasised the importance of theological study. But he was suspicious of the scholarly guilds and disliked scholasticism. He was a passionate advocate of Evangelical unity. Yet his 1966 address split UK Evangelicalism in two, with intergrationists the one side and separatists on the other.

It would be easy to focus attention on only one aspect of Lloyd-Jones' seemingly dialectical thought and paint him as a wilfully divisive crypto-Pentecostal with narrow minded fundamentalist leanings (see Robert Pope on Lloyd-Jones and fundamentalism). But that is to forget that Lloyd-Jones was a preacher-leader. Like any good preacher, he tailored his message to his audience. When preaching to Evangelicals who tended to have little time for biblical doctrine, he emphasised the value of theology and the need to think deeply about the things of God. When speaking to scholars he warned of the temptation of compromising the gospel for the sake of academic respectability. When ministering to Christians who were obsessed by spiritual experiences, he reminded them of the importance of the objective truths of Scripture and the need for discernment. When speaking to believers who were concerned about doctrinal correctness, but had little desire for experiential communion with God, he told them that true faith is more than mere intellectual assent. The truth must know and felt.

Remembering that Lloyd-Jones had an abiding concern to apply the Word as he judged most appropriate to his audience will help guard against a one sided reading of his teaching. He was not an academic theologian who's task in life was to produce a perfectly balanced and symmetrical system of doctrine. He was a preacher who shaped his messages to minister to the needs of the hour. As Calvin said, 'For it would be  a cold way of teaching, if the teachers do not carefully consider the needs of the times and what is appropriate for the people, for in this matter nothing is more unbalanced than absolute balance.' (Cited in Engaging with Calvin, Edited by Mark D. Thompson,  IVPA/Apollos, 2009, p, 17).

Lloyd-Jones was a different kind of Evangelical leader. His legacy is not a movement that bears his name and follows his dictates or a 'Lloyd-Jones Study Bible'. He has been criticised for not micro-managing the reorganisation of Evangelical churches which had separated from the mixed denominations in the wake of his 1966 call for Evangelicals to come together. But by temperament he was not an organiser and had little time for administration. He had no wish to be leader of a new movement that was overly dependent upon him as a person. His was a vision church-based Evangelical unity, rather than one where Evangelicals were encouraged to unite around personalities. This is perhaps one of the dangers of the "new Calvinism" associated with Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition in the States.

Nevertheless, it is true to say that some of Lloyd-Jones' followers became too reliant on the great man in a way that was unhealthy. Donald Macleod's concern over this factor is mentioned in the book, p. 23-25.  The citing of Lloyd-Jones' words as an end of all discussion at Ministers' fraternals and conferences is an indication of the tendency to treat him as the next best thing to an infallible oracle. A conference I attended in Wales some years ago even featured an address on, What Lloyd-Jones would have thought of Evangelicalism today! We must learn what we can from the 'Doctor', but we have been called to serve the Lord in the 21st century where we face fresh challenges that cannot be met by trying to second guess what he might have thought about things.

Engaging with Lloyd-Jones will help us with the task of  critically assessing the preacher's lasting legacy. The trouble with big figures like the 'Doctor' is that he seems like a man whose life and ministry is quite remote from the situations in which we find ourselves today. Not many of us preach to thousands Sunday by Sunday in an influential London Church. Few pastors could keep a congregation gripped and enthralled by a decade spanning series of sermons on Romans. It wouldn't do to try and ape the great man, but we do still have a lot to learn from him. One point is that Lloyd-Jones was a pastor-theologian. He regarded reading simply for the sake of sermon prep as sheer professionalism. He studied the great works of theology (Calvin, Owen, Edwards etc). He endeavoured to get to grips with the latest theological trends (see Robert Strivens on Lloyd-Jones and Karl Barth). How many of us are aspiring to become pastor-theologians whose faith and ministry is enriched by wide and deep theological reading?

However, for Lloyd-Jones preaching was not a theological lecture or even a Bible study but a God-encountering, life-changing event. He sought to preach the Word in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Many think of the 'Doctor' as the great expositor, famed for his commitment to systematically preaching through books of the Bible. He certainly did that. But it is important to remember that his published expositions of Romans and Ephesians do not represent the whole of his sermon output. His wife once commented that Lloyd-Jones was "first of all a man of prayer, and then an evangelist". Every Sunday evening at Westminster Chapel, the 'Doctor' would herald the gospel with a view to seeing sinners saved. How many Reformed pastors today preach evangelistically as a regular part of their ministry?

Perhaps the 'Doctor's' greatest legacy is that his teaching and ministry bear witness to the fact that true preaching is nothing less than "theology on fire". Can we be content with anything less? 

1 comment:

Jonathan Hunt said...

It was reviewed in Church Times (today), reasonably sympathetically. The reviewer said that he would like to see a future work concentrating on Lloyd-Jones as Pastor, rather than preacher. Why were there these long queues to see the Doctor, he ponders?