Monday, October 21, 2013

The cross has little place in your preaching

Iain Murray recounts a fascinating criticism made of Lloyd-Jones' preaching in the late 1920s.  It was made by a fellow minister when Lloyd-Jones was preaching at a service in Bridgend, South Wales.  Here's the substance of what the Bridgend minister said:
' talk of God's action and God's sovereignty like a hyper-Calvinist, and of spiritual experience like a Quaker, but the cross and the work of Christ have little place in your preaching.'
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, p. 190-191 (emphasis added)

The observation it seems was true.

Lloyd-Jones, speaking at a later date (Murray doesn't indicate when), spoke of how he was like George Whitefield in his early evangelistic preaching, strongly emphasising sin and the rebirth and, intriguingly, saying the following:
'I assumed the atonement but did not distinctly preach it or justification by faith.  This man set me thinking and I began to read more fully in theology.'
Murray comments that this remark 'was to prove of considerable importance in the development of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' ministry.'  In the following paragraphs Murray makes two important points:
The criticism which he heard in Bridgend was thus a fruitful incentive to further thinking. 
In particular, he concentrated upon the doctrines specified by his critic.
To remedy this lacunae in his theology Lloyd-Jones sought the guidance of Rev. Vernon Lewis (who regarded the Doctor's preaching as similar to Karl Barth's).  Lewis recommendations included the works of P. T. Forsyth, James Denney and R. W. Dale.

Several things need to be born in mind in analysing this episode, and in particular the blend of the personal and the cultural.

Lloyd-Jones was not seminary trained.  One could argue that the gaps in his theology were never plugged prior to his entering the ministry, and therefore were only exposed and rectified a few years into his first pastorate.  There is an element of truth in this, although it must be remembered that his burning desire was to be an evangelist in a poor area through the agency of the 'Forward Movement' and its mission halls, the evangelistic wing of the Presbyterian Church of Wales (which of course is what happened).

Even so, had he gone to the denomination's theological training college in Aberystwyth it is far from certain that he would have received an orthodox, confessional education.

From the vantage point of early 21st Century evangelical theology, the plain fact is that there are greater theological resources available, institutionally through seminaries, publishers, model preachers, conferences, and much of it mediated the internet, than Lloyd-Jones ever had at his disposal.

Yet, for all the gains in the evangelical world that have massively strengthened our grasp of the cross and the work of Christ, one wonders whether the personal narrative of individuals as their theological deficiencies are discovered are treated with the same eye to growth and development as this episode indicates.  Look again at the key words: 'the cross and the work of Christ have little place in your preaching'...'I assumed the atonement but did not distinctly preach it or justification by faith'.

It would have been easy, as a hearer, to dismiss Lloyd-Jones, and even to rail against his deficient theology, and that in our time from a much more influential platform of social media.

Lloyd-Jones' response is also instructive.  His response to this criticism was to take it to heart.  To think it through, to think more deeply, to consult, to read, to study, to rectify what was lacking, and to do that with lesser resources than we posses today.

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