3 Important Reminders on Preaching Dr. Tim Keller Gleaned from Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Classic Preaching and Preachers
DAVID MARTYN LLOYD-JONES’ Preaching and Preachers remains astonishingly up-to-date. In particular I find these three reminders helpful to me, and have been over the years.
(1) Give preaching the primacy— despite the resistance.
Lloyd-Jones was lecturing in 1969 out of a British context where many claimed that Christian preaching would no longer be effective. World War II had given Europeans a suspicion of “great orators” (think Hitler). Television and radio had changed people’s attention spans and created an appetite for intimate, informal speech. The culture’s loss of belief in authority was another factor; in a post-Christian society how could we think it effective to bring people to hear a monologue? Instead, the objectors proposed using new media (television and radio), or putting greater emphasis on liturgy and art, or making the church more of a social service and counseling agency. Some called churches to abandon their current form totally. Christians, they said, should disperse, throwing themselves into addressing people’s personal and social problems out in the world. Then, when holding gatherings, they should be small, informal, and characterized by dialogue and discussion.
It is surprising how similar this sounds to proposals that have been made in United States more recently under the heading of “the emerging church.” Lloyd-Jones’ answers to these objections are still compelling. He shows how in Acts 6 the apostles appointed others to the important ministry of mercy so they could devote themselves to the primary thing—” prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6: 4). He argues that people sense a power and experience a sermon very differently in person, in a gathered assembly, than they do through media. Most boldly he takes on the main objection—” people just won’t come.” He retorts: “The answer is that they will come, and that they do come when it is true preaching.” Speaking from the heart of secular, pluralistic, late-modern Manhattan, this preacher completely agrees with him.
(2) Don’t preach as if everyone is a Christian— or as if the gospel is not for Christians.
Lloyd-Jones warns preachers not to “assume that all … who are members of the church, are … Christians. This, to me, is the most fatal blunder of all.” He goes on to say that many people have accepted Christianity intellectually but have never come under the power of the Word and the Gospel and therefore have “not truly repented.” Under real Gospel preaching there will always be a steady stream of church members who, every year, come forward and confess that they had never understood the Gospel and had, over the past months, finally repented and believed truly.
There is a flip side to this. Lloyd-Jones calls us not only to evangelize as we edify, but insists that we can edify Christians as we evangelize. As he put it, believers need to feel the power of the Gospel again and again and “almost” go through the experience of conversion again. Lloyd-Jones preached sermons in the evening that were primarily evangelistic and sermons in the morning that were primarily edification, but he insisted that his members come to both and that preachers not make “too rigid” a distinction. The Gospel edifies and evangelizes at the same time.
When I came to New York City in 1989, I listened to scores of Lloyd-Jones recordings. I heard how expository and theological his evangelistic preaching was, and how evangelistic and Gospel-centered his edificational preaching was. It was an epiphany for me. I realized that the Willow Creek strategy of light “seeker talks” every weekend was misguided. I also saw that the reaction against Willow Creek— the move to lengthy, didactic, expository teaching that assumed all were Christians— was inappropriate for Manhattan as well. New York City in the late 1980s was more like midcentury London than anywhere else in the U.S., and so I listened to recordings of sermons by Lloyd-Jones and Dick Lucas, another London preacher. I learned to preach evangelistic-edificational sermons and edificational-evangelistic sermons.
(3) Don’t preach just to make the truth clear— but to make it real.
In 1968, during convalescence after surgery, Lloyd-Jones visited many of the churches pastored by members of his Westminster Ministerial Fellowship. He was disappointed by the preaching he heard. On October 9 of that year he gave the Fellowship an informal lecture (preserved by Iain Murray in Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, 2008, pp. 99ff.) saying that “once evangelical preaching was too subjective— now it is too objective.” In their concern to avoid entertainment and storytelling, their preaching addressed only the mind and not “the whole man.”
These concerns reemerge in Preaching and Preachers. He speaks against the idea that expository preaching is just a “running commentary.” A sermon must have progression to a climax, it must be life-related with argument and passion. In fact, in a 1976 lecture on Jonathan Edwards, Lloyd-Jones argued that the primary object of preaching is not only to give information to be used later, but to make an impression on the heart on the spot. For this reason he even discouraged people from taking notes. The point of preaching is not just to expound doctrine, but to make the doctrine real to the heart and therefore permanently life-changing.
This message was and is important for those circles that do believe in the primacy of preaching, especially expository preaching. Lloyd-Jones argued strenuously against what he called “the pew dictating to the pulpit,” or overcontextualization. Yet Lloyd-Jones saw that his disciples had overreacted. In his October 9 lecture he appealed to them: “Let us present the sermon the best we can— the best language, the best of everything. We have got the curious notion, ‘It’s the doctrine that matters,’ and ignore this. With the message we have got, it is tragic if we can be cold, lifeless, and dull.”
Preaching and Preachers contains many statements about preaching that many will quibble with, including me. But his main themes and messages to preachers are powerful and still so, so timely. This book likely flies in the face of the last five or six books you have read on preaching. But it is one of the most important books on preaching in print. I personally owe it a debt I can never repay.
*The essay above A “Tract for the Times” was written by Dr. Tim Keller following Chapter 4 (The Form of the Sermon) in the special 40th Anniversary of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2012 Reprint of 1972 edition).
About the Author
Dr. Timothy Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and the author of numerous books, including Galatians For You, Every Good Endeavor, Center Church, The Meaning of Marriage, The Reason for God, King’s Cross, Counterfeit Gods, The Prodigal God, and Generous Justice. Be watching out for his new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions coming in November 2013.