Saturday, 26 January 2008

Book Review: "The Sacred Anointing" (The Preaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

"The Sacred Anointing" (The Preaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Tony Sargent, Hodder and Staughton, 1994

(This isn't really a book review - it's more a synopsis with a commendation).

Often history only becomes clear at a distance. It seems clear, though, 27 years after his homecall, that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (DMLJ) was one of the must gifted and influential preachers of the 20th century. Completed about a decade after his death this book, by the then pastor of the Worthing Tabernacle in Sussex, attempts a survey of the "Doctor"'s theology and practice of preaching.

Pastor Sargent is obviously a fan of the Doctor, but there is nothing gushing in this book, and the reader will not be irritated or misled by any occasional lapses in objectivity.

Not In Word Only

One of the main burden's of DMLJ's ministry was that his preaching should be "not in word only". He believed that preaching was more than a just a sub-species of lecture or discourse. He held that the ultimate aim of the preacher was "theophany": that his hearers should experience the powerful presence of God through his word. He was a relentless critic of any tendency which seem to suggested that a gospel minister could be satisfied solely with the delivery of correct doctrine, even when that delivery was sincere and enthusiastic. Refusing to make widespread contemporary dearth his measure, DMLJ looked back into his Bible and into Christian history to understand what may happen when a preacher has a special measure of God's presence with him. He called this experience "unction", or "anointing", and often explained it as being a consequence of the preacher receiving a "baptism" in the Holy Spirit.

Baptism and Filling

This latter use of terminology was, for those holding the same Reformed faith which DMLJ held dear, the controversial element in DMLJ's teaching as it seemed to open the door to the kind of "second blessing" teaching which, in other contexts, DMLJ was rightly a determined critic of. It seemed to me from reading this book that DMLJ was overly attached to the term "baptism", and that many of his critics would have been placated if he had used the term "filling" instead. Against DMLJ, I understand the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit to be used in Scripture to mean conversion, not a special anointing for service, but with DMLJ I agree that the initial conversion experience is not all that Christians are intended to seek. Sargent discusses some of the rough edges in DMLJ's theology in this area - such as the critical question which he never apparently answered: what should a gospel minister who hasn't experienced a "baptism" do or expect? Is his ministry forever condemned until he gets it?

Where's Home?

Because DMLJ was a unique figure, and because he was a massively gifted, blessed and influential figure, it follows that a whole plethora of theological camps will want to claim him for their own. In my judgment he best fitted amongst those he always said he belonged to: the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists - experiential Calvinists. How DMLJ would have responded to the modern developed charismatic movement or to its "Reformed" wing is ultimately a matter of speculation; Sargent thinks he would have become considerably more critical of it had his ministry been prolonged, as he was of Pentecostalism, and he points out some of DMLJ's critiques of charismaticism's historical fore-runner, Irvingism.

The Value Of Sargent's Book

Sargent provides a useful and fairly thorough survey of DMLJ's theory and methodology in preaching. Though he placed such an emphasis on the necessity of divine unction in preaching, it was never as a substitute for thorough and studious preparation. Indeed, second-rate study is as sure a way to grieve and chase away God's Spirit as any. DMLJ self-consciously held to a thoroughly evangelical understanding of the principles of Biblical inspiration and interpretation, and sought to operate in consistency with it at all times. Most Christians who have encountered DMLJ will know that he was deeply impressed by the thorough and deep-rooted logical development he found particularly in the letters of the apostle Paul, and how he sought to apply his diagnostic skills to bring that development out. Sargent applies some mild critique of DMLJ's aversion to the study of formalised hermeneutics and to theological colleges - which was always only partial, as he founded one himself!

The great value of this book is firstly in its emphasis upon preaching, secondly its emphasis upon preaching that is Biblically accurate and faithful to the whole of the Bible, and thirdly its emphasis upon preaching that is "more than words". When the church loses its confidence in preaching, it ultimately loses its confidence in the Saviour who is preached. The church in the UK today has a great need firstly to recover its confidence in authentic preaching, and second to recover that preaching itself. This is, DMLJ reminds us, far more than a simple matter of applying the correct techniques; it ultimately comes down to the need of preachers and churches to get down upon their knees and "sue God" until he delivers upon his promises of spiritual power.

The Importance of DMLJ

Reading this book reminded me of my first encounter with Lloyd-Jones, when I "happened" to find a book of sermons on Romans 1 at a bargain price in my local Christian bookshop. I didn't really know the Doctor from Adam, but I was hooked very quickly by the thoroughness, logic and clarity of his printed sermons. I think that for readers who don't know much about DMLJ reading such sermons would be a far better introduction than this book, whose value is probably because of the angle of approach much higher for those who preach than for those who "sit in the pew".

DMLJ's importance in the revival of Reformed Christianity in the 20th century is hardly disputable, and there cannot be a preacher alive today who would not find a good deal of help from considering the Doctor's ministry. It's good to have an accurate idea in our head about what preaching really is, or ought to be. The Doctor shows us in flesh and blood. May God be pleased to raise up again preachers who know by experience what it means to preach week in and week out under the blessing of "the sacred anointing".

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