The Primacy of Preaching

It is very encouraging to see that Tim Keller is starting (a series?) of blog posts on Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his book Preaching and Preachers (which is being prepared by Zondervan for re-issue in 2012).

Keller begins his first post by recognizing how relevant Preaching and Preachers is for today:

The first thing that struck me [upon re-reading it] was how this nearly 70 year old Welsh minister (called “the Doctor” by his followers), lecturing in 1969, could have anticipated and addressed so many of the questions surrounding preaching that we are wrestling with in our own culture today.

What are some of these questions? Keller explains:

In his first lectures the Doctor recounts all the reasons and arguments for the move away from preaching. World War II had given Europeans a suspicion of great orators (think of Hitler himself.) As time had gone on there was more and more suspicion of words and “texts.” There was less and less trust that language can communicate meaning. Also, television and radio had changed people’s attention spans and created an appetite for informal, intimate speech, not oratory. In a post-Christian culture, there was also an increasing suspicion of all authority, especially religious authority. How, it was asked, could you expect modern people to come out and listen to someone, usually physically standing above you, doing a monologue without any opportunity for response or argument? They certainly would not come on their own, and if they were dragged there they would be bored or offended by all the pontificating.

Keller proceeds to outline the various “remedies” the church was prescribing in Lloyd-Jones’ day to address the problem of preaching:

Lloyd-Jones then lists the various proposals for what the church should do. Some who had lost faith in preaching sought to change it. It became marked by showmanship—more emphasis on stories, on direct appeals to the emotions, and to the creation of spectacle. (He pointed to Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn as a prototype.) Others insisted that preaching should be replaced or at least supplemented heavily with “new media” (which in Lloyd-Jones’ time meant television and radio.) Still others proposed that preaching should not be so central to worship—that liturgy and artistic expression should come more to the fore. Also there were criticisms that churches had become mere preaching centers, not communities, and greater emphasis needed to be made on social services to the community and on counseling. Finally, the Doctor said there are those who taught that the only hope for the churches was essentially to abandon their current form. Christians should disperse, they said, throwing themselves into serving the community, addressing people’s personal and social problems. Then, when Christians did have gatherings, they should be small and characterized by dialogue and multi-voice conversations.

Keller concludes by relating this to our day:

What is so striking is how all of this discussion that happened 40-50 years ago in Britain has been happening in the U.S. over the last 10 years. In Lloyd-Jones’ day the call was that “preaching won’t work with modern people” and today it’s the same claim with regard to postmodern people. In his day the charge was that preaching had to keep up with the television age, and now it’s a call to adapt to an internet age. But almost all the proposals for how preaching must adapt are basically the same. Therefore, the Doctor’s response and critique of them is very relevant.

It appears that Lloyd-Jones excelled not only in knowing his own time, but ours as well.

This entry was posted in Books, Church History, Preaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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