Editors’ note: This article begins on occasional series on the SBTS blog, Why Every Student Should Read . . . This series is intended to spotlight and commend for further investigation pastors, teachers, theologians, books, sermons, and figures from church history as well as from the current evangelical scene.
I am not sure when I first encountered his ministry. Like many of my generation, it was probably through John Piper. However the introduction came about, I decided to spend a year slowly working my way through his sermons on Romans. It was the summer of 2002. I was planning on attending seminary, but I would have to wait a year before I could enroll. I thought this would be an excellent way to prepare me for seminary.
At the time, I was a struggling youth minister in a struggling church. I intentionally arrived at the office one hour before anyone else, and spent that hour, Monday through Friday, slowly and systematically reading one sermon per day. On Fridays, I collected my notes from the week and prepared a Bible study for a small group of high school boys that I led on Sunday evenings. I had no idea how that exercise would change me.
Seeping in of Romans
The slow and steady seeping in the text of Romans, at the feet of the Doctor, has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The rigor and vigor of his proclamation and the precision and power of his exposition has shaped me in ways of which I am not fully conscious.
It provided for me the categories and the questions I encountered in my theological studies, but it did so from a deeply scriptural perspective. This is theology done right—
done for the church, in the church, and to strengthen the church. J.I. Packer says that if your theology can’t be sung, it isn’t good theology. Lloyd-Jones showed me that if your theology can’t be preached, it isn’t good theology.
I was especially impressed by the sermons in which his diagnostic powers are on full display. When he diagnosed and analyzed a section of Paul’s letter, and showed the beautiful symmetry and interconnectedness of the parts—how each section contributed to the flow and development of the whole—is a thing of beauty. (For example, listen to the second message from chapter 1, or the first message from chapter 6, and let him sweep you up into the glories of that great book.)
At the same time, I also encountered Ian Murray’s two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones and was greatly moved by his early ministry in Wales. By the time I finished the biography, Lloyd-Jones was firmly entrenched into the pantheon of my ecclesiastical heroes. I dreamed of experiencing the type of ministry and revival that he experienced in his early days of preaching. I dreamed of one day of preaching like he did.
A model and a mentor
We all have our heroes. We all love our heroes. They become our heroes because we taste life through their ministry. In fact, we might even be in the ministry because of their ministry. Their preaching changed us. We want to preach like them. So we do . . . just like them. We talk like them. Inflect our words like them. Gesture like them. We copy their illustrations, intonations, and applications. We preach their sermons—their way.
Without realizing it, and with the best of intentions, we become parrots. And of course, if you have never been guilty of such a thing, then I am sure you know people who are. But I doubt I am the only one who has struggled with this.
The problem is not that we have our heroes. We should. The problem is not that we are trying to preach like John Piper, Tim Keller, or Charles Spurgeon. We should. The church and the world would be better places if there were more preaching like theirs. The problem is that we are not mimicking them in the right way.
Practically every skill, in every field, throughout history has been taught through the apprenticeship model. Why should preaching be any different? Novices sit at the feet of mentors, and they mimic. This is how they learn. This is how they develop. This is how they find their voice. One of the greatest gifts of your time in seminary is the intentional time you can sit at the feet of the great preachers and theologians of the past. And there are few better for you to learn from than Lloyd-Jones. But, the trick is you have to learn to mimic him in the right way.
3 action steps
So how can you go about reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones? Don’t you have enough to read already? Here are a few suggestions for learning from the Doctor.
1. Slowly work your way through one of his great sermon series. Romans is his magnum opus. It is 14 volumes of profound and practical exegesis. If you read one sermon a day, it would take you just over a year. Or look at his sermons on Ephesians or the Sermon on the Mount.
But be active. Incorporate them into your personal devotional time and your ministry. Each sermon, generally, focuses on a very narrow section of a text. Read the sermon. Take good notes. Then use that sermon as a springboard for writing a devotion on each text. Or consolidate five to six messages into one outline and use it to teach a Sunday school class or a small group discipleship meeting.
3. Reach out. If you would like more information or help reading Lloyd-Jones, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com, or check out www.thecompanyofpastors.com. I am in the process of creating some reading guides for his sermons on Romans and a “Preach Like Martyn Lloyd-Jones” resource that will help you dive deep into his preaching. I can also send you a full list of his printed evangelistic sermons and my recommendations for where to start. (or perhaps this could be another blog post)
Go, and read Lloyd-Jones.
Ben Bailie received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He serves as pastor of The First Baptist Church of Roanoke, Alabama. He did his doctoral work on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, focusing on how his medical training shaped his pastoral ministry. Ben appeared in the new film on Lloyd Jones’s life, Logic on Fire. He is in the beginning stages of creating an online community called The Company of Pastors. You may contact him here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ben and his wife Cynthia have two daughters.