Lloyd-Jones on Preaching and the Gospel, Part 3

Dr Lloyd-Jones taught that we should evangelize with the gospel even as we teach and edify believers. Why? We must not preach as if everyone is a Christian, and we shouldn't think that believers no longer need the gospel, but only more "advanced" instruction. He believed that church members needed to be exposed to the Gospel not only because some of them needed to realize they had never repented, but also because "all the people who attend a church need to be brought under the power of the Gospel." (p.153)

There is a flip side to this. Lloyd-Jones not only calls us to evangelize as we edify, but also insists that we can edify Christians as we evangelize. Lloyd-Jones preached sermons in the evening that were primarily evangelistic and sermons in the morning that were primarily edificatory, but he insisted that his members come to both, and that preachers not make "too rigid" a distinction, because the gospel edifies and evangelizes at the same time. He wrote:

"I have often had the experience of people who have been converted, and have then gone on and grown in the Church, coming to see me some time later and telling me about what happened to them. What they have so often said is, 'When we first came to the Church we really did not understand much of what you were talking about.' I have then asked them what made them continue coming, and have been told again and again that, 'There was something about the whole atmosphere that attracted us…we gradually began to find we were absorbing the truth…it began to have meaning for us more and more.'

….This is a very common experience; people at different levels seem to be able to extract, under the influence of the Spirit, what they need, what is helpful to them… [T]hey had continued to grow in their understanding until now they were able to enjoy the full service, the full message." (p.127-128)

Lloyd-Jones' Sunday sermons, even his more evangelistic ones, were very theologically rich, yet he was always careful to explain things with non-technical language. If you couldn't understand the concept, it wasn't because he was using technical language, but only because the Christian doctrine before you was unfamiliar and counter-intuitive to you. Why did he do it this way? Why were his evangelistic sermons not simpler; and why was it possible for people to slowly but surely find Christ through his edificatory sermons? It was because the basic way that he addressed believers' questions and problems was always by pointing in some way to the truths of the gospel. That way, as believers were edified, non-believers could hear a gospel presentation. What was good about this, as noted above, is that as non-believers came to faith, they didn't have to "graduate" to a whole different service. Yes, they might begin coming to the Friday night lectures on theology or Romans, but on Sunday they were able to both come to faith and grow in grace through rich expositions of the Bible.

When, in the early days of my ministry in NYC, I heard how expository and theological Lloyd-Jones' evangelistic preaching was, and how evangelistic and gospel-centered his edificatory preaching was, it was an epiphany for me. I realized that the then-popular Willow Creek strategy of light "seeker talks" every weekend was misguided. Non-believers, especially in New York City, did not simply want light fare designed exclusively for them. They really wanted to know how this Christianity "worked." Lloyd-Jones' kind of preaching, which used the gospel to grow Christians and evangelize non-believers simultaneously, was the answer.

I also saw that there was an over-reaction against Willow Creek. Many conservative evangelicals deliberately moved to lengthy, didactic, expository teaching that assumed all present were Christians. In a sense, they moved Lloyd-Jones' Friday night kind of teaching to Sunday morning and that was all that was offered. This was deadly too, as Lloyd-Jones himself argued (see theprevious post). It produces smug, cold believers and confuses any non-believers who happen to show up. So the traditional American expository sermon was inappropriate for Manhattan as well. So many churches provided either sermons that were not theologically rich enough to convert anyone—or sermons that were not gospel- and heart-oriented enough to convert anyone.

In order to forge a new path—and knowing that New York City in the late 80s was more like mid-century London than anywhere else in the U.S.—I began listening to recordings of sermons by Lloyd-Jones and Dick Lucas, another London preacher who had a mid-week lunchtime service that included many non-believers. His evangelistic ministry was also expository, and his edificatory ministry also gospel-centered. (Dick attended the Doctor's evening services as a young rector in London in the early 1960s.) To these two men I owe a debt I can never repay.

Gradually I developed a preaching ministry based on similar concepts of the nature of edification, evangelism, and the gospel. (I've written more on this subject in an article called Evangelistic Worship.) This in no way means I am copying their style of preaching. I am, of course, a Baby Boomer American. That means tones, emotional expressiveness, approaches to humor, uses of illustrations—are all widely divergent. But the basic philosophy of how to use the gospel is the same. I urge my readers to consider embracing it. That in no way requires that you try to copy my personal style either. It does require you, as a preacher, to understand and apply the gospel to the hearts of every listener every time.