Lloyd-Jones on the Primacy of Preaching

Posted: April 22, 2011 in church, ecclesiology, preaching

Tim Keller has posted his third article in his series of posts about D.M. Lloyd-Jones’ book, Preaching and Preachers.  A summary of his first two posts can be read here.

In this latest post, Keller discusses Lloyd-Jones’ belief that there is no substitute for Spirit-empowered preaching in the life of the local church.

Of particular interest is Lloyd-Jones’ opinion of non-live preaching:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. It is obviously a good thing if a person who never hears or reads the Bible listens to the recording of a good gospel message and is helped by it. But the Doctor argues that people experience the sermon in a radically different way if they hear it together with a body of listeners and if they see the preacher. Watching on a screen or listening as you walk detaches you and the sermon becomes mere information, not a whole experience. There is a power and impact that the media cannot convey.

This debate is still raging today, as evidenced in the recent discussion between Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and Mark Dever regarding multi-site churches and the use of video in preaching.

The highlight of the article (in my opinion) was when Keller addressed the importance of “truth propositions” in sermons:

The Doctor takes on the idea that preaching should not be about “truth propositions” of Biblical doctrine but rather should describe practically how to live as a Christ-follower in the world. The trouble is, he says, that may mean you are preaching morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis—and that simply will not work. If you tell someone to “live a life of service to others in accordance with the values of the kingdom of God” that will not change them in the core. Hearing a message like that will not lead them to weep and cry, “my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” The life-transforming, paradigm-shifting message of the gospel requires lots of teaching about the nature of sin as well as the character of Christ’s redemption and the difference between grace and works and the nature of faith. All of these things are “truth propositions.”

I echo Lloyd-Jones on this point…sort of.  I wholeheartedly agree that “truth propositions” are at the very bedrock of our faith!  Christ lived a perfect life, died for sins, and then rose again from the grave!  That’s the truth and it must be proclaimed!  And I agree that it is only the truth, not our urgings to live in a certain way, that has the power to change hearts through the power of the Spirit.

However, I don’t think that I would go as far as Lloyd-Jones does in concluding that practical application is therefore unimportant for the preacher.  It’s both/and (with one obviously having priority over the other), not either/or.  The truth must come first!  But let us not neglect that truth’s application!  I believe that the preacher should seek to not only teach people about Jesus (including his life and words), but to teach them also to obey Him (Matthew 28:18-20).  That sometimes means helping the flock to connect the foundational truths of Scripture to the reality of day-to-day life in the twenty-first century.  It is my belief that these two important elements of preaching do not need to be set against each other, but rather held in proper tension.

  1. AT says:

    Stating that there is no substitute for Spirit-filled preaching in the life of the church is incredulous. The primacy of the church is in administering the Word of God and not preaching itself. Administering God’s word comes in many forms and to say that one form is heralded over another is like a quarter back stating his job is more important than the offensive blocker. I say this because Jesus does not emphatically state that preaching has primacy over other forms of teaching, yet, preachers tend to elevate their egos within the position that they hold and put themselves and their sermons above everything else and ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word alone.

    Yes, preaching is commanded and at many times but the quantity of the commandment does not indicate any higher importance. When it comes down to it, it would be interesting to see an official count that tallied the quantity of public preaching to that of discipleship in the Bible. If preaching were of most importance, Paul would have stated preaching as a qualification of an elder, instead, he states that an elder should be able to teach. By the way, it is man that created the Pastor position above the elder and it is man that calls the Pastor “leader among equals”.

    I have seen more people come to know Christ through reading the Bible or being shown scripture than preaching itself. How would a def person rate preaching over other forms of the Word? How would people with ADHD herald preaching?

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