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Book Reviews > Christian Living > Authority

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Details: 1984, Banner of Truth Trust, Amazon.comISBN: 0851513867
Posted: July 3, 2002

This little book consists of three chapters representing three addresses originally given in 1957. I suppose a book like this can be read and reviewed from a number of different angles, such as the historical angle seeking to understand what was going on in evangelicalism or the ministry of Lloyd-Jones at this time. My concern, however, was simply how this book might speak to my current situation personally and denominationally.

In the foreword, Lloyd-Jones suggests that the church and culture are facing an authority crisis with the church having lost its authority and the culture looking for authority somewhere. This is still true today. The chapters then address this focussing on the authority of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit. I must confess that I purchased the book with only an interest in the chapter on Scripture but benefited the most from the other two chapters!

Lloyd-Jones appropriately begins with the authority of Jesus, tracing how the manifestation of this authority is a major theme of the gospels. This is a well-known truth, but precisely for that reason it can be overlooked. Lloyd-Jones provides a stirring treatment, which caused me to turn aside to ponder afresh the majestic authority of our Lord as He boldly and frankly asserts His authority. ‘Here is One who does not hesitate to speak in a kind of totalitarian manner when He commands them, “Follow me.” And they went and followed Him’ (20). Lloyd-Jones then aptly applies this to his fellow preachers writing, "So often when we ministers preach through the Gospels we take these things and turn them into parables, accompanied by nice, soothing little messages. But we are really missing the point. We should be preaching the Lord Jesus Christ and asserting His authority." (21) Amen! He also applies this to how we do evangelism, taking particular aim at the peddling of the gospel as the remedy to whatever aches or ails you. Cults can promise results. We are to proclaim Christ in His authority.

Chapter 2 takes up ‘The Authority of the Scriptures,’ and in his first few sentences makes the point so often made in the battles within the SBC concerning this issue: ‘We are concerned about the matter [biblical authority] because it involves the whole question of evangelism’ (30). He dismisses any idea of affirming the message of the Bible without worrying over the accuracy of the facts, rightly noting that this leaves us at the old liberal position where man’s understanding is still the authority since it decides which parts of Scripture can and cannot be trusted. He sounds like he is addressing our recent convention as he takes up the charge of ‘Bibliolatry’ asking, as others have done recently, ‘What do you know about the Lord, apart from the Scriptures?’ What follows then is a good presentation of the regular arguments. However, Lloyd-Jones prefaces the arguments with a warning about over confidence in apologetics (a theme which runs throughout the book). While apologetics has its place, at the end of the day ‘it is the preaching and exposition of the Bible that establishes truth and authority’ (41). This is of course true, and an important point for Southern Baptists at this time. Why is it that at a time when there is widespread assent to the notion of Biblical inerrancy, that there is so little impact of the Bible’s actual authority in the lives of the people? Perhaps it is because, in spite of the lip service paid to the Bible, there is not enough of the regular sustained exposition of its actual contents to bring home to our hearts its authority so that we tremble before it (Isaiah 66:2).

The third chapter, ‘The Authority of the Holy Spirit,’ was the one which at first seemed to me unnecessary and out of place. In the end, though, it was the most challenging and useful. Lloyd-Jones seemed to anticipate thoughts like mine since he made several statements such as: ‘If I were to hazard an opinion I would say that no aspect of the Christian faith has been so tragically neglected and perhaps misunderstood … Here, I truly believe, we are dealing with the main source of weakness in modern Evangelicalism’ (64). He powerfully reminds us of the inability of all our efforts and programs apart from the work of the Spirit- indeed, this is the point behind his regular chiding of an overconfidence in merely rational arguments. This is of course an area where we tend to extremes. I came up around a lot of talk about ‘unction’ and ‘revival’, but as I grew theologically much of this seemed quite thin, manipulative and most often not coupled with any depth of doctrine. Indeed it sometimes led to anti-intellectualism. However, one must not throw out the baby with the bath water, of course. It is too easy to overreact by becoming over-reliant on the intellectual and having no place for the less objective areas such as the empowering of the Spirit. This does not mean anything hoky, but simply a reminder that the most brilliant address with the best exegesis may be received well by the people but will not come with life-changing power without the empowering of the Spirit. These are lessons which we all, no doubt, know, but ones that I, at least, need to be reminded of- and Lloyd-Jones provides an apt reminder. Having told a story of an old Welsh preacher, Lloyd-Jones concludes: "He was wise enough, and had sufficient spiritual discernment, to refuse to preach until he knew that he had his authority, and that the Holy Ghost was going with him, and would speak through him. You and I, however, often preach without Him, and all our cleverness and learning, and all our science and all our apologetics lead to nothing because we lack the authority of the Holy Ghost." (88) This is not anti-intellectualism but a proper assessment of the necessity of both study and prayer- as Thomas Boston wrote, ‘thou wilt not dare study without prayer, nor yet pray without study.’ Lloyd-Jones, himself, summarizes, his point well.

"Let us go on, however, and seek knowledge and equip ourselves as perfectly as possible. But, in the name of God, let us not stop at that. Let us realize that even that, without the authority and power of the Spirit, is of no value at all." (92)

I heartily recommend this book as a good reminder of the need and source of authority, from one whose ministry bore the marks of such authority.

(This review previously appeared in the Founders Journal, www.founders.org)