We rarely feature book reviews on the Grace to You blog, but I recently read a choice volume that I want to recommend enthusiastically. It's Christopher Catherwood's new biography of his grandfather, titled Martyn Lloyd-Jones: His Life and Relevance for the 21st Century.
The book is only 150 pages long, so it's a perfect primer on the Doctor’s life for those who may find Iain Murray's magisterial two-volume biography a bit daunting. (Murray's profile of Lloyd-Jones adds up to about 1,200 pages. That work is unsurpassed, of course, and it’s mandatory reading for pastors and church leaders. While Chris Catherwood's account is much more concise, it nevertheless paints a compelling portrait of the twentieth century's finest biblical expositor. Once you get to know the Doctor through his eldest grandson's telling of the story, no one will have to persuade you to buy and read the much larger two-volume work by Murray.)
This is not Chris Catherwood's first work in honor of his grandfather. In fact, my first real introduction to Martyn Lloyd-Jones came in the 1980s, from a collection of essays written in the Doctor's honor, titled Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Chosen by God. Chris Catherwood assembled and edited that book. I'd heard about Lloyd-Jones, of course, since my student years. All my favorite preachers seemed to quote him and recommend him. (My pastor during my first decade after high school was Warren Wiersbe, who contributed one of the most memorable essays in Chosen by God.) Those essays gave me my first real look at the man and his ministry, and I have admired and eagerly learned from Martyn Lloyd-Jones ever since.
In 1989, Grace to You formed a partnership with The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust in England, and it was my privilege to be on their board until cassette tapes became obsolete and the MLJ Trust moved their base to the USA. (Free downloads of Lloyd-Jones’s sermons are now available at their website, here: http://www.mljtrust.org/.) During that era, Chris Catherwood became a good friend, and my affection for him and his family has only grown and deepened over the years.
In the mid-90s, UK publisher Kingsway published Chris's Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Family Portrait, a more personal look at the Doctor. It was filled with reminiscences and observations that really brought Lloyd-Jones and his personality to life. (If you can find a copy of that book, it’s well worth reading, too.)
This latest work is perhaps the most valuable of all, because it gives such rich insight into the mind of the great preacher—showing his amazing determination to stay biblically anchored in an era when the evangelical movement was being seduced by countless pragmatic diversions. In Chris Catherwood's words, "My goal is to introduce [Martyn Lloyd-Jones] to a new generation of readers and to help those discovering wonderful biblical truths for the first time learn how to think scripturally for themselves as Christians." Nevertheless, Catherwood writes, "I am putting him forward as a role model but not as an icon."
Catherwood accomplishes those goals with superb finesse. He is a gifted writer with a knack for conveying rich insights in just a few words—and an uncanny ability to make trenchant criticisms without any tone of disdain or undue harshness. His description of Lloyd-Jones's approach to ministry therefore stands as a tasteful but effective critique of some of today's most popular evangelical idiosyncrasies.
To cite a typical example: One of the key features of trendy 20th-century evangelicalism that was famously opposed by Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the practice of many preachers who consciously aimed at ambiguity in an effort to tone down hard truths. They would then try to mask the feebleness of their content with artificial erudition, with storytelling, with a flamboyant style of delivery—or with all of the above. Frankly, that approach to preaching is now endemic among mainstream evangelicals. Here is how Chris Catherwood says it:
Those of us with humanities degrees can often waffle around a subject, but not a medical doctor. This was true of Dr. Lloyd-Jones: his sermons are models of crystal clarity, without the histrionics and woolly literary allusions that were so popular with famous "pulpiteers" of his time.
Near the book’s beginning, there's a gentle, succinct observation about Lloyd-Jones's refusal to adopt pragmatic methodologies for church growth. It struck me as a brilliant exposé of today's most popular ministry philosophies:
Extraordinary things happened in their time in Wales, with the unlikeliest people becoming gloriously saved. This was no seeker-sensitive church. In fact, one of the first things Martyn did was to scrap the choir and to abolish the antidrink Temperance League. Alcoholics did indeed go on to give up their drunken ways, but through being converted and not via well-meaning middle-class good works. To us today this may seem counterintuitive, with all the schemes we have to get people through the church door. But to the Doctor it was a simple case of following the biblical pattern, a theme that will run through this book as it did throughout his life in ministry.
That theme does run through the book, and that's one of the things that makes it so edifying—far more so than the book's compact size might lead you to expect.
I could go on quoting, but I’ve already overfilled the space our blogstaff gave me. You just need to buy and read this book for yourself.
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