This book was one of my most life changing reads. I picked this one up years ago, after seeing it quoted extensively in John Piper’s great book: ‘When I Don’t Desire God.’ At the time I had no idea who Martyn Lloyd-Jones was, or how much of an impact this book would make on me. Lloyd-Jones, a prolific mid 20th Century London preacher, preached these messages in the mid 1950s! Through this excellent book, he taught me how to apply the gospel to my thinking situationally. Before reading this I didn’t know how to analyze my own thought life, or how the gospel came to bear on guilt, sullenness, or shame and condemnation.
This is an absolutely life changing book! It identifies all kinds of wrong thought patterns that people fall into, addresses why they are not consistent with what the Christian believes, and how to fight for faith in the truth of Christ and experience deeper joy in him. These old sermons are truly life transforming!
Lloyd-Jones shows in painstaking detail how the various truths of the gospel apply to these kinds of problems. He addresses a myriad of issues. He covers everything, from preaching to yourself instead of listening to yourself, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ – not by religious works, assurance by the work of Christ, guilt and shame over sin as taken by Christ, – to vain regrets, fear of the future, arbitrary negative feelings, craven fear of God versus holy awe, fatigue of religious performance, various trials and suffering, intimacy with God, contentment, and many others. This book is fantastic! And it is absolutely great for anyone seeking to understand how to address these things in Christ.
Years ago, I found this special anniversary hardcover volume published by Granted Ministries (see here). It is the nicest version of Lloyd-Jones’ classic that I’ve seen. It also even comes with a CD containing the audio of the original sermon series the book was based on. This beautifully crafted volume is an amazing help to a variety of practical struggles every Christian fights. You can also listen to all of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ audio sermons at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust site! His 24 sermon Spiritual Depression Series is still excellent! (though the nearly 70 year old audio can be taxing – it is usually quite good!).
This very short 100 year old book was great! I had heard this recommended a few times and was intrigued by the (near audacious) title and finally decided to explore this one.
Honestly, there is not a lot that’s profound about this book, but it does hone in on the obvious in a marvelously striking way. The author’s primary task is to show how to read Scripture with the most profit for knowing it well. The plan is actually very simple. He recommends that the reader start with Genesis, read it, and re-read it until the reader can generally outline it, and judge they have an excellent grasp on it.
From there, the task is to simply move through each book of Scripture in order – ignoring the artificial chapter and verse breaks. Gray urges that the reader read each book in a single sitting if possible. As the reader gets through this – they should also attempt to make a rough outline of each book – further revising it with each read.
I had heard much of this practice before – but Gray’s argument for going in canonical order I had not heard before – and it was actually pretty convincing. I’ve experimented with the re-read process a bit and have found it remarkable for what it allows me to see and understand that I had not before. It also works to give the reader a macro-view of each Bible book – if you will. After this read, I’ll be adopting this process more regularly from now on.
The second half of the book is an exhortation for preachers to preach and teach expository sermons through each book of the Bible. The plea is a good one. Gray argues 1) that contemporary society (over 100 years ago) didn’t read their Bibles – and were so busy that they usually wouldn’t learn them on their own, 2) that the Bible was no longer taught in schools – so wouldn’t be learned there, 3) that the Bible typically wasn’t taught from the pulpit – it was more or less moralistic life lessons or interesting oratory – but not expository teaching through the Bible (sound familiar?..), and 4) that the Bible wasn’t even taught in Sunday school classes – but those were mostly just games or fun things to keep children occupied or maybe even topical lessons for adults (sound familiar?..). His plea, is that if the Bible isn’t taught and exposited through in the pulpit then where would it be? Where was anyone to go to learn it? His question is a good one. And I find myself baffled just the same at the general lack of expository preaching in most churches.
Gray ends by warning his readers that if Christianity didn’t change this process, authentic biblical Christianity would be near unrecognizable in the coming generations. I dare say his words may have been a bit prophetic. This part struck particularly close to home for me after having recently left a church for a turning away from expository preaching (among other things), and now having a near hour drive in order to be part of a church that does preach through scripture (driving past dozens that do not on the way).
I’d highly encourage pastors read this, especially if they don’t preach expository sermons through whole books as their regular bread and butter in the pulpit. If nothing else, simply to see the issue from a different perspective.
Excellent book! And I’m excited to start the journey and tackle the book of Genesis (a whole bunch of times).
This book will be a paradigm changer for many. It is an absolutely excellent work. Ortlund is navigating the question of what issues are worth drawing dividing lines between Christian groups. One of Jesus’ prayers before going to the cross – and one of the longest prayers in Scripture – (the high priestly prayer) was for the unity of his followers. The unity of the church matters greatly to Jesus. However – Christians have many different views on many things and doctrines. How are Christians to navigate these differences? And if we are to divide, in what way should we divide?
Ortlund develops a four tiered system for navigating the importance of disagreements between Christians in their doctrinal convictions. All four also have differing ways Christians should divide as well. His four tiered system is as follows:
1. Doctrines which are essential to the Gospel 2. Doctrines which are essential for the health of the church and practice 3. Important doctrines theologically – but not enough to justify separation between Christian groups 4. Issues unimportant to gospel witness and ministry collaboration
Ortlund has created a very nuanced approach, and has spent much time thinking on and developing his system. Not only do these four tiers contain different theological beliefs, but Ortlund also details 4 ways in which believers are to ‘divide’ over these issues.
Tier one constitutes a division between Christian believers and unbelievers. It includes issues such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and justification in Christ’s death through faith. Tier one is also the most drastic of all the dividing lines. These issues should be stood and fought for – albeit in a loving, humble, and Christ honoring way. Ortlund also helpfully emphasizes that there are many Christians who hold errant views in this category who are just ignorant of the details – or just haven’t studied these issues yet. He also highlighted the difference in the way one approaches a doctrinal difference as a large indicator as well – humbly, or in an arrogant and prideful way.
Tier two is a tier for extremely important issues, but not issues that should divide between whether we consider someone a Christian or not. However these issues are the ones that affect much of a persons Christian life. Prayer or sacraments are often greatly affected. 1st tier doctrines which are essential to the gospel can also be affected by these 2nd tier doctrinal beliefs. These issues, he argues, are usually grounds for switching churches or organizations over. Issues that fall in this category for Ortlund are baptism, the lords supper, Calvinism/Arminianism, strong cessationism/strong continuationism, and some nuances in justification (double vs single imputation) for example. However, in saying that a difference in these views can lead to dividing churches, he emphasized that it should not lead to a relational divide between Christians. Our desire to uphold the love and unity of the church should match our desire for truth. As Ortlund puts it, ‘gospel doctrine, and gospel culture should both be upheld equally.’
Third Tier issues were issues which have some importance – but don’t affect the more important doctrines and don’t affect life and practice of believers. Ortlund argues that though these are important issues, Christians should not divide over them. He places in this category the old vs young earth creation debate and some of the end times chronology controversies. Preferences of alcohol consumption he also places here. I personally would also place politics in this category – as something that, while it is important, it’s not something which Christians need divide over.
The fourth tier issues are those that are unimportant for life and ministry in the church, and are more simply preference issues. In this category Ortlund places worship styles and other more outward stylistic preferences.
Reading this, it seemed right on target to me. Granted, my theology lines up with Ortlund extremely closely – but, even so, I’m amazed at the things Christians divide over. Even entire denominations often, divide over very minor theological preference points such as end times views, creation day lengths, or alcohol consumption stipulations. This book was a breath of fresh air – and contains much wisdom in how Christians should approach theological differences.
In our current climate, with so many churches splitting or dividing over politics, I would have appreciated more conversation on politics and how Ortlund would fit them into this system. However – the book is really one about theology, not politics. So I suppose it’s fitting that it addresses only the former. [Speaking of politics, I couldn’t help thinking that a system like this would be a step forward for any system of beliefs – especially the polarized state of American politics right now. This would allow polarized groups to work together on the issues they agree on even when they have significant disagreements in other areas.]
I enjoyed this very much. This should be read by any Christian who ever wonders which issues they need to take a stand for and which ones to not let divide, but rather make their stand for unity – often in the face of opposition from both sides. It also had me checking my own heart on some particular doctrinal nuances I hold – that I’m particularly proud of – in a not good way..