Lloyd-Jones and the Future of the Seminary*
What was one of the most powerful sermons Martyn Lloyd-Jones ever gave? According to his biographer, Iain Murray, it was ML-J’s address at London Bible College on May 10, 1958. His text from his AV was 2 Timothy 2:15-16: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” Some may think this merely the uncritical reflection of a hagiographer, yet the great OT scholar E. J. Young, who was present, told some students later that he had heard nothing equal to it since the death of Gresham Machen.
The mood leading up to this event was rife with tension because ML-J disagreed sharply with founding principal—and his host—Ernest Kevan, who led the school from 1946–65. ML-J believed that the uncritical acceptance of unbelieving and liberal studies did not equip students for the pastorate. It is one thing to expose students to such beliefs, yet another to raise critical questions without bequeathing the biblical and critical apparatus that dismantles such foolish and tired speculations. Kevan, for his part, promoted this widening theological posture of academic training that would be accepted by more liberal-minded denominations. For ML-J, this poison in the classroom would eventually mean death to the churches, a mistake that seminaries today continue to propagate in the name of academic acceptance.
The Doctor’s address took aim at the complete lack of concern over error in the religious world raising Paul’s warning that it “will eat as doth a canker” (2 Tim 2:17). Raising his voice to the issue at hand, “It kills, robs of life and leaves a festering mass at the end. The church today is a travesty of the word ‘church’ all because of this cancer.” The only way out, ML-J counseled, is for the seminaries to concentrate on “the word of truth,” underscoring that the name of the institution was London Bible College.
He concluded with the question, “How may the College know if it is attaining this object and rightly dividing the word of truth?” Those who are trained by such institutions, he pressed, should ask themselves these questions upon graduation:
- Are the men more certain of the truth at the end of their studies than at the beginning?
- Are they more steadfast?
- Do they know God better and desire to serve God better than when they came in?
- Have they a greater zeal for God?
- Do they have a greater love for the lost and the perishing?
- What is the purpose of doctrine and knowledge if it is not to know God?
He then issued a warm pastoral reminder to the students, “Remember that the Lord is taking special interest in you. He will be with you in some lonely village, and when the end seems to have come, remember that you are preaching a Saviour who rose again; remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.”
Murray tells us that the faculty gave a cool reception to the message and subsequently shut down all opportunities for it to be published. ML-J understood the reception not necessarily as a personal affront but an indication of the ever-weakening evangelical mood in the churches. The questions he raised on that day are still the questions that every seminary student and pastor must answer. Seminaries are useful resources in service to the church, but they are unable to uncover the real questions at the heart level of every minister of the gospel.
* This post is a summary of the fuller account as given by Iain Murray in his The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899 – 1981, pp. 342–45.
Paul Lamey is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.