Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: Experiencing the New Birth

Experiencing the New Birth: Studies in John 3. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 2015. Crossway. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Experiencing the New Birth is a collection of twenty-four sermons preached by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966. All the messages are drawn primarily from John 3. I say primarily because Lloyd-Jones often brings in other passages into each chapter. Does Experiencing the New Birth guide readers verse by verse through the entire chapter? Not really. But it addresses many--if not all--of the themes of John 3. He uses John 3 as the main text, and supplements as needed from other books-- 1 John, Hebrews, Romans, etc. I was expecting the book to stick more closely to John 3 itself. That being said, I wasn't disappointed by his theological ramblings.

Experiencing the New Birth--for better or worse--isn't exactly concise. These are a series of sermons gathered together to be published in book format. So there is a lot of repetition, a lot more repetition than I'm used to reading in my theology. But repetition is needed in sermons because of our weaknesses: our inattention, our wandering minds, our proneness to get distracted and stay that way. Reading is different from listening, but, distraction still happens. So the repetition isn't unforgivable.

Twelve of the twenty-four messages are drawn from John 3:8. This seemed a little much to me--especially at first. But each message varies a little:

  • Characteristics of the New Birth
  • The Sign of the New Birth
  • Marks of the Spiritual Life
  • The Christian and the World
  • Righteousness
  • Loving the Brethren
  • Knowing God
  • A Personal Knowledge of God--God the Father and God the Son
  • The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
  • Heavenly Things
  • Assurance
  • Alive in Christ

All these messages essentially are passionate pleas from Martyn Lloyd-Jones to his listeners and readers: EXAMINE YOURSELF, SEE IF YOU PASS THESE TESTS, ARE YOU IN THE FAITH? HAVE YOU BEEN REBORN? In these twelve chapters, he makes distinctions between believers and nonbelievers. He reminds us again and again that you can think you're saved and not actually be saved at all.

Eight of the twenty-four messages are drawn from John 3:30. He continues discussing what it means to be a Christian, and what the Christian life looks like, or should look like. Much of the emphasis in these chapters are the dangers of self.

  • The Friend of the Bridegroom
  • The Baptism with the Holy Spirit
  • None of Self and All of Thee
  • Make the Poor Self Grow Less and Less
  • He Must Increase
  • Is He Everything?
  • Prophet, Priest, and King
  • Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise 
My favorite chapter may just be "Make The Poor Self Grow Less and Less." In this chapter, he discusses--among other things--tips on how to decrease self.
How is that to be done? Is there anything we can do about it? There is a great deal, and the danger is, again, to think that self can be taken out of us in one experience. It cannot. There are experiences, thank God for them again, that take us upon this road a tremendous distance and enable us to run where formerly we were trudging, but still you and I must do many things. There are things prescribed for us that will teach us what to do in order that self may become less and less and continue to decrease until it has gone altogether as it were! No, not in this life, but we must get as near to that as we can.
So what are we to do? These things sound elementary, and yet these are the real answers to this problem. The first is the reading of the Scriptures. Why do I put this first? It is for this reason: ignorance is always the greatest cause of self-conceit and esteem— always. So if you want to get rid of self, the first rule is, read the Word of God. Read it constantly. We must read the Bible in the Spirit. We need to be prepared to read the Bible; we must pray before we read the Bible; we must pray for the Spirit of God to come upon us.
Are you reading the Bible only so you may have a knowledge of the contents of the Bible so that if somebody says to you, “Well now, what does Genesis teach? What is the teaching of Matthew? Mark? John?” you can give an account of the content? Is that the way in which you read the Bible? My dear friend, that is merely to read the letter, and if you put the letter before the spirit you are missing the whole value of Bible reading. The whole object of reading the Bible is so we may get at the spirit of the teaching and so the spirit of the teaching may get hold of us. And that is why I say it is essential that we should take our time in reading the Bible... So you can read your Bible and say, “I am a religious man— look at the amount of the Bible I read.” But the question is, What does it do to you? Do you remember in five minutes what you have read? Has the Bible done something to you? That is the test of the value of our Bible reading.
Now if you read the Bible truly, this is what you will discover. You will start by discovering something about the holiness of God. We all think we believe in God, do we not? Many in the world say, “I have always believed in God.” But they know nothing about him. They do not believe in him. Stop and examine yourself for a moment. When you say, “I believe in God,” what are you saying, what do you mean? This is the thing we say so glibly, but if you read your Bible, you will begin to know something about God— the holiness of God, the greatness and the glory of God.
In addition, he urges believers to read about the saints, to meditate on the fleeting character of life, to examine ourselves regularly, and finally, to look to Jesus and put on the mind of Christ--to put others first.
When did you last “stand and stare” in a spiritual sense? The world keeps us on the rush, and we forget the things that finally matter and finally count. We get excited, we get inflated, our values go all wrong, we do not stop and think.
My least favorite chapter would probably be the one on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Here Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes to great lengths to teach that you can be a Christian and lack the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At best, the chapter was confusing. For regeneration--the new birth--is a filling of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit unites us with Christ. The Spirit dwells in us--as wonderful and mysterious as that is. So I'm not sure what he means by "baptism of the Holy Spirit." Oh, he tries to explain it as being a special blessing of assurance. But his examples didn't help his case. For most of his examples, were from the gospels. The disciples were Christians before, but, they didn't receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost, and it was only after this baptism of the Holy Spirit that they were filled with assurance. But the apostles' experience is the apostles' experience, that isn't to say the two are always and forever separate occurrences. This chapter made me uncomfortable because if the concept is misunderstood, it can lead to trouble.

Reading Experiencing the New Birth requires a commitment, but, overall I think it's worth the effort.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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