My Covid Year Reading: Knowing the Times

The ability to ‘read the room’ is a really good life skill to have. What do I mean? Oftentimes one may get themselves in a fair bit of trouble if they, in whatever varied situation they find themselves in, are unable to grasp the particular demeanor or emotional temperature of the gathering. Perhaps it’s as simple as walking into a room which had just received some bad news and cracking a joke. A simple look at the solemn faces of those around should have made it clear that it wasn’t the appropriate time for a joke. It’s a simple example, but it makes the point. You may well desire to swim upstream when everyone else is swimming downstream, but the first key to doing that is to see which way the current is moving and how everyone around you is reacting to it. Knowing when to speak and when to keep silent or when to act and when to stay still are important pieces of wisdom that not everyone possesses. But reading the room isn’t just a skill limited to social gatherings. As Christians it is valuable to be able to monitor and evaluate the various winds that may be blowing, both in culture at large and in the church. Once that information is attained, the Christian is able to bring the Gospel and truth of Scripture to bear in specific and relevant ways.

Knowing the Times[1] by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few years, and I took some of the free time I had during the COVID lockdown to pull it out and read through it. I was exceedingly glad that I did. In short, this book is a compilation of lectures, sermons, or radio broadcasts that Lloyd-Jones delivered through the middle of the 21st century. As the title of the book indicates, the general theme that was chosen is lectures that in some manner help the reader ‘read the room’ or know and evaluate the prevailing winds in culture and the church. Perhaps the title itself is derived from chapter 2, where Llyod-Jones says this in a radio broadcast in Wales in 1945:

It is obvious that we do not fully realize what the state of the world around us is in when we speak of religion tomorrow, because our ideas and our aims for the future depend to a great extent on the way we interpret our present situation. Moreover, there is nothing which shows our spiritual condition more clearly than our ability to comprehend the signs of the times. Do we realize that the problem of religion today is very different from what it was, say, forty years ago, and even twenty years ago? Today, we are producing men who are almost totally ignorant of the Bible, and from the point of view of morality, the problem is not so much immorality, but the total absence of morality.[2]

His point is clear: in order to bring the Word of God to bear on one’s hearers, it’s important to understand the perspective of the hearers. Of course Jones isn’t offering an argument for radical contextualizing of God’s Word in the sense that the truth of Scripture or the Gospel should be changed in order to suit the listening fancies of the audience. Rather Jones argues that the state of the culture and the state of the church should be understood in order to preach effectively. Lloyd-Jones is arguably the most prominent and well-respected evangelical preacher in the past century, and I imagine this is so because he understood so well the culture and context to which he delivered God’s Word.

Yet one of the facets of Jones’ addresses that struck me so powerfully is the utter simplicity of the message that he delivered. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ plainly and simply. He was a learned man who could discuss theology with the best, but his message behind the pulpit echoes the sentiments of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “I desired to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.” He knew the greatest need of his audience was to know their sin and to know their Savior, and this is the message he consistently delivered. “This religion’s main aim is to re-unite men with God, to convict them of sin, and to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ as their only Saviour. The aim is not to create a church of great numbers, but people who know God and who are ‘in Christ.’”[3]

Perhaps the most astounding aspect of this book to me is that in a book about knowing the times in which one lives, and the 1940s-70s were very different times than my own, I found myself constantly making a note in the margins of my book that a statement or a comment he had just made is still extremely relevant in our time today. The slide of evangelicalism into liberalism was in full swing during the ministry of Jones, and it continues still today. And so the power of the book lies not just in the encouragement for the reader to know the times in which they live, but seemingly every address contained in the book is still amazingly relevant to today, both in the error that it confronts and the truth that it brings to bear. I found this book incredibly convicting and encouraging, and I’m sure it will do the same for you if you choose to locate a copy and dive in.

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

 



[1] D.M. Lloyd-Jones. Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered On Various Occasions 1942-1977. Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, UK. 1989.

[2] ibid. 17

[3] ibid. 27