Tim Keller has been writing a series of blog posts on preaching which is largely a review of Martin Lloyd-Jones' book Preaching and Preachers. As always, Keller has had many good things to say. One thing caught my attention, however, that I thought I would comment on. Keller highlights a passage where Lloyd-Jones says that preachers should not "assume that all…who are members of the church, are…Christians. This, to me, is the most fatal blunder of all" (quoted from Lloyd Jones, p. 146). Keller goes on to link this to the Old Side-New Side and Old Light-New Light controversies from the 18th Century and the Nevin-Hodge debates in the 19th Century over (among other things) whether one should ever assume a church member to be unconverted. Lloyd-Jones and Keller both affirm that we should expect to find that many church members are in fact unconverted and thus expect them to be converted under Biblical preaching.
This is the brief response that I left:
Thanks, Pastor Keller. Of course, a third option is to ask whether we should think of conversion as a one-off event, that once done is never to be repeated. If conversion is just faith and repentance then maybe we should should constantly call for conversion (as L-J would suggest) but without thinking that a new, more profound experience of God's grace necessarily implies that all previous experiences were spurious. In that sense, the Nevin-Hodge debate is beside the point. The real question is not: When did I first experience God's grace? Rather it would be: Am I believing the Gospel and repenting of my sins today? Assurance rightly belongs only to those who are believing and repenting now, regardless of what their previous experience(s) may or may not have been.