I’ll be posting audio and video from the Together for the Gospel Conference as it becomes available.
I’ll be posting audio and video from the Together for the Gospel Conference as it becomes available.
“You might want to notice that in the most recent issue of Christianity Today, the April issue that arrived to me just days ago, in the cover story, Scot McKnight says, ‘I can count on one hand the number of historical Jesus scholars who hold orthodox beliefs.’ A fascinating statement. But the moment you begin to entertain the notion that there’s a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, you have already bankrupted the faith.
“Adolph von Harnack, another one of the most important figures in modern liberal theology, made an argument that I have actually heard some evangelicals paraphrase without understanding the toxic source and the disastrous meaning. Harnack said Christianity is like a seed or a kernel that is surrounded by a husk, kind of like a coconut. And he said that the kernel is authentic meaning, but the husk is this … he called it the acute Hellenization of doctrine, it’s this elaborated doctrine, it’s creeds and confessions and propositional statements and Scriptural claims concerning Jesus Christ, Gospel, salvation, fall, eschatology. Long before Bultmann, Harnack said what we must do to rescue Christianity is to pay attention to salvaging the seed and let the husk go. Do you buy into that? You’ve already given it all away.”
This was a talk Mark Dever gave at the T4G conference this past year that is relevant to many discussions, postings and conversations I’ve been having lately with many different people in person and on the internet. To sum this whole thing up, Dever says at the beginning of this talk, “People try to improve the Gospel. But in improving the Gospel they end up losing it.”
And while this is a legitimate concern I share in seeing the quick descent of much of evangelicalism, we who would criticize those we see as doing some of the very things Dever speaks of must be careful how we 1) come across to those we are in disagreement with, 2) how we say things, 3) that we don’t let such a concern distract us from the cause of the Gospel itself by being absorbed in finger pointing, 4) use wisdom when approaching these situations, and finally 5) think carefully before you hit the send button about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it (Ben Davis).
“Pragmatism has engulfed and swallowed up the professing church. Theology has been replaced by or subverted to styles of methodology. I think it is a strange phenomenon that throughout history denominations were established based around a common theology and now associations are established based around a common methodology. So much of current evangelical strategy is to identify what people desire and tell them Jesus will give it to them if they choose Him as their Savior. In fact, God is seen as sitting in heaven loving them so much that it’s almost irritating to Him that they won’t come to Him for the things that they desire. Few seem to be considering the fact that what the unconverted sinner desires is the last thing God wants to give him … until he desires righteousness and deliverance from sin and death and judgment.” – John MacArthur at T4G ’08 in this message (MP3)
The third day of the conference ended on a very challenging and encouraging note. As usual, Piper (as one college student in the guys’ bathroom put it), “dropped a bomb on everyone,” (to which there were then subsequent chuckles from the older generation in the bathroom hearing a younger guy put it in such a way).John Piper was the first of two speakers to take the stage that day (which ended at noon). His message was entitled (not terribly surprising 🙂 ), The Supremacy of Christ and Radical Christian Sacrifice. The primary text he used for his sermon was Hebrews 13:13 (though of course he walked us through several passages in Hebrews to bring us up to that point). The main thrust of his message was centered upon how the whole point of the book of Hebrews is to this end: giving ourselves away for the glory of God and the proclamation of the Gospel, and specifically how suffering fits into this, which has a great reward: Christ. The question posed that Piper sought to answer from Scripture was, how does the Gospel create radical Christian sacrifice?
The short answer from Hebrews (shown to be abundantly clear) is fixing your gaze, everyday, upon the final Great Reward that, for example, Moses sought after. As Hebrews 11:26 says, “[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” What is this Great Reward? It is the blessing R.C. Sproul spoke of so eloquently in the fifth session, laid out in Scripture in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” It is the enjoyment of the person and work of Christ forever, as laid out so plainly in Revelation in many places. That enjoyment does not start then. We enjoy it now and then it is perfected and never-ending when we go to be with Him. And it is the only way to be joyfully willing to radically give up our comforts for the sake of others’ souls and the glory of Christ.
In the panel discussion, the question was asked what that may look like for various people. Piper’s answer was that it could be in the form of “going outside the camp to bear the reproach of Christ” in loving on and witnessing to neighbors, giving up some things to invest in your wife’s and your children’s joy in Christ, investing more in studying the Scriptures and theology, or getting out of the study more to pursue people with self-sacrificial love. So the question is, what is outside the camp for you? Convicting, because I can make a laundry list of things. Piper made clear that Christ isn’t sitting there in the camp telling you to go out and bear His reproach while He sits there and gives you no strength, direction, or wisdom, hoping that by some miracle of your own doing, you can just bear it. Rather, He Himself is outside the camp bearing reproach saying, “Come to me, I’m out here bearing reproach in the inner city, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your church even! And I will give you what you need for joyful acceptance in suffering itself.”
To sum up, the essence of his message was that the way to go about becoming a person who radically sacrifices for the sake of Christ is to consider His reproach that you bear (your discomfort, whatever that looks like for you) greater wealth than the treasures of the American dream, or success, or even the mere accumulation of knowledge, because our reward surpasses all understanding and is in heaven. And that reward is the unending joy of Christ Himself. May we constantly be looking to that reward for the sake of His name, His kingdom, and laboring to bring people into it.
The final and most encouraging message of all (and yet at the same time convicting, driving you to the cross for mercy and joy) was from C.J. Mahaney, entitled, Sustaining a Pastors Soul. And while I’m merely a volunteer in student ministries at Christ Chapel, the things said apply equally to me as a lay minister. And even more than that, these truth-principles apply to all those who are not serving in teaching as well. C.J. spoke from Philippians 1:3-8 on the joy Paul displays and how that joy is not just something he worked up in himself, but how that joy is inseparably connected to theological understanding of Christ and His work to reconcile us to God. If you lack joy, it is because your understanding of the Gospel is either lacking in some way or it has not moved from your head to your heart as they way it should. C.J. shows this in how Paul unfolds the affectionate opening of his letter.
Paul makes his prayer with joy (verse 4) because of the Philippians partnership in the Gospel with him. And then after this statement, Paul makes clear that he is so joyful because he is, “sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” His joy in their partnership and knowing theologically how God worked in their salvation is absolutely inseparable. They are interdependent. You cannot have one without the other. There will be no joy without spiritual knowledge. And knowledge itself, if it does not move to your heart in love for Christ and others is a knowledge that merely puffs up. The more you know of God personally in communion with Him and also how He works in your salvation theologically, the more you will be certain that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Your confidence in Christ will rest in His sure promises.
One of the greatest convicting things for me in particular was the point on how grumbling, bitterness, anger, and an overall disposition of complaint is a lack of joy and an active opposition to the sovereign hand of God moving upon you to mold and shape you in His image of humility and eternal joy in God. To highlight this point, he gave an example that struck at my own personal issues in this area, which I’ll get to in a minute. My own struggle is not so much in the larger trials that happen. It seems the Lord has blessed me supernaturally in that area to deal with difficult, large, personal calamities when they come. Praise Him for His work and may He always continue to move in me when those things happen (and they will)!
My struggle though with sinning in this area comes in the little trials. I wake up and the small things eat away at my joy throughout the day. They then start to add up and take their toll, leaving me dry and unfulfilled. It is a constant battle and struggle for me to rely through faith upon the finished work of Christ to bring me joy in Himself instead of my circumstances. And this is where C.J.’s example struck me. He illustrated by talking about his journey from the hotel lobby to his room. He walked to the door, inserted the card, and, “red light”. He did it again, “red light”. Another time. He finally sat there and thought to himself (paraphrase), “God, I see no reason for this … this makes no sense. Why are doing this to me? I mean I’m in Your service doing Your work, have a lot of work to get done, and this? Really? I see no point to this.” In essence, “I know more than You, God, I am wiser than you, God. Therefore, this should not be happening. Explain this to me if You would.” Arrogance and pride flowing from our mouths that should in turn be justly, eternally struck for the way we talk back to Him. May the Lord have mercy on me for my error and its frequency.
And I began thinking about what he was saying with all of this because it sounded familiar and I quickly realized these are things I read in John Owen’s three classic treatments entitled, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. C.J. just brought those truths to bear on my own heart in a personal way and I realized how many times during my day, I’m a bitter, joyless person who is not pursuing Christ in what I’m doing. I’ve been here before, but the Holy Spirit awakened it afresh in my soul. My heart is so quick to slide away from the glory of the grace of Christ into self-pity and frustration at what I think God should be doing for me instead of what He knows is best for me. I say I believe in sovereignty intellectually, but if it really moved to my heart, Christ-humility would ensue.
Do we believe that He knows better? If so, why do we complain? Because we disregard His sovereignty and His love toward us in that sovereignty. Does his sovereignty not include all of the small little things that are really just minor inconveniences? We sin greatly in setting ourselves up as the final authority over against God. How desperately wicked and sick is our condition. My condition is not uncommon though it seems. Many guys I know (in particular) struggle with this very thing. God demands that we be joyful in the Scriptures. It is imperative that we find joy. But finding joy either in what we think we can provide ourselves (religiosity) or what the world provides (paganism) instead of Christ alone is slandering and dishonoring to the name of Christ and His work on our behalf to do exactly that for us: bring us joy beyond imagination by the experience of Himself. May we fall on our faces for our infinite affront against God.
This message really made me see the need (in a starker way) to consistently and frequently be pursuing joy in light of the work of the Gospel to bring me to Himself, considering all of the ways and manners and actions God undertook to make it so. From His eternal election, to His justification of His people at the cross, to bringing about our regeneration through that work, to conforming us more into the image of the Savior, to our final glorification at death or His return at the end of the age, it is these truths that we must massage into our hearts that our joy in Christ may be our souls’ final feast (as David Phillips used to say). Run after Him to experience His love, and thus joy, in prayer and communion resulting from what we now know about Him.
Mahaney’s message was a great bookend to the whole conference, in that it moved us toward the goal of studying and practicing correct theology in our lives: enjoying (and thus in that, glorifying) God forever, the primary aim for which God created us.
Man, where do I begin? So much information. Basically all of the messages were their own keynote addresses, with tons of great information. I’ll just try to briefly go through each speaker, chronologically, and then give what I gleaned from each speaker. I was not “able nor willing” (yes, that’s a pun; will make sense in the next paragraph) to blog as frequently as I initially desired, 1) because there was no internet at the convention center, and 2) because I really wanted to spend my time absorbing all that was said. Tim Challies live-blogged the event, so if you want to get a different perspective from mine on this, check it out @ www.challies.com . Great stuff.
Woke up after getting a good nights’ sleep (definitely providential that God would get my mind ready for the onslaught of amazing sermons yesterday). The first guy to get up there was John MacArther. MacArther gave an excellent, Biblically-cited dissertation of the doctrine of Total Human Inability, that is that man, in himself, is incapable of doing anything good that is pleasing to God. Obviously, this is not to say that man does no good to his fellow man, but it is to say that even in those good works, if they are not done in faith, they do not only displease God, but they further incur wrath upon the sinner. The writer of Hebrews states that, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Paul states, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8) This doctrine could not be clearer and those who would seek to snuff out this blatant language of Scripture oppose Christ Himself who makes utterly clear that, “No one can come to [Him] unless the Father who sent [Him] draws him (the person).” (John 6:44) Jesus also makes plain that, “… Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And finally, Paul’s crescendo of his statements in Romans 1-3 summed up in Romans 3:9-18. This could not be clearer.
MacArthur spoke on this topic in particular to show how if you try and water-down this point, this central, fundamental starting point of the message of the Gospel, the rest of it will make no sense. He stated that if you don’t preach or teach on the severity of this point, and if people will not accept and own this point themselves, all of the other points of the Gospel will neither make sense nor will they be able to understand why God had to go to such great lengths to bring us to Himself through the sacrifice of His own Son at Calvary. So in essence, if this point is either not emphasized at the beginning of presenting the Gospel to someone or if they totally reject it as nonsense, then you have nothing else to discuss with them. As I previously said about Ligon Duncan’s sermon, this to me was another “Amen!” sermon where we affirm and totally agree with everything he said pertaining to this doctrine. I think for a majority of people in the room, it was just great to hear a good, Biblical reiteration of this central truth of the Gospel for our own hearts, for both in our teaching and to personally apply to our own hearts in humility.
The next speaker was Mark Dever. Whereas MacArthur before him spoke of a solid truth that we know well in the Reformed tradition, at the very least as a stated doctrine (though by no means do we know it in our hearts as we should, don’t get me wrong), Dever spoke in such a way so as to provoke new thinking as it pertains to the Gospel itself and the resulting effects of it. More specifically though as the main point, he showed how we must be very careful not to confuse the two. Many nowadays, in attempting to make Christianity palatable to a culture that embraces uncertainty, would make the results of the Gospel the gospel itself and remove the offense of the cross in an attempt to win people for the Gospel. However, history shows this never works. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” As Dever pointed out, this is a fatal error and is exactly what theological/religious liberal scholars and preachers did in the 19th and 20th centuries before us. I assume he was obviously speaking of emergents in particular. However, I can also clearly see this in the marketing movement within the church (who ironically the Emergents oppose with a vengeance), where the Rick Warren’s of the world seek to make their primary aim in preaching, teaching and ministry, the outworking effects of the Gospel as the gospel itself (though not stating it so overtly). And it is clearly made apparent simply by their way of doing preaching, teaching and ministry.
But, as stated so clearly in all of these sermons, our primary goal in the church itself (though not in anyway excluding our obligation to reach the world in local and global missions) is to faithfully proclaim the Gospel itself and let it function as the fundamental catalyst for producing all of the other effects of it. Does the latter take work and effort? Absolutely, and we should give it our all. But we should be doing it in order to bring a pure, clear Gospel message, not making it the outflow of the Gospel the end itself. Even philanthropic atheists make this their end with no reference to God at all. Our end as believers though is proclaiming and heralding the Gospel in all contexts for the glory of God. Our end is the glory and uplifting of the grace of Christ in His cross-work and doing exactly that through the faithful and clear proclamation of the Gospel. And I would say that if the church is floundering in its reach to a lost world, that it has lost the core message of the Gospel and thus the power of it to not just transform the culture around us, but mainly bring glory to God for the salvation of lost souls that He brings about, as He sees fit. So in summing up in one sentence, the main point that I found most interesting and thought-provoking was that we must dare not confuse the effects of the Gospel with the Gospel itself. This is vital for a healthy ministry.
After that was a panel discussion on what both MacArthur and Dever spoke about. The panel discussions are always awesome and really help clarify statements or bring certain aspects into greater focus. For the time being, I won’t go into those as awesome as they were.
After lunch, we started the afternoon session off with a masterful sermon by R.C. Sproul entitled the Curse Motif. This struck at how many times within a Gospel presentation in preaching, exhorting, teaching, whatever the situation, we ignore the Scriptural fact that Jesus became the curse Himself on the cross, taking on the full measure of the wrath of God in His body on the tree. The text he used to demonstrate this truth was Galatians 3:13 which says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'” He then took us on a Biblical journey through the Old Testament to show us how this unfolded throughout history, and starting with Moses he worked his way forward, bringing it to its climax in the person and work of Christ Himself. What really struck me was how he contrasted the blessings of God and the curse of God. To demonstrate the stark contrasts and level of intensity within each of these actions of God, Sproul used Numbers 6:24-26 which says, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I believe it was the first half of his sermon in essence that he honed in on this. There is no greater blessing that to be favorably looked upon by the very One who gave you life and breath to begin with. And then half-way through his sermon (maybe a little more than that) he turned his attention from the ultimate of blessings of God (namely the enjoyment and delight in God Himself) to show that the curse of God is the antithesis of Numbers 6:24-26. This could seem like, well yeah, that makes sense.
But to really grasp and feel the weight of the contrast between the two is to gain a greater grasp upon the very Gospel itself because in it we see Christ taking that curse in Himself and in fact becoming the curse for us. Sproul did a wonderful job of displaying this by taking the verses of numbers and reversing the meaning in curse-language, “May the Lord curse you, and abandon you; May the Lord keep you in darkness, and give you only judgment without grace; May the Lord turn His back upon you, and remove His peace from you forever.” Man. This is what awaits all those outside of Christ and what should be me. That is frightening. How frightening! But Sproul’s main point was not to discuss the judgment upon those who refuse the Gospel, but to emphasize that it was that very curse previously quoted that Christ willingly and voluntarily took in Himself upon the cross. Consider that the God of the universe, who united Himself to us, took in Himself this very curse. When you really ponder and meditate upon that reality, that the Son was cut from the Father in a way none of us can even begin to understand or peer into, it strikes you in the core of your being (at least it should in some manner if you confess Christ as your ransom) to what lengths He went to not only rescue His mercifully chosen people from damnation (i.e. the curse) but also to bring us to God that we may enjoy the opposite of the curse, namely, His blessings! OH the glories of the cross and the confirmation of what took place there in His resurrection! How wonderful a truth. This really fed my soul. There is nothing like Gospel-feasting, because in it we encounter Christ Himself, our supreme joy, the end for which He came!
The last message of day two was given by Al Mohler entitled, Why Do They Hate it So? The Doctrine of Penal Substitution. Mohler, as usual, going on about 24 tracks and wave-lengths at the same time in his thinking (something that was joked about throughout the conference), Mohler brought citation after citation of scholars, priests, clergy, and others within Protestantism (which entails both liberals and, unfortunately, now many evangelicals) who are either deliberately seeking to diminish or subtly lighten this doctrine because of its offense and (seeming) foolishness. Mohler made clear that he was not primarily speaking about the unregenerate who reject it, but those who claim the name Christian, as well those who claim the name evangelical. The one citation he gave that was really gut wrenching of someone doing this was a person (unknown at the moment) who stated that child abuse in the West is a direct result of the historic Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement, because in it (according to this guy at least) God is portrayed as the one who takes delight in sadistically abusing His Son. Ugh. You could feel the whole room groaning inwardly after hearing their Savior’s work slammed by this guy in the quotation in such a specifically Satanic way. However, this doctrine must be contended for if the Gospel is to remain ablaze in the West. Otherwise, we risk the Gospel slipping back into the darkness, similar to that of the Dark Ages and Medevil times, prior to the Reformation (i.e. the recovery of the Gospel), the very thing we were there celebrating together. We must contend for and refuse to back down on substitutionary atonement though the world hates it so. It is at the heart of the Gospel message we proclaim. Diminish it, dampen it, water it down, take out the violent images of blood-sacrifice and dark, fearful wrath, and risk losing the only thing by which people may be saved: the very Gospel itself.
We arrived today at 10:35 am EST in Louisville. Went to the hotel, got checked-in, then went to lunch at a sports grill right by the convention center. After that, we perused the book store they had setup (which is quite gigantic, a lot larger than I thought it would be).
In the first session at 2:30 pm, Ligon Duncan spoke on the necessity and inherent inability to avoid the integrating of both systematic and biblical theology into your teaching. As R.C. Sproul has said, and Ligon reemphasized in his sermon, the question is not whether you do or don’t do theology. Everyone does theology. The question is are you doing (and therefore teaching) good theology, or bad theology? Part of this was preaching to the choir in the convention, but still something that needs to be reiterated for sure in a day when people are so ready and willing to abandon any doctrinal or systematic proposition or theological statement. It was one of those “Amen!” sermons that I am so excited I was able to hear in person instead of merely over an mp3. So I’m in no way minimizing the importance of what was said, I just want to move on to what struck me the most today…
In the second session, Thabiti Anyabwile, a speaker who I have not had the opportunity/privilege of listening to until today, gave a really great sermon on the necessity of the church (in particular, though not exclusively) to abandon the idea of biological race as a way of distinguishing people of different ethnic backgrounds. I say not exclusively the church because this needs to be applied within the world in general. However, as it relates to the church, though in the sciences racial biology has been abandoned to a large degree, much of the culture still thinks in these terms. And unfortunately, to a large degree, this thinking has infiltrated the church. We need to be the first ones to reverse it and show the world how the Gospel comes into people from all kinds of different languages, skin colors, nations, backgrounds and unites all of us at such a fundamental, deep spiritual level, that all of the other aforementioned things are secondary in nature.
The Gospel itself is the ultimate diversity-uniter ever devised (by God). When we walk into a room as believers, our automatic default is to gravitate toward people who are like us because, as Thabiti said, we think in (rather fast) terms of “Look, someone like me, therefore safe, therefore I will find joy there,” when the Gospel itself calls us to look deeper into the bonds we have with other believers of different ethnic diversities and cultural backgrounds (in particular) and say instead, “A son of Adam, like me; a person created in the image of God, like me; a sinner, like me; a person ransomed by the blood of Christ, like me; therefore I can find solidarity in Christ; therefore there is safety, therefore there is joy being united to the Savior!” (Paraphrase) Some very awesome, profound things were said.
Then the question was raised afterward during the panel discussion by C.J. Mahaney and Mark Dever, how do we practically go about fundamentally changing the way we think so that we can do this very thing? And I thought Thabiti answered honestly: it’s simply going to take consistency and time and training ourselves to think and act in this manner (my paraphrase). In a nutshell: it’s going to be a long process to reverse ingrained cultural divisions that exist within the church. In addition it is going to take time to change other people’s wrong understanding of racial biology they have been taught.
If you want a more in-depth analysis and real-time blogging of what is going on at the conference, visit Tim Challies site @ www.challies.com .
More to come …
Well I’m off to the T4G conference tomorrow. I may try and post a few points I find interesting at the conference, but there is apparently no wi-fi at the convention center in downtown Louisville, KY so updates maybe few and far between. In other words, I may wind up posting at night. So I won’t be doing any live-blogging. It should be an amazing conference about centering your ministry upon the Gospel. Check out the site @ http://www.t4g.org/ . There are mp3’s for free from the conference two years ago if you care to listen.