This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
By God's grace I was able to attend the Together for the Gospel conference (Liveblogging commentary available) in Louisville, KY. The conference was a great time of being spiritually refreshed, through the speakers and through rekindling old relationships and cultivating new ones. I will attempt to share some of what I learned, both from the speakers and also through general observations and experiences.
First, they were together for the Gospel, not for other aspects of theology or practice. Those who started this movement (left to right: CJM, AM, MD, & LD) are from different denominations & backgrounds and differ on many other theological points, but they are together on the Gospel. That doesn't mean the differences are/were irrelevant, but that they were not prohibitive from fellowship and convergence of resources for that which is of greater importance.
This conference is/was about the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, a mission too important for them to allow it to be jeopardized. The individual speakers addressed issues about how to preach the Bible and different aspects of the Bible's message, particularly centered on the "good news" about Christ (e.g., centrality of justification by faith, how the message should be communicated, the audience that needs to hear its message, etc.).
Mark Dever spoke from 1 Cor 4 about 3 Marks of a Real Minister, which were (1) Cross-Centered messages, (2) Cross-Centered lives, and (3) Cross-Centered followers.
He spoke of how preachers are entrusted with God's message, rather than their own, using the illustration of a mailman who delivers not his own messages, but the messages/letters of others.
When speaking of humility, he cited Matthew Henry who noted that,
"Those commonly who know best do not think best of themselves."
Ligon Duncan spoke about preaching from the Old Testament, giving 8 exhortations:
- Preach the OT as a Christian book - much of the NT is a hermeneutical manual to understand the OT.
- Preach the OT expositionally - expounding books in sequential sermons.
- Preach Christ from the OT - There are many instances (e.g., Luke 24:25-27; Is 6 & John 12:37-41) where the NT helps us see how the OT passage relates to Christ, so look for such OT relationships.
- Preach one plan of redemptive history from OT - show the connections between God's covenants and purpose in dealing with His people.
- Preach grace from the OT - redemption comes before obedience (e.g., Ex 19 precedes Ex 20).
- Preach the character of God from OT - God's (inter)actions tell us so much about His character.
- Preach experientially from OT - for example, the Psalms give language of Christian experience.
- Preach the Christian life from the OT - yes, you can and should preach morality from the OT, seeing obligations on how one should live.
Al Mohler spoke about Preaching with the Culture in View. One needs to be aware of the culture in which one lives. He cited the problem was with the self, a problem in our culture, but also in our churches as the culture infiltrates our churches via Christians of this culture.
- Self-Fulfillment - This is the objective many have and all are "either in therapy or in denial" as they seek the wrong end, instead of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.
- Self-Sufficient - They see themselves as the only needed authority and source of ability.
- Self-Definition - Folks think they have the ability to define ourselves (e.g., what it means to be human, what it means to be male or female, what it means to be married, etc.).
- Self-Absorption - It's all about us. Folks long for some "me" time and they will separate from children and/or spouses in order to "be who I am."
- Self-Transcendence - People are enamored with spirituality, seeing the Gospel as merely another spirituality from which to pick & choose some appealing aspects to integrate into one's spirituality.
- Self-Enhancement - So much is geared to physical improvement and extending life & youth. Plastic surgery has become aesthetic surgery, as our bodies become works of art.
- Self-Security - We want to feel safe, thus the emphasis on safety (e.g., child-proof caps, coffee warnings on cups, bumpers on our cars, seatbelts, insurance, police force, bicycle helmets, retirement accounts, etc.). We want to feel safe, but most Christians in history did not feel safe (e.g., famine, sword, pestilence, plague, etc.). There's the illusion of safety, but it is an illusion and it's wanting to be safe from the wrong thing(s). People are more concerned about being safe from the bird flu than they are from the wrath of God.
- Most Americans believe their problem is something that happened to them and the solution is within, but the Bible says the problem is within and the solution is without, an alien righteousness. In other words, folks think they all their negatives are attributable to the external influences (e.g., daddy didn't give me enough attention) and that the fix is from self-actualization. Biblically, however, the problem is within (i.e., sin/depravity) and the solution is God's imputation of Christ's righteousness to those who believe and are then sanctified.
- Americans are "more concerned about being good Americans than faithful Christians." Allegiance and patriotism are much more emotive for American Christians than their affection for Christ. This is pathetic and dishonoring to Christ when they get more jazzed to sing the Star Spangled Banner than O Worship the King. You sing one with gusto at a baseball game, not in a church service allegedly devoted to the worship of the One who will not share His glory with another.
R.C. Sproul spoke about The Center of Christian Preaching: Justification by Faith. He spoke to the historical differences (that still exist) between a Protestant and Roman Catholic understanding of justification. He clarified that Roman Catholics don't believe in justification apart from faith, declaring that they see faith as a necessary condition, though it is a sufficient condition for Protestants. He spoke of the difference between the infusion of grace/merit (RC) and the imputation of merit (P) that is Christ's righteousness.
RC also pointed out that people are not justified by the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The possession of faith is not the same as a profession of faith. It's the possession of faith and not the profession of faith that justifies. If I may elaborate, our faith is not in faith, but in Christ. One can have a biblical understanding of justification and not be justified.
John Piper spoke about Why Expository Preaching Is Especially Glorifying to God. He pointed out that expository preaching should be expository exultation, exulting in Christ. "You don't honor fully what you don't enjoy." He wanted us to not only get the Gospel right, but also to delight in it, which should be visible in our presentation.
Some thought-provoking quotes:
- "The value of the Gospel is as important as the truth of the Gospel."
- "When the glory of God is the treasure of our lives we will not lay up treasures on earth but spend them for His glory."
- "Every sin flows from a failure to treasure God's glory above all things."
C.J. Mahaney had a message entitle, Watch Your Life and Doctrine based on 1 Tim 4:16. Perhaps more impressive than his message was the humility and passion for authentic devotion for Christ with which it was delivered. He noted that we are all tempted to put more effort/energy into public ministry than personal piety.
In speaking of life watching, he noted
- the limitations of sound doctrine, which is essential but not all efficacious or sufficient. There must be a commitment to the application of Scripture to life; it must be preached and practiced.
- the war within never ends. There is no "pastoral privilege" in relation to sin, just greater consequences (and greater opposition, I might add). The fight against indwelling sin persists throughout this life.
- one "can't effectively watch ourself by our self, we need others" to help us see our faults and the manifestations of our sin to which we are blind. "I assume because I can see your sin clearly I can see mine."
John MacArthur spoke about 40 Years of Gospel Ministry and his life's lessons from 37 years at Grace Community Church. He said that, "Preaching is a science, an art, and an adventure." For the first, there are set rules of hermeneutics. For the second, there is stylistic variety and an aesthetic quality whereby each artist compiles a sermon that is his own masterpiece. For the third, there is a spiritual dynamic to the preaching experience.
His main concern was explaining the Bible, which he wanted to do with clarity because "people develop conviction where they have clarity." He gave us his benefits of expository preaching (chapter by chapter exposition in sermons being included in this expression for JFM):
- It establishes the authority of God's Word over the mind of any particular soul.
- It exalts the Lordship of Christ over His church as they deal with issues that come up in the text as opposed to topics desired by preacher or congregation.
- Sanctification is advanced through exposure since Spirit uses the Word to sanctify.
- It strikes a blow at pride, since it's not the pastor's words, but God's, that are important.
- There is the pastor's personal benefit from the study of the sermon text.
- You honor by the example the values of Bible study; they learn how to study the Bible by how you preach.
Other observations, experiences, and cogitations:
- It's such a blessing to be around brothers who embrace a life's mission to glorify the God who is supreme over all things. I made some new friends and I was impressed with the instant camaraderie.
- Pastors are still depraved sinners who have experienced and are still experiencing and needing the grace of God. I was surprised to see some the behavior that appeared selfish and to the detriment of others. For example, guys would really get pushy in their jockeying for position just to walk in and out of the conference room. You could get whacked by a backpack without so much as a "my bad" or "sorry" as folks jumped in front of you, muscling their way around. Also, we were provided with many free books at the conference, clearly intended for the participants. Yet, on numerous occasions I saw guys grabbing extra copies of stuff. For example, we received free copies of the NASB MacArthur Study Bible and there were at least a few I saw after the session grabbing extra copies for buddies back home. Now, this may seem a victimless crime, but those aren't "free" books that they are trying to unload. There are other instances, the most heinous of which I heard about from a brother on the plane coming back, but I'd rather not document it. When in contrast to my previous point, it seems that there were guys there who love Christ and loved their brothers and others who were goons, especially toward their brothers.
- White Castle still rocks. I went twice and consumed 8 double-cheese burgers each time. I was *this* close to having them for breakfast about 5:30AM Friday morning on the way back from taking my good buddy James Galyon to the airport and now regret that I did not. We were clearly not thinking straight or we would have insisted we part company only after each had his fill of "belly bombers."
- Before the flight home we got to swing by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. That makes 3 of 6 SBC seminaries that I have visited and actually been on the campus (SWBTS, SEBTS, SBTS, but not yet NOBTS, MBTS, or GGBTS). Since I'm halfway done, I'd like to complete the circuit at some point. The bookstore was the best LifeWay I've ever seen and it was a pretty campus, but it still isn't Texas.
- The music was great and I left feeling spiritually recharged, even though I was physically exhausted. Praise be to God for a refilling of my spiritual tank as my flaming passion for Christ was fanned.