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April 2006

April 27, 2006

After a very short break and a brief video about Boyce College, Al Mohler took the pulpit to bring a message on “Preaching with the Culture in View.”

He is a bit nervous about the concept of preaching with culture in view, for he sees a polarity of dangers. There are some Christians who take the culture with no seriousness at all while others allow it to become dominant within their ministry. There are some who think wrongly that culture is an irrelevancy when it comes to ministry, but this should not be the case. Like it or not, we are embedded in a culture. There are others for whom the culture becomes such an issue of fascination that they become part of an inculturated ministry.

He will begin with defining expository preaching which he defines in part as “That mode of Christian preaching which takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of a portion of Scripture.” It is important to note that the primary task of the pastor is to be faithful to the text of Scripture, not to the culture and everything else is subordinated to this task. The application of Scripture will unavoidably lead to the discussion of culture, for we must apply Scripture within the context we find ourselves in. Our concern for the culture is that within the culture is where we will find sinners. It is not for the culture itself for it is only fleeting. The authority of the Bible must always be in view for the Scripture’s authority is transcultural.

Culture needs to be put in its place. He defined provided a few different definitions of culture, but at its most basic culture is that which allows human beings to relate to each other. We live in a time when culture is celebrated and cultural diversity has become an ideal (though this celebration of diversity is exceedingly arbitrary). It is very difficult for us to know and understand our culture and how it has shaped and influenced us simply because we are completely immersed in it.

Evangelicalism in America arose in a time and context in which it was quite a natural fit. It arose easily and did not see culture as inherently hostile. It is impossible to withdraw entirely from culture for since Genesis 3 we live within a sinful, imperfect culture. It is also not possible to dictate who all Christians of all time must understand and engage with the culture. There are many different cultural contexts.

We need to avoid the trap of believing that there was a golden age. There was no golden era in history when culture was less worldly than it is today. Culture has always been as sinful as the people who live within it. Culture cannot be our main concern but it is also not worthless. Culture can even be seen as a gift that allows us to live together, that allows us to value the institutions that maintain life.

To understand culture we do not simply go back to the 1940’s and 50’s. Mohler suggests we go as far back as Augustine who wrestled with many of these same issues. He suggests that no book is more helpful in understanding this issue than “The City of God.” He understood that there is only one city that is eternal (the city of God). All other cities are passing. How was it that so many people were fooled into thinking that Rome would be eternal? Christians are to believe that they are citizens primarily in the city of heaven. Our interest in the other city, in the culture, is that this is where the sinners live. We can love the people in this culture without loving the culture itself. We should not be surprised to see sinners acting like sinners, celebrating and institutionalizing their sin. Yet we cannot withdraw from people for they are the objects of God’s love.

While we can appreciate much of the culture and be thankful for it, we must always maintain some type of seperation. We must realize that this is but our secondary citizenship for we are primarily citizens of the city of God. “Why our culture presents significant interpretive problems for the Christian culture.” Why our culture must be understood by the preacher. We live in a world which is far more “liquid” than in any other time in history. Change comes fast and furious—far more so than at any time in the past. The world of parents and grandparents is vastly different than the world that our children will face.

We have a National Geographic understand of the importance of adapting to culture. We see people “over there” and know what they need to do, but do not often unerstand what we need to do here.

Self-fulfillment - Radical individualism. Life is a quest and the self is a project. What they want out of life is to build a sense of self and it becomes the reference of all meaning. We live in an age where the primary question asked by most questions is “am I well?” and in this they are asking a psychological question. Most Americans believe that what their problem is is something has happened to them and that the solution will be found within. They feel that they have an alien problem to be resolved with an inner solution. The Bible says that we have an inner problem with an alien solution! Pastors can talk about the gospel and, if the preacher is not entirely clear, it may be seen as a form of therapy.

Self-sufficiency - Every individual posesses what is necessary for meaning and happiness; it needs only to be drawn out. This is buttressed by a society that appears those who appear to be most self-sufficient rather than those who understand their categorical insufficiency. The gospel is not about how we become more self-sufficient.

Self-definition - This has become more radically important in recent years. Most Americans now believe that we have the ability to define ourselves, even defining what it means to be human or to be male or female. We claim the right to define marriage, gender, authority, sexuality, and everything else. We need to control our own evolution. This comes hand-in-hand with postmodern theories of truth.

Self-absorption - This leads to expressive divorce. We are so self-aborbed that we will divorce others to “become what we need to be.” Divorce is merely a learning experience in the project of the self. Even a few years ago we would not have heard about divorce becoming a good thing.

Self-transcendence - This explains why many people are obsessed with spirituality and why people will hear the preaching of the gospel as just another form of spirituality. We extend the self through self-transcendence in spiritual practice. “We need to be clear about the ‘mono’ in monotheism.” We have a world of inherent polytheism.

Self-enhancement - The idea that we can extend life indefinitely. People think that the project of the self can extend to “aesthetic surgery.” Our culture has absorbed a lie about what it means to be human.

Self-security - We have an obsession with health and safety—physical, financial, etc. Most Christians throughout the history of Christianity have not felt safe. People no longer go to bed feeling that they will die in the night and face hell. We take safety for granted.

The importance of all of this is that people we preach to will hear what we say in their own terms, within their own context, within their own culture. Pastors cannot take for granted that what they see will be received in the way it was intended.

We are and must ever be mindful of the fact that we are elect exiles. We are here, we have an address and a phone number. We come out of a certain culture where certain things make sense and certain things do not. But all of this is passing. It is missiologically important but only temporary. We cannot just withdraw for this would deny our commission. But we cannot feel home for this denies our identity. Our task is to preach and teach the gospel until we see the elect from every tribe and tongue and nation. We will not be Americans or any other nationality, but we will be His.

April 27, 2006

Day two of the Together for the Gospel conference began early. We left our hotel room at 7 and went searching for some breakfast. The lineup at Starbucks wrapped around the restaurant, so we sought out a small deli where the lineups were long, but not devastating. The conference began at 8 AM. It is set to continue through most of the day before wrapping up close to 10 PM. With most of the breaks we get today being of the 5 minute variety (where 3000 men head to only one bathroom), it will be a long, full and no-doubt blessedly challenging day.

Following a video introduction to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Bob Kauflin led us in a time of worship with only a piano, singing “How Sweet and Awful is the Place” and “How Deep The Father’s Love.” Mark Dever then introduced the books we were given this morning: Getting The Gospel Right by R.C. Sproul, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt and Give Praise To God (a tribute to James Boice) which features a variety of contributors. He introduced and welcomed Ligon Duncan “despite his grevious errors” in being Presbyterian. Ligon Duncan then took the pulpit to deliver a message on “Preaching From The Old Testament” drawn from the familiar words of 2 Timothy 3.

Preach the Old Testament and preach it as a Christian book - Paul urged Timothy to do just that, referring in verse fifteen to these words as “the sacred writings.” When Paul says that all Scripture is profitable, he refers to the Old Testament. Timothy is to teach the truth of justification by grace along through faith alone from the Old Testament. Duncan quoted a theologian who said “we must plant our feet firmly on the rock of the Old Tesatment.” The Old Testament must be harmonized, not contrasted, with what we learn from the New Testament—even those parts that have since been superceded such as the ceremonial laws and worship within the temple.

Preach the Old Testament Expositionally - Pastors are to expound books of the Old Testament. The whole of the Scripture is the final authority in the life of the believer (tota scriptura). A pastor can equip himself to do this by listening to good sermons on the Old Testament and by reading books and commentaries that deal with the Old Testament.

Preach Christ from the Old Testament - In Luke 24 we see men who had had their hopes dashed by the death of the One they had thought was the Savior. Jesus’ response told them that they were slow of heart to refuse to believe in all that the prophets had said. Had they listened to the prophets they would have understood that the prophets spoke of Jesus, foretelling his death and resurrection. Jesus, then, models the necessity and ability of pastors to preach Christ from the Old Testament. This is particularly easy to do when a New Testament author has given us an explanation or interpretation of a passage from the Old. But we ought to be able to preach Christ naturally and exegetically from all of the Old Testament. This does not mean that we force Christ in an odd way into places that He is not, but that we realize that there is always a way to Christ and His cross from every passage in Scripture. There is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ, but there is a dazzling array of ways of getting to Christ through the Old Testament. Duncan led us through a variety of Old Testament texts that, each in a different way, led clearly and directly to Christ, to His cross, and His resurrection.

Preach the One Plan of Redemption History from the Old Testament - There are many helps available to the pastor who wishes to do this. There is a common New Testament exhortation which uses the formulation of “this is that”—“this is that which was prophesied”—and it models how pastors are to preach the plan of redemption even from the Old Testament. Scripture glories in the discontinuities between the Old and the New Covenants. We do not need to downplay these discontinuities but can likewise glory in them without excusing them. We are to seek the plan of redemption even in the earliest verses of the Scriptures. Even when the New Testament is preached, the pastor should point back to the Old Testament to help people understand the continuity of the Bible.

Preach Grace from the Old Testament - Paul says to Timothy that the Old Testament Scriptures are able to give the wisdom that leads to faith by grace. Paul would see no discontinuity between the way men are saved in the New Testament and how they were saved in the Old for to prove salvation by grace through faith he turned to the Old Testament. Gospel logic, even in the Old Testament, always has grace before law.

Preach the Character of God from the Old Testament - R.C. Sproul has helped so much in this regard. This is important because the Old Testament is the primary source for many biblical doctrines including the attributes of God. It is, in many ways, far fuller in its explication of the attributes of God than the New Testament. Without preaching the Old Testament we may raise a generation of Christians deficient in their knowledge of the character of God.

Preach Experientally from the Old Testament - Calvin and the Puritans emphasized that it is the Psalms that give us the language of the Christian experience. The greatest transaction in history is the one that took place on the cross when Christ cried out in His forsakeness. It is drawn from the Psalms. We must not undervalue the experiential teaching that we get from the Old Testament—Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, and others. As we see their struggles, we see and understand our struggles. The experience in the Old Testament is so varied and so deep. It stands in contrast to the trite, shallow experience of God that is celebrated in evangelicalism in our day.

Preach the Christian Life from the Old Testament - We cannot believe that the Old Testament does not teach us how to live as Christians in the twenty-first century. Some claim that we ought not to have moralistic messages drawn from the Old Testament, but this goes directly against the teaching of Paul and Jesus. We learn from the New Testament that the stories of the Old were given to teach us how to live.

We will return in five minutes to hear Dr. Albert Mohler deliver a message. That will be followed by a panel discussion before we break for lunch.

April 26, 2006

The first session features Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. The message, which has the theme of “The Pastor’s Understanding of His Own Role” is titled “Three Marks of a Faithful Pastor.” It is drawn from 1 Corinthians 4 which contains a striking contrast between the real ministers of Christ and the imposters. This passage shows us three marks of a real minister.

A cross-centered message (verses 1-7) - In this passage we see the phrase “the mysteries of God.” Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not be dividing among themselves over unimportant divisions. There should be no division between ministers of that same gospel. Ministers of the gospel are the stewards of mysteries. A steward is not an owner but someone who has been entrusted with something else. A church is given to a pastor in trust.

Even Apostles were fundamentally servants, for they had no authority to spread anything other than the gospel of Christ. Pastors are called only in so far that they give God’s message to His people. It is God who owns the church and He has a message to His people. He will, through his kindness and mercy and grace, entrust that message to mere men. Mark encouraged pastors to know and understand and believe that God’s Word makes God’s people. Thus pastors are called to humbly minister to others with and through this Word. In verse two we read that the pastor must prove faithful to the charge given him. “We are not called to be original, but to be reliable,” he said. He also quoted D.A. Carson who says “What matters most in God’s universe is what God thinks of us.” Pastors must remember that they cannot please God if they live to please men.

The recurring theme of these verses is that the pastor is a steward who will be called to give an account for the message that has been entrusted to his care.

A cross-centered life (verses 8-13) - Paul turns to sarcasm in the next verses, mocking to godly effect the Corinthians’ prosperity (whether it was real or imagined). Many of them were feeling confident and fulfilled, yet regardless of how they felt, Paul pulled them back to reality and showed them that they really don’t “rank.” Paul rejects the type of “reigning” that the Corinthians advocated. He remarked on how different the Christian life is than the imposters had taught the people. Despite what the Corinthians believe and despite what so many people within evangelicalism believe, there is a better way than the wisdom of the world. Pastors must preach Christ and Him crucified. If Christ was pierced and punished and crushed and wounded, and if Paul was also scorned and rejected, how can today’s pastor expect any different if he is to be faithful to the One he serves? True ministers are happy to be despised if, somehow through this, Christ can be proclaimed. This was the experience of Paul, even as he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth.

Dever challenged pastors to inconvenience themselves in order to serve others. He taught that a pastor’s own comfort is a danger to his own soul. We all have a bias towards our own comfort and pastors need to be active in identifying and fighting against that.

Cross-centered followers (verses 14 to the end) - Pastors have a difficult time putting themselves forward as examples, but this is something they are called to do. Disciples learn from other disciples just as children live within families to learn from others. Pastors are to be examples of people who love Christ and their congregations more than they love themselves. A Christian minister should live out a Christ-like life and lead others to do the same. Paul loved the people of Corinth in such a deep, pure way and so he urged them to imitate him as children imitate a father. A pastor puts upon himself the right kind of pastor when he calls upon others to imitate him. He does a good thing when he makes himself an example of godliness. A pastor is called to teach better than he can live. A pastor can do this. But he is called to live in such a way that he illustrates the great truths that he preaches from God’s Word. The example of the pastor should be followed in the church.

Paul effectively orders the Corinthians to humble themselves. We don’t often think of humility as a duty, but it is a crucial Christian virtue. It is a confession that we are not always right but that God is! We cannot claim to be Christians if we do not have a desire to be humble. That virtue is a handmaid of all the other virtues. Of all people, pastors need to be pastors.

Paul finishes the chapter by saying that he will come to Corinth (Lord willing) and says that he will investigate these things. Paul challenges the Corinthians to ask whether these false teachers are bearing fruit—if people are being saved by their ministry. He warns that if necessary he will come with a whip of sharp, devastating reproof. Paul shows that a congregation is a proof of a pastor’s ministry. There is a certain necessity of Christian church growth; not necessarily numerical growth but spiritual growth. God has left us a visible representation of Himself in His church, in each congregation He has called pastors to serve. We will see more of the image of Jesus in the local church than we ever could in a picture of His likeness.

What Paul is saying is what we need to hear. The important issue of recovering churches is putting the Word at the center and this happens most notably through preaching. The men who will speak this week are men who are bold in challenging men to grow in Christ. They are men who have placed preaching at the center of their ministries.

Dever concluded with an exhortation to watch for false teachers in our day—teachers who proclaim a worldly message that removes the cross as the center of the church. These men masquerade as sheep while all the while sowing a deadly seed through the body of Christ.

Following this session, Bob Kauflin led us in singing “There Is A Fountain.”

April 26, 2006

We are packed in to the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House Hotel, a huge hotel in the downtown core of Louisville, Kentucky. We’re shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee. The room is packed from back to front with men who have come to hear about the gospel. The room is filled to overflowing and the organizers had to turn away hundreds more. What a beautiful thing it is to be together for the gospel.

We are in a great ballroom. Huge chandeliers hang overhead. A lighting truss surrounds a stage that is flanked by two large screens which alternate between footage of the current speaker and shots of the audience. Immediately behind the pulpit—a small, open pulpit—is a three-part Together for the Gospel banner. A sea of chairs, stretching to the furthest reaches of the room, face the stage.

To begin the conference, Mark Dever gave away gift certificates to the man who came furthest to attend the conference (he was from India), the man who had been a pastor for the longest (50 years) and the pastor who had been the main preacher at his church the longest (45 years).

Dever explained that these men are not together on what to wear, on what pulpit to use or on what songs to sing or on what music to play. Mark suggested that if any Sovereign Grace guys are present, they be given access to the aisle seat so they can move around a little bit. They are not together on applause or on “amen’s.” The Sovereign Grace folk will surely be vocal in letting you know their agreement, Baptists will mumble a polite “amen,” whereas Presbyterians believe that silence is consent. Neither are they together on how to introduce the speakers. Mark encouraged us to make a game of this and during the week keep track of all things that these men are not together on. “Together for the ___________ [fill in the blank].” We are free to keep track of all the things they are not together on. If you are at the conference this week, feel free to post a comment with other things they are not together about.

Mark concluded his introduction with a brief explanation of the purpose of this conference. He explained that the keynote speakers—Sproul, MacArthur and Piper—were merely bait used to bring together all of these pastors—thousands of them—so they could meet together here, to form relationships with people from their local area. They are together to celebrate the centrality of the gospel and to take that focus to their church homes.

After mark left the stage, Bob Kauflin led us in a couple of hymns. This led to C.J. Mahaney taking the stage to provide a brief monologue, to explain the choice of the books we have been given thus far (The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter which was published 350 years ago this month and The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander along with one of three 9Marks booklets.) and to introduce his friend Mark Dever.

If you happen to be at the conference and would like to say “hello,” I am sitting immediately to the right of the sound booth. Feel free to drop by!

April 26, 2006

Wednesday April 26 - Friday April 28, 2006

A La Carte will be on a brief hiatus for the remainder of this week while I attend the Together for the Gospel Conference. I do not anticipate having time or opportunity to read other blogs while I am at the conference. It will return, Lord willing, next Monday.

April 26, 2006

I have been given the great honor of liveblogging the first ever Together for the Gospel Conference. This is a conference dedicated to one thing: the centrality of the good news of Jesus Christ.

“Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and Albert Mohler minister in diverse contexts, but they are united in this: the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, preached clearly and lived faithfully. Now they are coming together in a unique conference to encourage you in the sufficiency of the gospel’s power to build your local church. Special guests John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul will each bring a message and join in panel discussions. Come together with these men and explore what really matters in your life, church, and ministry. Come together for the gospel.”

As you read this, I am travelling to Louisville, Kentucky to participate. As with the other conferences I have blogged, I hope to allow those who cannot attend to experience just a little bit of the atmosphere. I hope to be able to provide a synopsis of each of the sessions so that you, too, can be edified by the preaching of these men of God.

So please be sure to check in through the remainder of this week. I look forward to being able to serve you, even if only in this small way. I hope and pray that the conference will be a blessing both to those who are able to attend and those who are not.

April 25, 2006

I promised yesterday that today I would have a big announcement. Well here it is.

I am announcing the launch of a new web site. Well, a new/old web site. You may remember a site called Discerning Reader. Once a very popular and well-regarded site, it ran into all sorts of trouble, the details of which I do not care to expound upon. Suffice it to say that the site shut down and the domain name was offered for sale. I purchased the name and have created a new site. There is no connection between the old owners and myself.

As you may know, one of my passions is reading. I absolutely love to read and to help others find books that are worth reading. With tens of thousands of Christians books hitting the shelves every year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort the good from the bad and the better from the best. This is where Discerning Reader comes in. It is a site that features reviews written by discerning readers. There are currently several hundred reviews available with many others to be added in the near future. There are author biographies as well as a whole list of new (or upcoming features). Among the features are:

  • New York Times Bestsellers - We are reviewing many of the books that appear on the New York Times list of bestsellers. We hope to be able to expand this section to include all the books featured in the top position in nonfiction.
  • Expert Lists - We have asked some of the most discerning and widely-respected authors and teachers to send us lists of books they recommend for various purposes.
  • Where To Start Lists - Interested in beginning to read about a new topic? Let our experts guide you to books that will bless you as you read about spiritual disciplines, church history, systematic theology, family issues and more.
  • Church Bulletin Mini-Reviews - Discerning Reader now offers short, discerning reviews suitable for placement in church bulletins.
  • Bookworm Reviews - Discerning Reader has looked high and low to find other discerning book reviewers. Our “Bookworm” program features off-site reviews written by a wide variety of discerning reviewers. Check any of the titles in our database for these bookworm reviews.

Not all of these features are fully available yet, but they will be added in the near future. You may recognize the “bookworm review” program as the heart of what was once Diet of Bookworms.

I am quite excited about this site and am confident that it will prove to be of great benefit to the church. I invite you to visit the site, to take a look around, and to provide me with your feedback. Please spread the news as you see fit. Tell others about this resource!

Visit Discerning Reader

April 25, 2006

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for Aileen. She went to the midwife today and received a clean bill of health. Her blood pressure, which had been trending up through the past three or four visits, suddenly fell precipitously back down to where it was a couple of months ago. It is now at a near-perfect level, actually. So I guess the combination of lots of prayer and lots of rest did the trick. I am very grateful. She should now be able to be less worried as she faces the last three or four weeks of pregnancy. God is good.

Of course this also means that I am free and clear to go to Kentucky from tomorrow until Friday for the Together for the Gospel Conference.

Once again, thank you for your prayers.