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September 2006

September 30, 2006

This afternoon Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle will teach on “The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World.” He was introduced by John Piper who said that never before had a speaker gotten him in this much trouble even before he had spoken! Mark took the stage and introduced his speech around the framework of two issues regarding Christology and two issues regarding missiology.

Christology

Driscoll began by telling the story of Jesus, despite its familiarity. He described Jesus much as he must to his largely unchurched congregation in Seattle. He described Jesus “mean and wild,” saying of the all-too-common feminized view of Jesus: “It’s hard to worship a guy who you can beat up.” The point of the story was that Jesus is as hot as ever, still appearing constantly in popular culture, from “The Simpsons” to “Rolling Stone” covers to Madonna concerts. Jesus is popular, but the majority of people do not know Him as He truly is.

Driscoll spoke of the recent issue of “Christianity Today” which discussed the two hot theologies of the day: Reformed and Emergent. So what should the church have for its view of Jesus and how should we articulate who He was and is? Christology is what separates Reformed from Emergent Christians. These two camps are debating, in large part, over Jesus. The incarnation of Jesus is a popular doctrine in the Emergent circles, for they think of him primarily as fully human. The also stress His imminence, being here with us now. They gravitate towards the gospels which teach about Jesus in his humanness but avoid the epistles which have a different focus. We must believe in the incarnation of Jesus, but we cannot only believe in this. What is fueling the missional effort is a rediscovery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus came into culture and entered into community with lost people. Jesus identified with people in their culture. The problem is that when we see Christ only in His incarnation, we are left with someone less than God. The result is that the picture of Jesus taught by some is little less than a humble, marginalized, feminized wuss. This cannot inspire life transformation because He is not big enough to be worshiped, feared, obeyed or respected. Men are told to be like this feminized version of Jesus and they have no interest in following such a man.

On the other side, Calvinists tend to focus on the exaltation of Jesus. It is not so much the imminence of God, but the sovereignty and transcendence of God. These people go to texts like Isaiah 6 or John 12. What is too often lacking in the church today is a rigorous combining of both Christologies. We need to combine the incarnation with the exaltation. We must avoid the theological error of reductionism which means we are not saying something that is unbiblical, but are saying something that is incomplete.

Reading Luke and Acts show that Jesus was empowered by the same Holy Spirit who leads and guides and empowers us today, meaning that we can identify with Jesus in this. The draw towards Jesus’ incarnation is having a model we can follow. If we hold the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus we have everything we need for a robust and biblical missional theology. The humility of the example of Jesus in His humanity and the authority of His divinity. In addition to the gospels we must add the book of Revelation. This is not a book primarily about the Antichrist and suffering, but about Jesus Christ. It is a book about Christology - about Jesus. The book breaks down into heavenly scenes and earthly scenes. The heavenly scenes are centered on the throne where He reigns as king.

Missiology

Jude 3 tells us to contend for the faith. This is an absolute assault on postmodernism, for there are not multiple faiths or truths. Reformed folk are good at contending and here are some issues that most be contended for: 1) Scripture is truthful, authoritative, meta-narrative. Pastors then need to give their people the story of the Bible and need to begin where the Bible begins. Smaller stories always need to be plugged into the bigger story. It is easy to give systematic theology without also continually tell people the story of the Bible. 2) The sovereignty of God must be defended against open theism. 3) We must contend for a God who has authority and absolute sovereignty. 4) We must contend for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. “Don’t mess with Jesus’ mother. I doubt he’d take it kindly.” 4) We must contend against pelagianism. 5) We must contend for penal substitutionary atonement. There is debate about this, but there shouldn’t be because this is the best part of the Book! This doctrine tells us that we are saved from God - from his anger and justice and wrath. “If we lose the exclusivity of Jesus, we lose Jesus.” 6) We must contend for gender distinctions. 7) We must contend for the exclusivity of Christ. 8) We must also defend the doctrine of hell. “People don’t like hell! They’re not supposed to!” That’s the whole point! But to deny hell is unconscionable. Everyone believes in hell and we see this in advertising where advertisers tell you who you are, what you will become, and how they can save you from this hell. Everyone is running around trying to get out of their personal hell. Everyone is talking about hell except the church! We must contend for the importance of kingdom over culture. It is more important than culture. “We are seeing an over-realized eschatology.” This is an old problem. Emergent, emerging, incarnational Christians are Corinthians and have fallen into the same problems. They are, in many ways, reacting to a dispensational theology that had no concept of the kingdom here and now. The focus is on the impending rapture. This is where we see the tension of the “already” and the “not yet.” “I’m sick of talking about the kingdom without the king!”

The second point is that we must also contextualize. This is where there may be a proverbial fork in the road where people often begin to disagree with Driscoll. We must communicate this message in ways appropriate to different cultures and people groups. Jesus incarnates into a culture and we look to His example to see how He interacted in that culture. We have no problem seeing that kind of missional movement overseas, but when it comes to our own culture it is more difficult. Missions is to happen not only around the world but across the street. The church must do more than evangelize, but be missionary in its orientation. So what does this look like to an indie-rock subculture or an urban hip-hop culture? 1 Corinthians 9 tells us that we must contextualize. “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel.” Do you care about the gospel? Do you really care? Then you’ll contextualize, won’t you? You won’t just contend, but will contextualize as well. You’ll contextualize so as many cultures and subcultures as possible will meet Jesus.

In one hand we put timeless truth. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. In the other hand is what is timely and contextualized. Timeless truth and timeless ministry. So what does this mean? He is not arguing for relativism, but for “relevantism.” Is he arguing for seeker sensitive? Not that we be seeker sensitive, but seeker sensible. We don’t lose theological vocabulary, but take the time to explain to the people in terms they understand.

In every culture there will be things to reject, things to receive, things to redeem. Sadly, many in the Emergent stream do not reject anything. Reformed people may be guilty of not receiving or redeeming that which ought to be received and redeemed.

Is this a new wind of doctrine? Is it the newest, latest, newest fad. “Yes, we are on the cutting edge of the sixteenth century. We are riding the sixteenth century Genevan cutting edge.” John Calvin was not just a contender but a contextulaizer, so we must redeem what it means to be a true Calvinist. When persecution happened in Europe, people flocked to Geneva. Calvin trained them and then sent them out to share the gospel. If you are a true Calvinist you are not just a contender, but also a contextualizer.

Driscoll closed his speech with these words: “The gospel is the power of God. We must contend for it and then we must contextualize it, because we get to. It is Jesus’ gift to us.”

September 30, 2006

The morning’s second plenary session will feature Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He will speak on “The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World.” He will talk about how we do evangelism, how we communicate the gospel, in a postmodern world. It will be, in some ways, more a lecture than a sermon.

The postmodern world presents a crisis to us. The Western world is now a mission field, but a post-Christian mission field. In some ways our culture is inoculated against Christianity just as the body becomes inoculated against disease so that we can say Western culture has a distorted memory of Christianity. What won’t work anymore, by and large, is a campaign, a program, or a gospel presentation. Before now, people knew about Jesus but needed to be told they needed a personal Savior. They were told that they needed to be told to do what they already knew. They had, in many ways, Christians minds but not Christian hearts. There are still pockets of people who are “Christ-haunted,” having a cultural memory that includes Christianity. They are conservative, traditional in their values. There are places where churches can still be built with the old-style evangelism. But these areas are rare. More commonly we find that many of the evangelistic magic bullets that used to work have now passed. Billy Graham, just fifty years ago, championed crusade evangelism and brought it to high efficiency, but now it is obvious that this is not the wave of the future. There were many programs (Evangelism Explosion, etc) that taught a percentage of people in a church how to share their faith, but these now produce little fruit. By the time we get to the nineties, the evangelism magic bullet was the seeker service and it now seems fair to say that twentysomethings are already turning away from this kind of service. The only magic bullet people continue to look to is the Alpha program. This format is a huge improvement and is right for our time because it is communal and involves a process rather than event. But too often people use Alpha like a program and it does not work as it was intended.

The gospel has to recapture us and we need to recapture the gospel or evangelism will not work anymore. In a postmodern culture you have three problems: the truth problem (all truth claims are constraining), the guilt problem (all old evangelism programs assume a consciousness of guilt) and the meaning problem (postmoderns don’t believe that text and words can accurately get ideas across).

Six points for doing evangelism in a postmodern world

These principles will be rooted in the narrative of Jonah.

Gospel theologizing - Jonah 1:1 - the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying “Go to Ninevah and preach.” For a long time, Keller understood the gospel as being the elementary basics of what people need to know to be Christians. Theology was the advanced stuff. But this is not accurate. In a postmodern society, all theology must be nothing less than an exposition of the gospel. Any theology has to be based on the gospel and be an exposition of it. In a postmodern society where everyone is against abstract speculation, we cannot get away without theology that is not an exposition of the gospel. We need to bring theology to bear on the gospel. “I haven’t seen a gospel presentation that really addresses postmodern people.” The older presentations were great on systematical theology (God, Man, Christ, Faith) but there was no story. It has systematic theology but no biblical theology. The basic narrative arch of creation, fall, redemption, restoration is absent. The older presentations were very individualistic and almost consumeristic. The lordship of Christ over all of life is not part of the gospel presentations. Go to the emerging church or post-liberal church and all of the emphasis is on the kingdom. All the emphasis, therefore, is on the fact that we had a world we wanted, we’ve lost it, and now Jesus has created a people and brought the kingdom and you need to be part of this kingdom. There is an emphasis on the corporate and on the kingdom. Sadly, with such an emphasis you can also lose substitutionary atonement and other important principles. In the end, it brings a kind of liberal legalism. It is going to take all our best theological thinking to develop user-friendly gospel presentations that merge systematic and biblical theology so people can grasp the gospel easily. There cannot be easy programs.

Gospel realizing - At the end of Jonah 2 when Jonah is in the belly of the fish he says, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Why is Jonah, the prophet, saying this as if it was a new idea? In some ways this was a new idea to him. If you think you really, really understand the gospel, you don’t. Gospel theologizing isn’t near enough if we are going to change the world. There has to be a lifelong process of realizing the wonder of the gospel. Religion gives you control which is why it’s so popular. Religion is “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” The gospel is “I’m accepted, therefore I obey.”

Gospel urbanizing - Jonah is continually called (three times) to go to the “great city” of Ninevah. The whole book is God saying “should I not love this great city?” How can you not love such a mass of lost people? If the cities are secular and the countryside is Christian, where is the culture going? It’s going in the wrong direction, for culture moves from city to country. Protestants are not well represented in the cities. The city is a strategic place in many ways. It is so crucial that if we don’t urbanize the gospel and have vital gospel communities in the major cities, we won’t reach the world for Christ.

Gospel communication - There are four stages to bring people through who know nothing about the gospel: intelligibility, credibility, plausibility, intimacy. Intelligibility is what Carson refers to as worldview evangelism. People will misunderstand us if we do evangelism using the old programs. People need to clearly perceive what you are giving them for they read Christian language through their worldviews. What is true for people at one time, may not be true at another. Credibility is the area of “apologetics,” the area of defeaters which are areas that, if true, make belief impossible. In the old Westernized Christian culture, there were not a great number of defeaters. Now, however, there are a lot of them. There are common sense beliefs people believe which prove that Christianity cannot be true. Keller believes in presuppositional apologetics at this stage. Plausibility is where people get really nervous. You’ve shown what the non-negotiables are, but now you are getting into other people’s concepts, hopes and aspirations and true to connect with them. In plausibility you can show how the hopes of their own hearts, the struggles of their cultures, will only be resolved in Jesus Christ.

Gospel formation - The gospel needs to form us deep down, usually through experiences that bring us down. We need to be humbled as Jonah was humbled.

Gospel incarnation - Jonah is a setup for Jeremiah 29. The Jews have been living in their nation state in which everyone was a believer and God was getting them ready for another time. God commanded them to move into a pagan city to work for the peace and prosperity of the city. Early in the book of Jonah, Jonah is asleep in the boat and there is a storm. Jonah is roused by the sailors and they tell him to call on his God. They are saying (as the world to the believer) “You don’t love us, do you? Do something that helps us all!” Jonah went to the city but didn’t love the city. Likewise, we don’t love the postmodern world in the way we should. Faith is a gift and it is crucial for us to talk assuredly about faith and truth, but unbelievers must know that we know what it is like not to believe. Does the postmodern world know our love for them? Are we the kind of churches that the world does not rebuke? Do they know we love them or do they have the right to rebuke us? How do we get that kind of courage and love? There was another man who slept through a storm. Jesus was also asleep and the disciples, like the sailors are terrified. Jesus does a miracle and, like Jonah, is sacrificed. But Jesus is thrown into the real storm.

We don’t need evangelism programs, but a revival, and that only happens through prayer. Dr. Keller ended with a question: Are we insulting God by our low expectations for evangelism in our cities?

September 30, 2006

My second day in Minneapolis began early. We did not get back to our hotel until 11 PM last night and we were roused at 6 AM to get up and ready in time to get to an early breakfast with Justin Taylor and Roger and Amy of A-Team Blog. I had hoped to meet Roger last year when I was at the Shepherd’s Conference, but it did not work out, so it was nice to get in touch with him this time. We had a good time of fellowship, talking primarily about blogging (as you might expect). There is still no wireless in the convention center, so my posts today may be sporadic as it is possible that I will have to travel back to my hotel to find an Internet connection.

Last night David Wells taught about “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.” This morning Voddie Baucham will build on that foundation by discussing “The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World.” He will be followed over the course of the day by Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and D.A. Carson. Voddie is an author, teacher and apologist. He has written a book, The Ever-Loving Truth, which helps Christians apply God’s Word to contemporary life. He serves as adjunct professor at The College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Texas and Union University in Jackson, Mississippi.

He began by reflecting on the propriety of quoting a person who is sitting in the audience, referring to D.A. Carson who was sitting in the front row. Carson gave him permission to quote him as he saw fit. Voddie then said that his intention today is based on a prayer he offered to God: “Grant me grace to stand up, speak up, and shut up.”

The supremacy of Christ is the issue at hand. Postmodernism is not what is supreme in this world. If there is an issue between Christ and postmodernism, Christ must win. There are two main competing worldviews in our culture and they have been referred to by many different titles. There is Christian theism on the one hand, and secular humanism on the other. Secular humanism does not acknowledge God for it begins with human knowledge. This is ironic, though, because the majority of people in our culture are secular humanists who believe in some kind of God.

Christian theism and truth

Christian theism views ethics as absolute while secular humanism views them as cultural and negotiable. What is ethical in one culture is not necessarily what is ethical in another. Each culture and each period of history negotiates its own ethics.

There are four basic questions that every person asks, no matter the time or place a person lives: Who am I? Why am I here? What is wrong with the world? How can what is wrong be made right? We may not all ask them in that form, but it is in the soul of each person to wrestle with these issues. He will answer these first from the perspective of our culture and then turn to Colossians 1 to answer them from Scripture.

Secular Humanist Perspective

Who am I? You are nothing! You are an accident, a mistake. You are a glorified ape and that is all you are. You are the result of random evolutionary processes. There is no rhyme, no reason, no purpose.

Why am I here? To consume and enjoy. No amount is ever enough as we always want a little bit more. All that matters is power. The answers to the first two questions bring about the social Darwinism that has caused such harm to the world.

What is wrong with the world? People are either insufficiently educated or insufficiently governed. People either don’t know enough or they aren’t being watched enough.

How can what is wrong be made right? More education and more government. Teach people more stuff. The problem is that if you take a sinful human being and teach him more, you create a person with greater ability to destroy. Then we govern them more, but who governs the governors?

Biblical Perspective

How, then, do we respond as Christians? Colossians chapter 1 shows how the Bible responds to the same questions.

Who am I? Colossians 1:15-20 - the text doesn’t answer the question because it doesn’t start with me. The text starts with Christ because of the supremacy of Christ. The text begins with Christ as the creator of all things. Who am I begins with who Jesus is, for He is God. So who am I? I am the crowning glory of the creation of God. I am not accident! I have inherent dignity and worth and value. Christian theism cannot comprehend racism, classism and eugenics. “Christian theism looks at the black man and the not-so-black man (you categorize the world the way you want to, I’ll categorize it the way I want to). But it’s okay that you’re not black like me. God loves you just the way you are!” Here is the lingering and hovering question: within the confines of Christian theism there is no room for racism and other issues, yet we know of Christian cultures that embraced racism and slavery. Narrative is not normative. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s right. The more important question is what made it stop. What was the underlying worldview that rose up and showed the dissonance? We’ll learn that it was wrong by the standard of the supremacy of Christ.

Why am I here? Colossians 1:15-16 - Christian theism teaches that all things were created to bring Him glory and honor so He might have the supremacy in all things. This is why we all exist. He is to have supremacy and preeminence in all things. “God is not against us having things, but against things having us.” So much of what we do, what we study, what jobs we have, are based on our desire to consume and enjoy rather than to pursue the supremacy of Christ. We look for prestige rather than Christ.

What is wrong with the world? Colossians 1:21 - We are what is wrong with the world! We are God’s crowning creation and yet are hostile towards the one by whom and for whom we were created. The question is not “if God is good why do bad things happen?” but “how on earth can a holy and righteous God know what I did and thought and said yesterday and not kill me in my sleep last night?” Until we ask the question that way, we believe that the problem is “out there.” We believe that we are part of the solution rather than the problem. The problem with the world is me. The problem is the fact that I do not acknowledge the supremacy of Christ. I start with me as the measure of all things. The problem is that I judge God based by how well He carries out my agenda for the world, and I believe in the supremacy of me. As a result I want a God who is omnipotent but sovereign since then I can wield his power. If He is both omnipotent and sovereign, I am at His mercy.

How can what is wrong be made right? Colossians 1:22-23 - We see two things in this last set of statements. First, what is wrong can be made wrong by the penal substitutionary death of Christ and second that it cannot be made right any other way. We see the supremacy of Christ in His exclusivity. There is no other way in which men can be justified. Every other religion basically teaches that we need to ensure we do more good than bad and hope for the best. Three problems: I can’t be good because I am totally, radically depraved; What about all the things I did before my religious experience?; Where is my assurance? The answer to all of this is the supremacy of Christ. What is wrong can be made right by the blood of Jesus. “Christ paid a debt He did not owe on behalf of a people who could not pay Him back.”

We are the crowing creation of God, here to bring glory to Christ. We are what is wrong with the world, living as we do in pursuit of the supremacy of self, but all that is wrong can be made right through the atoning death of Christ and through repentance and faith on the part of sinners. When you juxtapose these worldviews, on the one hand you are left empty and hopeless. Man is left worthless, left to pursue his own satisfaction. On the other, you are precious, you have a purpose but you are powerless. This is okay, though, because you were purchased. This is the supremacy of Christ in truth in a postmodern world. As we walk through the highways and byways and look into the lifeless eyes of those who have bought this lie, let us rest assured that we possess the answer and are possessed by the answer. The answer is Christ and His supremacy in truth. Let us rest assured that those who walk aimlessly through life will never be satisfied by the answers of culture and the further we have run from Christ’s supremacy, the further we have run from the only thing that will ever satisfy and will ever suffice. Let us rest assured that the supremacy of Christ in truth also means the sufficiency of Christ in truth. Let us embrace this, and proclaim it passionately, confidently and relentlessly for after all, that is why we are here.

This was a powerful message—one of the most powerful I’ve heard in a long time. Be sure to get the audio recording of this one! It will be available for free from Desiring God’s web site within a few days.

September 30, 2006

And here I am, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at my second Desiring God National Conference. This convention center is a great deal busier than it was last year. The room is nearly packed from front to back with the 3,130 people who are supposed to be in attendance. There is a real sense of eagerness and anticipation. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been excited, waiting eagerly for the sessions to begin. I have already met several old friends and several new friends. This promises to be a valuable weekend both in terms of teaching and in terms of fellowship.

Because this conference was inspired by David Wells’ book Above All Earthly Pow’rs, Wells will provide the first address. He will speak on “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.”

For the last decade he has been thinking about the world we live in and trying his best to understand it. As vital and important as it is to do that, to understand ourselves and our internal processes, coming here tonight to speak about the supremacy of Christ is such a joy and relief. It falls to him to open this conference and hence he may tread in the territory of the speakers who follow. What he wants to try to do is to try to speak clearly and simply about this difficult subject.

In 1793 when Carey went to India, 98% of Protestants lived in the West. There followed a century of missions, after which 90% of Protestants still lived in the West. Someone might have been forgiven for thinking Christianity was a European or Western thing or a white man’s thing. But no longer. Tonight we live at a time of great transformation in Christian faith - not a transformation in its nature, because Christianity does not change, but a transformation in where it is believed, in where Christian believers are found. We see a pattern emerging that Christianity is moving South to Latin America and Africa, and moving East into some of the most populous nations in Asia. There are probably more Christians in China than in the United States. It is also growing in India and elsewhere. In the West, Christianity is struggling to survive. The United States is a bit of an exception, but in Europe vast areas of its life have been stripped of all Christian presence, leaving behind nothing but empty churches and cathedrals. This is somewhat true of Canada; it is true of Australia and New Zealand. This Sunday only 2% of people in New Zealand will go to church. By contrast, in some African churches up to 80% of people go to church. Some meet under a tree or beside a building, but they still meet. There is more Christian believing outside the West than inside the West. Christianity is becoming de-Westernized.

So what is this faith about? It is the faith of almost every people group who know and acknowledge and worship Christ as supreme. It is very different from Islam which has a geographic center (Mecca), it has a language (Arabic). The Christian faith has no geographic center, there is not one race that dominates it, there is not a preferred language for its expression and there is no privileged culture for its home. No place, race, tongue or culture. It is a Person. It is not just the founder of a religion, but the incarnate, resurrected and reigning Christ whose resurrection inaugurated the reign that will cleanse the entire universe of evil.

The world has known some great people. We speak of many who are “great.” But Jesus Christ is not “great.” He is incomparable. He is in a category all of His own. He is unique. Of whom else can you say that He was God incarnate, that He bore our sin in our place, that He rose from death, that He now reigns supreme? That cannot be said of anyone else. The book of Scripture that argues this most insistently is Hebrews.

He will give only one instance of the kind of argument that we find in the first ten chapters, but will then focus some attention on the eleventh chapter. There is truth there we need to grasp as we attempt to grasp Christ’s supremacy. He will introduce and then put two texts side-by-side. The first text is Hebrews 2:8-9 which gives us a picture of Christ inaugurating His rule over life that is cosmic in its scope, putting Creation back to its purpose, and the second is from Hebrews 10 which presents us with Christ seated and all of His enemies conquered and under His feet. These texts serve as a framework to think about Christ’s supremacy.

Introduction

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers tempted to fade back into the woodwork. They had grown up to treasure what God had done in their history. He had given them extraordinary leaders, miraculous deliverances. They treasured these things and they were part of their identity. Now they face persecution through looming Roman power. They were being hounded by religious authorities, there was danger all around and fear within. They were tempted to flee back into the safety of the Judaism from which they had come. But to do so, they had to pass by the uniqueness of who Christ is and what He has done. Again and again this contrast is made between what we have in the Old Testament and what we have in Christ.

Hebrews 1 - In the past, God spoke in pieces to many people. But now, in these last days, He has spoken fully through Christ. Christ is absolutely unique in this way, for in him is contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. These prophets, even in their greatness, were just messengers. Jesus is the end message. He is the one who brings in a final, full and complete synthesis of all that God has been saying. The author then gives a compact summary of the person and work of Christ. He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being. All of the undiminished Godness of God was His, so that anyone who saw Him had seen the Father. The author speaks of what He has done, saying “He made the universe, He is appointed the heir of all things, He upholds the universe by the word of His power, He made purification for our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. Creation, eschatoloty, providence, work on the cross, resurrection, and ascension are all present.

Why, then, the author asks at the beginning of chapter two, are the Jews drifting away from this unique person and His unique work? Why would they leave what is unique for what is not? What is completed for what is not? What is completely glorious for what is less so? The argument through the first ten verses shows that He is supreme over all that we have seen in the Old Testament.

The pastoral application begins in verse eleven. What was the problem with the Old Testament people of God? We see that they were unable to enter the promised land because of unbelief. They came to the very edge of what God had promised them and decided that it was too risky to enter. Whoever was there was bigger, nastier and more numerous than they were. So they shrank back and retreated. In their own minds they somehow could not see that God would be sufficient for them in this time of engagement with what was on the other side. In their imaginations they saw giants and cities that were impregnable - far greater than what they could count upon by way of God’s deliverance. This is the very problem that is happening again when confronted by this hostile world. They are shrinking back, pulling back, from Christ. What if they were put out of the temple? Wouldn’t they lose all that was precious to them? How could God sustain them if that happened? What if they were ejected from Judaism? Would they not be cut off from Moses and David and Isaiah? In the eleventh chapter, the author says, “If you walk by faith, you will be in continuity with all of the great leaders of the past. You will lose nothing.” What they all had in common, whether kings or prophets or simple people or martyrs, was the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. It was a fearless persuasion of what was there in the goodness of God, in His character, in His greatness. They saw it with their “inward eyes” and trusted it and acted upon it. They were people of faith.

This is what makes hearts strong in bearing suffering and it is what enabled them to bear sickening disappointments at times and terrible reverses and sometimes disheartening unfaithfulness (see Hebrews 11:35 for a more complete list of the sufferings). These words describe what is happening in many places in the world where people suffer and die for their faith. Yet in verse 33 we see that these people were also victorious in many ways. The reason the Jewish believers were drawing back from Christ came down to a matter of faith. It always comes down to a matter of faith. For these young believers, their understanding of Christ had been clouded out of concern for their personal safety. They didn’t know what abuse might come their way and so they thought it was better to be safe than sorry. We don’t worry about these things in the West, but our problem is slightly different. It is not so much fear for our safety as that we are so distracted by so many things that it is hard for us to sustain a focus upon the supremacy of Christ in our world and our lives. We think of our experience in the West in terms of its benefits: we know more, communicate more, communicate faster, travel more, travel more often, travel further, we buy more and more and buy higher quality, we have freedoms, we have opportunities that previous generations never had. But along with these undoubted benefits for which we are all grateful come costs. The costs are often hidden, they are like shadows that come right behind these benefits. It is not easy to live in this fast-paced, modernized, competitive world. In Africa, what is most pressing for people are physical needs: the need for food, for security, for simple medical care. Our challenge is more psychological: the psychological pressure of living in this pressurized, relativistic culture where worldviews and lifestyle and religions jostle together shoulder by shoulder and make Christian faith hard to sustain. It is the intrusiveness of this world into our innermost workings. There is so much that is urgent, so much that demands our attention. Our preoccupations are with surviving and with the intensity of the moment. This is why people come to church looking to have psychological needs met. But sermons only addressing these matters are exercises in futility if the supremacy and centrality of Christ has been lost. In an entirely different way, we in our churches seem to be shrinking back from Christ.

The Supremacy of Christ

He will put two passages side-by-side: chapter 2:8-9 and 10:11-13.

These two verses come from two Psalms. Behind chapter 2:8 is Psalm 8. It points to our mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion. This mandate has never been rescinded, despite the Fall. The problem is that Creation, even Creation, has been derailed as Paul tells us in Romans 8. We experience this futility and derailment so that instead of having dominion over Creation, we are often its victims. At this time we do not see everything in subjection to us. We do not even have ourselves under control! Neither the world inside of us nor the world outside of us are in our control. But, we see Christ who tasted death for us and this is the theme of the New Testament. And so begins this great work of re-railing Creation. It has been derailed and will now be rerailed. The reach of Christ’s conquest is not just our souls, but is cosmic, right through the whole universe.

The second text is Hebrews 10:11-13. We can see the contrast between Christ and the priests of the Old Testament and work that was incomplete versus work that was completed. We see also that Christ has His foot upon the defeated and disgraced enemy. This Psalm and this verse is cited about twenty times in the New Testament. The New Testament authors, took this text and saw it as the framework within which they could think of Christ in His sovereignty over the whole universe. The author of Hebrews, instead of speaking simply of Christ’s sovereignty, speaks of the sovereignty in terms of Christ’s enemies. Christ’s rule emerges from the defeat of the powers of darkness. It is Christ’s priestly work by which his sovereignty is secured over all evil. This is the triumphant, the glorious note, that we hear from one end of the New Testament to the other. Christ has been elevated far above all rule, authority, dominion and name. It was the holiness of God that called for His death and the grace of God that called for His Son. In Christ’s death and conquest over death, the very back of evil is broken. What we see now are the last, futile attempts of the enemy, not one of which will change the outcome of what happened at Calvary. We celebrate this marvelous truth of Christ’s supremacy in our lives and in our universe.

Conclusion

Christianity is only about this kind of Christ - Christ reigning supreme and unchallenged and unchallengeable over all of life’s enemies. We do not have any other message than this. Seekers and postmoderns don’t want to hear this, but the bottom line is that we don’t have anything else to give them. Our only message is of Christ as unique, central, indispensable and supreme. We need to talk together and think together about how we help people to come from where they are in our postmodern culture to this point where they see Christ as supreme. But at the end of the day we do not have a different Christ for the postmodern generation than for any other. Many have decided that this is very off-putting to postmoderns and have been offering a slimmed-down version of the gospel. Certain important truths may not have been denied, but were kept hidden out-of-view since these things would prove perilous to the church’s success. We are now living with the consequences of this. In America 45% say they are born again, but only 9% have even the slightest clue about the most minimal biblical understanding to what it means to live an ethical life as a disciple. In America today, being born again counts for nothing. The chickens have come home to roost. We are not far from the very difficulties that the author of Hebrews identifies in these early Christians. We have pulled back from the uniqueness and centrality of Christ. They did it out of fear for their safety, but we are doing it out of fear that we may not be successful. This is a serious miscalculation! The only Christ we have to preach is the one the Bible gives us.

We today live in a period between the already and the not yet. We have been redeemed in full, for there is nothing that needs to be added to Christ’s work and nothing that can be added or can be taken from what He did. But we know ourselves to be not yet fully redeemed. We live, in other words, between Hebrews 10:13 (He sat down, waiting from that time, until His enemies should be destroyed) and what Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:24 (when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every power). We are living in this period between the time when the outcome to the chess game has been decided and the time when the last futile move is made. We live in a fallen world full of painful complexities and sometimes jarring brutalities. But there is another side. These painful experiences that sometimes consume us, none of these is the final word. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. And not even death is the last and final word. We must remember the supremacy of Christ and that we are between the already and the not yet.

It is God’s pleasure that His Son should be acknowledged now for who He is. In worshiping Him for His supremacy, we simply anticipate that time when every knee will bow. God takes pleasure in what we are doing now. We have been returned to the purpose for which we were first created.

September 29, 2006

It was just about a year ago that I first liveblogged a conference. I posted the following:

By the time you read this I should be well on my way to Minneapolis. It is amazing how three hours worth of flying can consume an entire day. It will take about an hour to get to the airport and of course I have to be at the airport at least two hours in advance so I can clear security and customs. I then have a three-hour layover in Milwaukee before I finally board the plane for Minnesota. It seems that the total travel time, from my house to the hotel in downtown Minneapolis will be something like nine hours, only three of which will be in the air. Of course I fully intend to use this time to catch up on some reading and writing.

If you happen to live between Toronto and Minneapolis and see a MidWest Airlines jet fly over, feel free to wave. If I see you I’ll wave back.

Since the 2005 Desiring God National Conference I have been blessed with the privilege of blogging several other notable conferences. This weekend I will be completing a circle of sorts by returning to Minneapolis to blog the 2006 Desiring God National Conference. Strangely enough, my itinerary this time is exactly the same. However, this time I am travelling with two friends and will spent my three hour layover in Milwaukee meeting and having lunch with a long-time reader of this site who just happens to live there.

This weekend’s conference will confront the issue of “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.” David Wells, Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, will set the stage for us on the theme, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. Don Carson, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will speak on “The Supremacy of Christ and Love in a Postmodern World.” Tim Keller, Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, will address “The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World.” Mark Driscoll, the Lead Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, will aim at the topic “The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World.” Voddie Baucham, the founder and leader of Voddie Baucham Ministries in Texas, will tackle the theme “The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World.” John Piper’s address will focus on “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World.”

John Piper writes, “We would like to worship this Christ with you. That is what we plan to do: speak, think, pray, and worship the supreme Christ.” I hope you’ll check in over the course of the weekend, which lasts from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, to read updates from the conference. I am travelling with a laptop and a camera and hope to bring updates both textual and visual, that will provide a sense of what is being said, what is being done, and who is here to enjoy the conference.

I also covet your prayers. I get occasional emails from others who have liveblogged conferences and they always write, “I can’t believe how hard it is!” And they are right! It is a difficult task and one that always makes me nervous (and even more so when having to attempt to encapsulate what is said by a guy as brilliant as David Wells). I’d be grateful if you would pray for wisdom and ability for me as I try to accurately relay what happens in the conference.

I should have my first update later this evening.

September 28, 2006

A couple of days ago I responded briefly to an article that appeared in Scientific American (link). I did not attempt a thorough defense of creationism that would convince a person who was committed to evolutionism. I sought primarily to show that the argumentation used was, at best, high school level, and that the arguments were easily answered. This article, though, triggered other thoughts and I wanted to discuss something I’ve written about before: the fact that naturalism is a religion all its own. As a long-time Christian - one who never experienced adulthood without knowing God and who had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home - it is often difficult to understand what people raised with a secular mindset think and believe and why they think and believe those things. Said tersely, it has proven difficult to truly understand the postmodern mindset. Through my studies, however, I have made some observations that I believe accurately represent this mindset. It is to one of those that I wish to turn today.

There is a realization that has dawned on me slowly that concerns Naturalism which I will treat as being near-synonymous with Darwinism. In short, Naturalism is the belief that the natural world as we know and experience it is all that exists. To put this in religious terms, we could say that Naturalism teaches that ultimate truth does not depend on supernatural experiences, supernatural beings or divine revelation; instead it can be derived from the natural world. Perhaps Carl Sagan expressed this most clearly in his Cosmos series which he prefaced with the statement “The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Naturalism is a belief that is firmly embedded in our society. The field of science wants nothing to do with a Creator or a universe that has been intelligently designed. Naturalism is taught as law in the school systems and is held as being objective truth. Religious beliefs, values and morals are thought to exist on a separate, subjective level that should not be held us universally true. Science is objective truth and exists in a public realm; values are subjective beliefs that exist in a private realm. The late Christopher Reeve, in discussing groundbreaking research techniques that were condemned by some religious leaders as being amoral, said that religious beliefs can have no place at the table when discussing science, thus indicating his belief that science is more objective and more universally true than religion. Again, science is public fact whereas values are private beliefs. Those beliefs may be important to the individual, but they are not grounded in nature and hence should not extend beyond the individual. This bifurcated system (a fact/value dichotomy) is inseparable from the postmodern mindset.

What dawned on me a year or two ago is that Naturalism, as it is ingrained in the postmodern mindset and in the educational system, is far more than an explanation as to the origins of the world. Naturalism is a full-blown worldview, and in reality, is a religious system that stands in direct opposition to Christianity. One does not need to look far today to find Naturalists that make this admission. Michael Ruse, a well-known evolutionist says “evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity…Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and is true of evolution still today.” (Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, page 172)

Perhaps at this time it would be helpful to define the term “worldview.” Nancy Pearcey, in Total Truth says “[E]ach of us carries a model of the universe inside our heads that tells us what the world is like and how we should live in it. We all seek to make sense of life. Some convictions are conscious, while others are unconscious, but together they form a more or less consistent picture of reality.” This is a worldview. Lifeway, a company that develops Christian curricula, says a worldview is “The composite set of presuppositions, beliefs, and values a person possesses that shape how he or she sees reality and determines how he or she will act. It refers to the collective set of fundamental convictions people hold and on which they base their actions.” Using these definitions, we can understand that there are varying worldviews available to us. We can see also that a person’s worldview begins to be shaped from the moment he is born, as presuppositions and unconscious convictions combine with conscious beliefs and values to form a worldview that form a “more of less consistent picture of reality.” Thus a person experiences reality through his worldview which serves as a lens to interpret and understand life. We must conclude that a worldview shaped by Naturalism, where nature is all that is, was or ever will be, must be diametrically opposed to a worldview shaped by Christian principles which teach that God is the eternal, self-existent One who created and sustains the universe.

I work in the field of computers and we often use the hyphenated suffix “killer” to describe new software or hardware. For example, the operating system Linux was considered by some to be a Windows-killer in that it provided a better but incompatible alternative to Microsoft’s Windows operating system and many believed that it would soon relegate Windows to the trash heap of history. Recently Mozilla’s Firefox has been deemed an Internet Explorer-killer because it provides a better alternative to the competing browser. This provides an apt metaphor for Naturalism, as it has become for many people a Christianity-killer. The theories of evolution, which are simply poor science, have been extended to frame an entire worldview that is directly opposed to the worldview of the Bible. Consider just two examples.

Marriage, according to the Bible, is a divinely-mandated institution and forms the very building block of society. It is not an institution God created in response to the corruption of men, but was embedded even in a perfect world. In a perfect world which God had declared to be very good, He said that it is “not good for man to be alone.” Thus He created woman to complete man and joined them in the marriage bond. A Naturalistic belief system stands in stark contrast to this. After all, if marriage is not mandated by God, it must exist only as a human institution and one that survived the process of natural selection. In other words, it exists because we have invented it and found that it worked well for us in the past. As we continue to evolve and develop we are learning that it may no longer be in our best interests to emphasize marriage relationships. Thus when we view marriage merely as a human institution we are free to enter into it, reject it, or adapt it however we see fit.

Let’s look at sexuality in the light of Scripture and Naturalism. The Bible teaches that sexuality is a gift from God, and once more, something that existed in perfection, before sin entered the world. The Scriptures further teach that sexuality is a gift that must be used in a certain manner; it is appropriate only for a man and woman within the covenant bonds of a marriage relationship. Sex is a beautiful expression of love and oneness - a gift from God to build and strengthen marriage relationships. Naturalism sees sex in an entirely different light. Sexual relationships are derived from human origins and sexual normalcy is associated with a specific culture and time. Normalcy is what works for a specific group at a specific time and is not rooted in any type of divine law. Thus when homosexuality becomes celebrated in our society, it is an expression of Naturalism.

Those who argue against homosexuality or other expressions of deviant sexuality, generally do so from the grounds of values, but Naturalists have already relegated values to a secondary realm of the subjective, where Naturalism is an expression of objective fact. Those who stand for traditional views of marriage where the institution is reserved for a man and a woman, similarly speak of values, but again, values have no objective meaning to those fully absorbed in a Naturalist worldview.

The fact is, naturalism is a complete worldview and a religion unto itself. To attempt to reconcile Darwinism, naturalism and evolution with Christianity is akin to reconciling Christianity and Islam. It simply cannot be done. As I wrote in the first article, The true conflict, the conflict between evolution and creationism, is a conflict of truth and error, a conflict of God and man. Creationism embraces God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; evolutionism rejects God replaces Him with time, chance and opportunity. The debate between creationism and evolutionism is by no means senseless, for it is a defense of the truth and a defense of the One who is Truth.

September 28, 2006

Thursday September 28, 2006

Bible: The ESV has reached a five-year milestone. The ESV blog has details. “Today, the ESV is available in more than one hundred formats, has seen nearly 3 million copies distributed worldwide, and is reaching the world in creative and strategic ways.”

Preaching: Tony Reinke has completed a series on using the wealth of Puritan literature in expositional studies. You can get a link on the sidebar of this page.

Books: At “Neither Right Nor Left” is a list of potential future books. He has scraped together information dropped in interviews, etc.

September 27, 2006

PodcastI’ve gone and done it. This is my very first podcast. For those who don’t know, a podcast is really just an audio file that can be listened to either through a normal media player or through a kind of subscription. Both options are available to you. If you don’t know about podcasting and don’t want to, simply follow the instructions below to listen to it the old fashioned way.

I was thrilled to have Dr. Mark Dever join me on this podcast and allow me to interview him barrage him with questions. I’ve got a lot to learn about podcasting and about interviewing, but I gave it the ol’ college try. There were a couple of problems with the audio quality, but I hope I’ve learned enough to remedy them next time. In the future I’ll likely talk more and such, but for this first one I was content mostly to listen to Dr. Dever.

The podcast is not yet available in the iTunes podcast directory, so until that happens, here is how you can listen to it:

To Subscribe To The Podcast

If you are using iTunes or another media player capable of playing podcasts, you may want the RSS feed address:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/challies/podcast

For iTunes, highlight that address and select “Copy.” Then open iTunes, select “Advanced” from the main menu and then “Subscribe to Podcast.” Paste the address into that box and click “OK.” iTunes will then download the podcast and play it for you. It will also notify you when a new podcast becomes available.

To Simply Listen To The Audio

I’d prefer that, if you wish to listen to just this audio, rather than listening to it in your browser, you save the file to your computer and listen to it in your audio player. To do that, simply right-click on this link and select “Save Link As” in Firefox or “Save Target As” in Internet Explorer. Simply let the file download to your computer and then open it in your favorite media player (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc).

Enjoy!

(By the way, that was Mark Dever’s phone ringing, not mine!)