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Desiring God Conference Reflections
October 03, 2006
After eating a delicious meal of soda crackers chased by warm, flat ginger ale, I’ve been able to crawl off the couch for a few minutes to get some writing done. I wanted to be sure to spend a few minutes reflecting on the Desiring God Conference before the memories began to fade. I fear that what I will remember most clearly about this weekend is the food poisoning I managed to contract just before I left Minneapolis. And on that topic, thanks for all those who have expressed concern. I do think I am over the worst of it and hope to be back on my feet (and back at my desk) by tomorrow. Aileen took very good care of me. I am so grateful that I made it home before the illness struck with earnest!
I always find it difficult to measure the success of a conference or to measure just how much it impacted me. I take a certain set of expectations to each conference I attend and find that sometimes these expectations are met, sometimes they are exceeded and sometimes I realize they were just plain unrealistic. People go to conferences for different reasons. Some people attend with a husband or wife as an opportunity to have a weekend away; others attend because the teaching at their local churches is poor and conferences represent an opportunity to enjoy a weekend of solid, biblical teaching; others attend simply because they like the atmosphere of conferences. I suspect there are as many reasons for attending as there are people in attendance. Each of these people will weigh the weekend differently in their minds.
I have the rather unique privilege of liveblogging conferences. This represents a challenge in that I often have to wait until after the conference to read through my notes and discover what I think about what has happened. I keep so busy writing, taking photographs, and editing what I have written that I have very little time for reflection. This was particularly true this weekend since the wireless Internet connection at the Convention Center was unavailable and I had to walk some distance in order to post my summaries (this was, by the way, in no way the fault of Desiring God). Though it seems to be a small thing, it impacted me significantly. I guess I felt that I wasn’t really in control this weekend, but continually felt like I was behind in my writing and was unable to give it my best effort. And it is too bad that I wasn’t able to do better, I think, because I felt that this was a very significant conference.
As I began to reflect on the conference, I turned to John Piper’s invitation to the conference. He wrote:
Our aim is to call the church to a radical and very old vision of the Man, Jesus Christ-fully God, fully sovereign, fully redeeming by his substitutionary, wrath-absorbing death, fully alive and reigning, fully revealed for our salvation in the inerrant Holy Bible, and fully committed to being preached with human words and beautifully described with doctrinal propositions based on biblical paragraphs. We love Dorothy Sayers’ old saying, “The Dogma is the Drama.” We think the post-propositional, post-dogmatic, post-authoritative ‘conversation’ is post-relevant and post-saving.
Of the six keynote addresses delivered at this conference, the two that stand out in my mind as best reaching these goals are Voddie Baucham’s “The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World” and John Piper’s “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World.” These two stood out for two reasons. First, I thought Piper and Baucham spoke with both conviction and passion. Second, I felt that they thoroughly and pointedly covered the topic that had been assigned to them. In making these points I do not wish to indicate the the other speakers failed, but merely to suggest that I felt that these two men went above and beyond.
While I had heard Baucham’s name prior to the conference, I had never read anything he had written or heard any of his speeches or sermons. Because of this I had no real expectations. In his address he compared secular humanism, the predominant worldview of our day with a biblical perspective. I found his speech tremendously helpful in understanding the spirit of this age and in understanding just what a privilege it is to be set free from the hopelessness of secular humanism. He pointed directly at Christ as the only hope, the only answer, to hopelessness. “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.”
John Piper’s Sunday morning “sermon,” though not classically expository in nature, was also very powerful. It was clearly a direct response to the teachings and beliefs of the Emerging Church, but it was done in a way that was tender and pastoral. Piper seems to be embracing his role as a father figure or elder statesman within the church. He was passionate for the truth and was filled with deep love and concern both for the truth and for those who have fallen under the sway of teachings that deny the truth. I expect and hope that this sermon will be widely distributed and that many of those who have embraced the Emerging Church will listen to it and be convicted by it. In fact, I would love to see some of the Emergent leaders respond to it and interact with it. I would have no hesitation in recommending this message to anyone who was investigating Emergent teachings and, of all the responses available on this subject, can think of none that are better.
I think Mark Driscoll’s address also bears some mention. Generally speaking, I think he did very well with the opportunity given to him. I think Mark has a great deal to offer the church and hope he can continue to refine his presentation so that it carries the same seriousness or gravitas as the message he seeks to share. I was blessed by his session and was glad to see him affirm all that he affirmed. As you may have heard, John Piper gently admonished Mark. I’ll quote Josh Harris who explains it:
Piper began by explaining how he thinks about who he hangs out with and how he decides who to invite to speak. “I have a litmus paper and its called theology,” he said. He referenced a point Driscoll had made in his talk about the importance of holding certain unchanging truths in our left hand that are the non-negotiables of the faith, while being willing to contextualize and differ on secondary issues and stylistically (these are “right hand” issues). Driscoll had listed nine issues we need to contend for, including the authority of God’s word, the sovereignty of God, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the exclusivity of Christ, and gender roles, to name a few.
So Piper said, “If he [Driscoll] has those nine things in his left hand, I’m not even going to look at his right hand.” The audience clapped loudly for this. Then Piper went on to share that he does have some differences with Driscoll on some so-called “right hand” issues of style, which he feels free to share with Driscoll. He went on to share a specific one, noting that Driscoll would get to see this on video. (This was the moment I was glad I wasn’t Mark!)
As if he were speaking to Mark, he said (and I paraphrase), “A pastor cannot be clever and show Christ as glorious. Mark Driscoll, you’re clever. You have an amazing ability to turn a phrase and make statements that draw people back week after week. But it’s dangerous. So many pastors will see you and try to imitate you and then try to watch all the movies and TV shows so they can try to be like you.” In essence, Piper was bringing correction to certain aspects of Driscoll’s style and delivery, while stating that they agreed on the most important issues of doctrine.
I would hesitate to draw as firm a line as Piper has, as I think the right hand issues can be sufficiently important that they merit attention when considering a speaker. Having said that, I do not think it was wrong of him to ask Mark Driscoll to speak at this conference. Mark made a unique contribution.
At any rate, I think that Desiring God’s 2006 National Conference was a tremendous success by almost any measure. I benefited from it a great deal and know that those I travelled with did as well. It will take some time to gauge the long-term impact both in my life and in the church, but I trust God will be gracious in allowing the truths that were shared this weekend to resound through my heart and throughout the church. I look forward to the book that is sure to follow this conference. I also look forward to reading the experiences of others who were able to attend.
I’ll end with a personal note. I was blessed to travel this weekend with two friends: my pastor, Paul, and a new friend also named Paul. I enjoyed their company and was blessed to be able to spend so much time with them. I also enjoyed meeting many of you who read this site and treasure your words of encouragement. And finally, it was great to spend time, however brief, with new friends and old: Tim McNeely, Annette Harrison, Timmy Brister, Justin Taylor, Amy Hall, Roger Overton, Alex Chediak, and others. Bashing the Yankees with C.J. Mahaney was a special highlight (And you know what, I think he was right and that we actually did see Harold Baines checking in at the Hilton).
Finally, the audio recordings from the conference are now available online. You can download them at the following links:
The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World
John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Justin Taylor
A Conversation with the Pastors
The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World
Voddie Baucham, John Piper, D. A. Carson, David Wells, Justin Taylor
I have a special request for those who first read my liveblogged summaries and who are now going to listen to the audio. I’d appreciate it if you would send me an email (see the contact page) or leave a comment letting me know whether you felt my summary was helpful and accurate. I continue to attempt to refine this thing called liveblogging and am eager for any pointers you may be able to provide.