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Desiring God Conference 2006

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:

David Wells
The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Justin Taylor
A Conversation with the Pastors

Voddie Baucham
The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World

Tim Keller
The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World

Mark Driscoll
The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World

Voddie Baucham, John Piper, D. A. Carson, David Wells, Justin Taylor
Speaker Panel

D.A. Carson
The Supremacy of Christ and Love in a Postmodern World

John Piper
The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World (Transcript

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.

October 01, 2006

This morning we come to Sunday morning worship and the final session of the 2006 Desiring God National Conference. John Piper will lead us in a message entitled “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World.” I have not yet had a chance to edit this, so you’re getting it as-is for now! I won’t be in front of a computer again until I get back to Toronto this evening.

As with D.A. Carson last night, John Piper will preach from John 17, though he will focus on the thirteenth verse. He will first preach a short version and then a long version.

Two points: First, Jesus’ greatest joy is in His Father’s glory. Jesus joy in doing the will of His Father, but the joy is deeper than the doing. The perfect obedience of the Son is sustained by joy, not equal to joy. The joy that is set before Him is reunion with His Father and being reunited with Him in fullness. When He says that He wants you to be filled up with that joy, He wants you to enjoy the Father than way He enjoys the Father. The second point is He says this joy is conveyed from Him to you so it becomes your joy by means of Spirit-illumined, understandable propositions. He speaks words and propositions that His joy might be fulfilled in them. He is not toying with them and not tantalizing them. The Holy Spirit will take these things and reveal them to you.

Joy is doctrinally-based if it is going to glorify Jesus Christ. It is to be in the face of the contemporary debunking of propositional revelation and the debunking of biblical doctrine and the debunking of expositional preaching. There are other ways of obtaining joy, but not Christ-exalting joy.

Ten steps in a mounting argument for this short message:

1. God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this one God—is the only Being who has no beginning; and therefore everything else and everyone is dependent on Him for existence and for value, and is, therefore, less valuable than God. Neither of these points is part of the postmodern worldview. God does not get His being or character from anyone or anything outside Himself. He just is! Therefore, there is a difference of valuable between Him and us that is incalculably great. He has made us the children of God, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, but that truth you will never treasure as you ought until you believe you are incalculably less valuable than God.

2. From eternity God has been supremely joyful in the fellowship of the Trinity, so that He has no discontent or defect or deficiency what would prompt Him to create the world. God does not act out of need but always out of willful determination. He acts out of fullness. God has enjoyed the Son infinitely forever and has no need of us. We have, therefore, been created out of fullness rather than need. Someday we will be allowed to enter into this joy.

3.God created human beings in His image so that He might be known and enjoyed by them and in that way display the supreme value of His glory—that is the beauty of His manifold perfections. God gave us hearts and minds with the capacity for reflection and affection so we would not glorify Him like mountains and stars do. These declare the glory of God, but not like we do. We have minds so we can grasp His glory and consciously know it like no other being knows it and then because we have seen it, we would savor it, love it, delight in it, and thus reflect its value. God did make a mistake when he made us with minds and emotions. His main purpose was to have His glory reflected by being known and enjoyed. We were given brains to know Him and we were given hearts so He might be enjoyed.

4.The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world, lived a perfect life, died to bear the panalty for our sins, absorbed the wrath of God that hung over us, rose from the dead triumphant over death so all who receive Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Treasure of their lives would know and enjoy God forever. If only this were no controversial today. In postmodernism there is no place for the wrath of God and thus no place for a wrath-bearing Savior. This means there is no place for the gospel. God is not mocked! His Word stands firm, clear and merciful to us. “This is not hard to see in the Bible and it is precious beyond words!” “I don’t like to get angry at those who call themselves evangelicals…this is not fun…it is heartbreaking…but what can you do when they attack the center with blasphemous cynicism.” In our fallen condition, rebellious as we are, nothing is more crucial for humanity postmodern or any other kind, than to escape the omnipotent wrath of God. But escape from hell is not the ultimate goal of the cross…but it is infinitely necessary. The ultimate goal of the cross, the ultimate good of the good news, is clear in 1 Peter 3:18—Christ suffered that He might bring us to God.

5. The enjoyment of God above all else is the deepest way that God’s glory if reflected back to Him. The enjoyment of God terminates on God alone and is not performed as a means to anything else. It is the deepest reverberation in the heart of man of the value of God’s glory. This statement, if true, changes everything for we see how high this elevates joy in the universe. We do good works as a means of many things but cannot and must not try to enjoy God to a means to anything. We do not choose joy in God as an act for the sake of something beyond God for this isn’t the way joy works. God thought up from all eternity this reality called joy because it carries so much of His value when it happens; nothing else is like it. You do not enjoy your wife so she will make you supper. You do not enjoy playing ball with your son so that he will wash the car. You do not enjoy a sunset so that you can become a poet. There are no “so that’s” after joy. He is arguing that joy was designed as the deepest way to reflect His value. It is the very nature of joy to be a spontaneous response of something you value and so it reveals more than anything what you treasure. Joy is unique in its capacity to display witness we value. There is no such thing as hypocritical joy. Joy is either there as a testimony to what you treasure or it is not there. God knew what He was doing when He gave us the capacity to know with our minds and enjoy with our hearts.

6. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of God in Christ is the spring of all visible acts of self-denying sacrificial love that displays to others the worth of God in our lives. God can see the reflection of his worth hidden in our heart’s enjoyment of his glory. But God aims at more than hidden reflections. He aims for his glory to be visible to others not just to himself. Therefore, God has constituted us so that our enjoyment of Him overflows in our love to others. Acts of love that flow from joy in God bring God glory visibly (“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father.”). How does this happen? What is the light that, if it shone through your good deeds, would awaken glory to God, not to you. The answer to that is in the context of the chapter. Work up through the “salt” to the verse immediately before that. “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely. Rejoice in that day because great is your reward in heaven for his name is Jesus.” If the world makes it hard for you to like them by saying false things about you, and you cannot rejoice in God, your light can’t shine. You can gut out a few good deeds and receive the glory, but if the miracle would happen and contentment would come, you rejoice and your love flows within that context, the world has a problem figuring that out. They might just, by grace, say “God is great.” “I so want to be that way…” The postmodern world must hear the gospel proclaimed and must see the glory of God flowing in many streams of radical self-sacrificing deeds of love. Joy in God is the headwaters from which those streams of love flow. That is how the glory of God becomes visible.

7. The only joy that reflects the worth of God and overflows in God-glorifying love is rooted in the true knowledge of God. The only God-glorifying joy that flows from the mystery of what we don’t know about God rises from the projection into the unknown of what we do know. And to the degree that our knowledge is small or flawed, our projections will probably be distortions, and the joy based on them a poor echo of his true excellence. This paragraph is an intentional response to the postmodern minimalizing of propositional truth. Twice Jesus said “these things I have spoken to you that my joy might be in you and your joy might be full.” Pastors become ambassadors for those words and arguments and propositions. This is the job of a pastor. Don’t let propositions be mocked in your presence. The main thing that comes through words when the Holy Spirit uses them is God. “The Lord revealed Himself to God through Samuel by the word of the Lord” (1 Sam 3:21). If our joy is going to be Christ-exalting and God-glorifying, it must be rooted in the mind’s perception of the truth of what makes God glorious. If our joy is to reflect the glory of God, it must flow through the mind’s perception of what is true about the glory of God. Jesus is not honored most by the exploration of various Christologies anymore than your wife would be honored by your indecision concerning her character. Jesus is honored by our knowing and treasuring Him for who He really is. He is a real person, a fact, a fixed, unchanging reality in the universe independent of how you feel about Him. Our feelings about Him reflect the value we put upon Him. So what is the place of mystery? “I’ve got something exciting to say to you? What? I’m not going to tell you!” How does mystery work? The Bible says that we now see as in a glass dimly and then face to face. That’s mystery. What I know about God is so small compared to what I will someday know about God it would be hard to describe the ratio. So what is the function of that statement in the Bible for my emotions about God? How should the unknowing on the other side on the other side of the mirror effect this side? Unknowing is only glorifying to God if it is a project of what we do know. We believe in mystery.

8. Therefore, the right knowledge of God and His ways is the servant of God-glorying God joy in God and God-glorying love for people. Having ignorance of God and believing falsehoods about God hinder God-glorying joy and God-glorying love. That is, ignorance of God and errors in our thinking about God hinder God-glorying friendships and Christ-exalting camaraderies. Two questions to Emergent types: first, are there any statements which, if your friend really believes him, would destroy him? A statement like “Jesus is not God” or “God is unjust” and so on. If so, then wouldn’t denying those statements in his presence and defending the truth sustain the friendship and not stifle it? Second, do you not believe that the greater the shared vision of God, the deeper the friendship? The emergent ethos uproots friendship from the solid ground of biblical doctrine.

9. Therefore, let us not marginalize or minimize healthy biblical doctrine about the nature of God and the work of God in Christ, but rather let us embrace it and cherish it and build our friendships and our churches on it.

10. And thus may the Church become the pillar and buttress of the truth and therefore of joy, and therefore of love, and therefore the display of the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ in all things, which is the very reason for which we were created.

October 01, 2006

D.A. Carson will lead tonight’s session, the second to last at this conference. He will speak about “The Supremacy of Christ and Love in a Postmodern World.”

Carson began by reading all of the seventeenth chapter of John (a passage commonly known as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer). My generation, he said, was taught to sing “what the world needs now is love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” This song is remarkably vague when it deals with love. Love for whom? Motivated by what? It fails to acknowledge holiness, joy in the Lord, obedient hearts, recognition of our creatureliness. The song has just enough truth that we can feel good about ourselves as we give advice to the Almighty but not enough to reflect on what God teaches about love. By contrast, in John 17 Jesus utters five specific petitions for His followers, including one that deals with love and two or three others related to love. These five specific petitions are interwoven and awesomely grounded in God and the gospel. They are grounded in God’s intratrinitarian love—the love of the members of the godhead for each other. There are give principles but they are so interwoven that pulling one will destroy the whole. They are bound up with the truth that God is love.

We will trace out these five petitions and in each case will note the petition itself and the reason or ground behind this petition and then the purpose for this petition. After we’ve surveyed these five we’ll thinking theologically and pastorally about them.

1. Jesus prays that God will keep His followers safe (verses 11, 12 and 15) while they live out their lives in this world, and in particular protect them from the devil. The reason for this petition is that Jesus is going away. He had protected them Himself to this point but He now is about to go to the cross. Who will protect them then? In the farewell discourse that task is assigned to the Holy Spirit who will be given to them. Despite knowing what is coming, His thoughts are not for Himself but for His followers. He wants them to be kept safe from the world to which they no longer belong. He wants them to be one as the godhead are one. The danger is that they will hate each other, that they will divide and devour each other. That is part of the onslaught of the evil one.

2. Jesus prays that His disciples may be one (verses 21-23). The purpose of the first petition becomes a petition of its own (proving that these petitions get intermingled), that the people of God may be one even as God is one. The purpose is that so the world may believe that Jesus was sent by God. This is clearly, at one level, missiological. If we reflect something of the glory of God by our oneness, then we are gradually teaching the world a bit of what God is like. But the way it is worded is fascinating. The way it is worded shows that Jesus is interested in the vindication of God; of Christ. It is not “that the world may believe and be saved,” but that the world may believe the truth about Jesus—so that His claims are vindicated.

3. That God would sanctify Jesus’ followers (verse 17). The reason or standard by which they are sanctified is by the truth. This is a common theme in Scripture. Jesus offers a pattern, using Himself as the example of one who sanctified Himself. What does Christ mean by this? Surely it does not mean that He has grown in sanctification! No, for He knew no sin. He was never sanctified in a progressive sense, but rather He so set Himself to do God’s will that by sanctifying Himself He goes to the cross and affects our sanctification. Now Jesus prays “sanctify them by the truth of the gospel.”

4. That Jesus’ disciples would experience the full measure of His joy (verse 13). It is remarkable that Jesus said this as He was going to the cross. He wanted this because He was going to the Father and His disciples would no longer see Him. He wanted them to know that His joy and delight and pleasure was doing the Father’s will. He wants them to find their pleasure in the same, in their enthusiastic conformity to the Father’s will. He is saying these things now so they will remember and know why He went to the cross.

5. Jesus prays that His followers will be with Him forever (verse 24). In the Old Testament God promises to dwell with His people. The ultimate goal now is for God to dwell with His people in an even more complete way. Jesus is going away to prepare a place and now we can go and dwell with Jesus. What is the reason for this? Because “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” The purpose is not simply to go to heaven to be with friends, but to be with Jesus and to see His glory. It is profoundly Jesus-centered. When they are there they discover all the more that the reason Jesus’ glory is being displayed is because the Father has loved Him before the creation of the world and determined that His glory would be displayed. We go to heaven not to be saved, but to see Jesus’ glory! Today even heaven itself has become domesticated by assumptions that we are at the center of everything. But it is Jesus who is at the center of everything because God loved Him before the foundation of the world.

Now we must focus on what is said about love. It will be helpful to trace out how the themes of John’s gospel work into this prayer.

The supremacy of Jesus Christ in the mediation of God’s love. Begin with verses 25 and 26. All the purpose of this redemptive plan is bound up with the glorious prospect of knowing this love which Christ has already known. These verses at the end of the chapter harks back to the beginning of the chapter, repeating the same themes in different words. This cannot be unpacked without seeing the theme of glory in John’s gospel. John 1:14-18 have six references back to Exodus 32-34. One of these references is to glory. John picks up this theme again in the next chapter and in chapter 12 (verse 23 and following). The very revelation of Jesus Christ is out of the matrix of the Father’s love for the Son, including going to the cross and returning to the glory He had before the world began. All of God’s love for us is precisely mediated by all of His love for the Son on the cross. In very practical terms, how can you demonstrate God’s love? We can talk about the beauty and goodness of creation, but to see the clearest display of the goodness and glory of God we must look to the cross, for all of God’s love is mediated to us by His love for His Son.

The role of Jesus Christ in the Trinitarian experience of God’s love. We can turn here to John 5:15 and following where we see Jesus doing something that the pharisees considered a desecration of the Sabbath. Jesus could have come along and explained that the Pharisees’ interpretation was, to quote Carson, “screwball.” They could have had a nice spiritual conversation. Instead Jesus ups the ante by saying “God is working and I am working too.” Whatever justification works for God working on the Sabbath works also for Jesus. Jesus is not seeking to make Himself equal and alternate to God, but to be one with God. What follows, then, is a discussion of Jesus’ sonship. His sonship is bound up with love. For us, sonship is bound up with genes. But in the first century, sonship had another set of associations because it was bound up in another world where the overwhelming majority of sons did vocationally what their fathers did. You got your education and formation from your father. You learn the tricks of the trade from your father. Out of this is the fact that Jesus is not only the son of the carpenter, but is called the carpenter. He is identified with the family business. Jesus has been accused of making Himself equal with God, and now in verse 19 He says that the Son can only do what His Father is doing, for He can only do what the Father is doing for the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He is doing. This passage shows Jesus’ functional dependance on His Father. This concept is repeated in verse thirty. It comes again in chapter 8:29. There is a remarkable subordination of the Son to the Father in John’s gospel. But there is simultaneously a coordinated action in which they act together. The Son may petition the Father, but He does not command the Father.

The exclusiveness of Jesus Christ in our experience of God’s love. It follows that the ultimate purpose of Jesus going to the cross is to obey His Father. The reason why God has given everything for the Son to do is that He loves the Son and He is determined that everyone worship the Son. The first thing that drives the Son to the cross is His love for the Father. The doctrine of justification, when it is clearly defined, is that God is vindicated. God is glorified. God’s ways are acknowledged as right. All of this comes from the intra-trinitarian love of God. And then you are prepared to love John 3:16. God gave the Son whom He had loved in eternity past and whom He was determined that all should honor. He gave His Son. “This is past finding out. That is just…past finding out.”

The grounding of all that Jesus prays for in John 17 is this oneness of Jesus and the Father. When we respond to the love of God, we must respond as the eternal Son did in the perfection of obedience. We are to be perfectly one because we are modelling our oneness on the very triune God. The perfection of love for the Son to the Father is to be mirrored in the love of Christian to Christian, that the world may know the Father sent the Son.

There are many scholars who say that John’s gospel is unseemly and sectarian. What they say is that in Matthew’s gospel we are told to love our enemies, but in John’s gospel we are to love each other as fellow believers. There is a decline in the quality of love as the Scripture is written. That is utterly blaspemous, because this love from believer to believer is to be a reflection of the love of the members of the Trinity.

So what does this have to do with postmodernism? There have recently been quite a number of books that say the essence of the gospel is in the first and second great commandments. Some books now also want to say we need to study the teaching of Jesus and find out what the gospel is. “This is tragic beyond utterance.” We now speak of “the gospel of John” and “the gospel of Mark” but this is something new. In the first century they said “the gospel according to Mark or John.” They each bring their own perspective to the one gospel.; they do not each bring their own. There is no good news without the cross and the resurrection. If you start thinking the gospel is the two great commandments and don’t think it necessary to also speak of the cross and the resurrection, you have missed the gospel of the Bible.

Here are some photos from day two of the conference.

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.

July 06, 2004

Hang on to your hats, because I am about to spiritualize (and very possibly trivialize) one of the great laws of physics. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, in its simplest form, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look around and you will see this law in action every day.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion replay of a big boxing match where the broadcasters show the punch that finished the match? A gloved fist flies towards a face and at the moment of impact you can see the law in effect. As the glove meets the face, it reacts according to the amount of force applied to it. When the fist meets flesh, the point of impact is compressed inwards – perhaps a cheek is pressed into the boxer’s mouth. As that happens, the force of the punch pushes the entire head in the same direction as the fist is travelling. The opposite cheek sags eerily outward and a spray of sweat flies off the man’s body. The action of the fist striking with stunning force produces an equal and opposite physical reaction.

While this law is true in the physical world the framework of this law applies equally to Truth. Through history we have seen that for every Truth God reveals about Himself, there arises an equal and opposite error. Whenever God has chosen to reveal new Truth about Himself, an opposite falsehood has arisen to lead people astray from the Lord.

The history of Truth’s progressive revelation to mankind is not constant. Through history we have seen that for truth to progress, God must first reveal it in an objective sense. There must then be a combined effort on the part of God and men to subjectively reveal that Truth to church or society. Where the objective revelation may take place in a moment or a day, the subjective revelation may take years or ages. Consider God’s revelation of His Law to Moses. In just a short while He wrote the Law on the tablets, objectively giving His Law to a particular man. It was then the combined task of God and Moses to subjectively integrate these Laws into society.

History, then, when viewed through a wide lens, is a series of these great epochs as God first makes an objective revelation and men then slowly integrate this Truth into society. The first is an action on God’s part and the second is a reaction on the part of men. While there is always a positive action in reaction to Truth, there is also an opposite negative reaction that arises in direct opposition.

J.A. Wylie describes the waves of action and reaction as being similar to the tide rising on a beach. A great wave crashes down on the beach, and for a moment it seems that the beach and the land beyond must be flooded. But in a moment the ocean’s fury is spent and the wave retreats, washing back towards the sea. But a careful observer will see that not all the ground that was gained by the great wave has been lost. Before long another wave crashes on to the beach and more land is gained by the ocean. And thus, by a series of advances and retreats the tide flows in and the beach is gained. And so it is with Truth.

I want to briefly consider this in the contexts of four of the great epochs in history: God’s original revelation, God’s revelation to Moses, early Christianity and the Reformation.

Revelation After Creation

At the close of Creation God created a man in His own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. The crowning achievement of His Creation, man was given a position of great honor and responsibility. Man was given dominion over the earth and entrusted with the responsibility to tend it. Everything was given to him but a single tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man walked in perfect communion with God. We do not know what Truths God revealed to man at that time, but we can presume that it was just exactly what he needed – no more and no less. God told man what he needed to know to thrive in a perfect world. It was in this beautiful world that there arose the first error as Satan convinced man that He could be like God. In opposition to the Truth that man is limited and God is infinite, arose the opposite error. Satan convinced man that he could be like God. The waves receded so that by the time of Noah the Bible tells us everyone on the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, hated God and sinned continually.

Truth gradually progressed in society. But as Truth had progressed, so had error. Paganism took root as the opposite of the pure worship of God. The tower of Babel arose as men reached to the heavens to usurp the glory due only to God. We see that paganism, though in a primitive form, arose and thrived as the evil alternative to God.

Mosaic Revelation

Many years later God’s children found themselves in bondage to the Egyptians. It must have seemed like the world contained nothing but darkness and surely the Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them to their sin. But this was not so. Just when it seemed that things could not deteriorate any further, God providentially raised up Moses. After leading the people from their slavery, God gave Moses new revelation about Truth. Over the course of many years, this Truth was subjectively integrated into the Israelite society. The tabernacle and later the temple were built as places to worship God. The feast days were integrated into the calendar and the ceremonies into times of worship.

During this time error also increased in direct opposition to the pure Truth of God. Baal worship progressed in its influence and in its evil. The ceremonies of pagan worship grew in proportion to match the ceremonies of god-ordained worship. God’s people were continually led astray by more developed forms of pagan idolatry that directly contradicted true worship.

The Early Church

Jesus’ death marked the end of the Mosaic era. The ceremonial and judicial laws were fulfilled in the Savior. In place of law and ceremony God planted a church – a church that was not merely an extension of His plan for His people but was the fulfillment of His plan. His plan all along led to this church, composed of men and women, Jew and Gentile, black and white – a church of people from all races united in their love of God. But the laws of truth were in effect even then, and there quickly arose opposite errors. The simplicity of the early church was polluted as jealous men fought for rank and position. Whatever God instituted was quickly matched by a corrupt opposite. Simplicity gave way to symbolism, free grace to man’s work and sacrament to ritual. The early church gave way to a Roman religion that for over a millennium seemed to hold back the tide of Truth’s progress.

The Reformation

Once more the waves receded so that the beach again appeared to be bare. Once more it seemed that God had allowed the shadow to cover the earth. But there, in the 16th Century a light flickered. God allowed one man, Martin Luther, to take a stride forward in Truth. Following in Luther’s footsteps other men came to rediscover great truths that had seemingly been lost since the time of the apostles. Within just a few years this Truth had been integrated into Christianity in the movement that came to be known as the Reformation. Similarly, within a few years, there had arisen errors to match these ones. As truth unfolded in a more complete form, so more complex errors were invented. Arminianism arose as a means of lessening the terrifying prospect of God’s absolute sovereignty. Catholicism continued its corruption, attacking the principles of Protestantism – Christ’s sufficiency, His completed work and God’s free grace.

And So On

And so it continues. Even in our present day, hundreds and thousands of years after these great revelations, Truth marches on. The truths God revealed to Adam, to Moses, to the apostles and to the Reformers continue to challenge the church. There is little reason to doubt that more epochs will unfold, or perhaps are unfolding even now, as God more fully reveals Truth. As Truth progressively unfolds, error continues to oppositely assert itself.

It is of foundational importance to note that while each Truth further strengthens its position, each error further corrupts the attempts to undermine God’s revealed Truth. Each truth draws closer to perfection while each error draws closer to destruction. Just as a child lies to his parents and as his ficticious story progresses it becomes less and less plausible, so error upon error progressively undermines the position of those who fight against Truth. God’s Truth must and shall prevail. In the end error will be destroyed; Truth will reign supreme and shall be fully revealed. We will know Truth even as Truth knows us. There will be no more equal and opposite reactions to the Truth.