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Together for the Gospel 2006

May 01, 2006

As you well know, I spent much of last week in Louisville, Kentucky as I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference. While I posted many articles dealing with the content of the conference, I have written little in the way of reflection and description. And so I thought I would remedy that this morning, now that I have had a couple of days to gather my thoughts.

I set out with Paul, with whom I travelled last week, bright and early on Wednesday morning—early enough to drive to Buffalo in plenty of time to clear customs and security for a 10 AM flight. Our travel was quite uneventful but for one small hiccup. We had a layover in Pittsburgh (yes, we flew from Buffalo to Pittsburgh—from one of America’s armpits to the other!) and were set to catch a flight to Louisville at 11:40 AM. That schedule would have brought us into Louisville at approximately 1:30. This was important since I was scheduled to appear as part of a panel at the Band of Bloggers event at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at 3:00 PM. A 1:30 arrival would have given us plenty of time to find the seminary, find the correct room in the seminary, and prepare for the panel discussion. But air travel does not always work out this way. There were two flights leaving from our gate, one at 11:35 and one at 11:40. The 11:35 flight was boarded right on time. It did not take us long to notice, though, that just as that flight had been sent off, all of the gate agents had disappeared. By noon we were scratching our heads, wondering why there was not an airline employee to be seen. A pastor we met at the airport, who was also travelling to the conference, finally tracked down an employee of U.S. Airways who reported that the gate agents were involved in a job action and that they had walked off the job. He did not know when they would be able to find replacement personnel. Thankfully the airline drafted a janitor and various members of the office staff to take their place and we were underway only one hour late. We were grateful that this job action did not effect the pilots or flight crew!

We were met at Louisville airport by one of the wonderful conference volunteers who attends Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He managed to get us to the seminary with fifteen minutes to spare. I quickly met Timmy Brister, the organizer of the Band of Bloggers event. I also quickly caught up with Marc Heinrich and Justin Taylor and met, among others, Carolyn McCulley and Bob Kauflin. The four of us who were privileged to be panel members were quickly sent to the stage and we began our discussion. I thought the event went quite well. We discussed a variety of topics, only a couple of which were my “soapbox” issues that I had hoped to address. Still, it was a good meeting and one that I think will prove beneficial. At the very least, it provided an opportunity for a large crowd of bloggers to get together to discuss relevant issues and simply to put faces to names. I think this gathering of bloggers was larger than any that happened at last year’s GodBlogCon, so it may well be the largest-ever gathering of Christian bloggers!

Immediately after the session, Timmy gathered the whole group for a picture and we all signed a poster he had prepared for the purpose. Here are a couple of pictures I’ve leeched from Marc’s site. The first is proof that I do, at least occasionally, smile. The second is a picture of me trying to look smart while sharing the stage with people of far greater intellectual capacity than I:

After checking into the Galt House Hotel, where we had a spacious room on the twenty-third floor (which, most importantly, had a blistering wireless internet connection), Paul and I headed out for dinner with Justin Taylor (click here if you care to know what he looks like). Feeling too lazy to drive somewhere, we walked around the area of the hotel and eventually settled on Subway (yes, we travelled 400 miles and ate at a restaurant chain that has a franchise not two minutes from my front door!). We did not have a great deal of time, especially since Justin kept finding people far more interesting than us to talk with, but we enjoyed catching up, talking about blogging, and so on.

The conference, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House Hotel, began that evening with an introductory address by Mark Dever. You can read my notes for that session here. This address was followed, after a very short break, with a panel discussion featuring Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan.

The next day was a long one. The first session of the day began at 8:00 AM and the final session did not conclude until almost 10:00 PM. Despite the length of the day, it was a riveting time and I don’t know that anyone in the room was feeling fatigued, even long after the sun had set. We heard from Ligon Duncan (my notes), Al Mohler (my notes), R.C. Sproul my notes), and John Piper (my notes). There were also several panel discussions, including one featuring Sproul and another featuring Piper. Each of the sessions was truly remarkable. Duncan’s exhortation to preach from the Old Testament was convicting to all who heard it and is well worth the attention of any pastor. Mohler’s address about cultural engagement was very good and was most notable for the description of post-modernism through a set of terms beginning with self-. R.C. Sproul provided a solid overview of the doctrine of justification similar to what one might expect to hear if he had Sproul as a professor in seminary. Truly there is no one who does a more thorough, biblical, convicting job of explaining and applying justification than Sproul. John Piper provided, in the final session, a remarkable address that may go down as one of his finest speeches or sermons. He shared with the assembly why he feels expositional preaching is particularly glorifying to God. He was clearly overtaken by the Spirit as he preached with amazing force and conviction.

On that day I shared lunch with my friend Chris, whom I met at the Shepherd’s Conference, (and my new friend Lester) and in the evening shared dinner with Josh Harris (you know, the guy who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye.). I was greatly amused by the number of times he was asked if he was that Josh Harris. Clearly his reputation precedes him. We talked about our families, churches and about the books we hope to write some day. I greatly enjoyed my time with Josh and hope to be able to fellowship with him again in the future.

Throughout the day Marc Heinrich was continually pestering me to allow him to take a photograph of me with my finger up my nose (I can’t say I’m entirely certain why he wanted this photograph) but I eventually threw him a bone by having him take a photo of me holding a sign (a sign that was on my seat and said “Reserved: Tim Challies”). Mark quickly edited the sign and, were you so inclined, you could see the results and suggest a caption for the sign here.

The next day Josh and I caught up to take some pictures. He thought it would be fun to mock me by taking a photo of him imitating my usual far-too-serious pose:

Then we thought we’d turn it around:

I think his serious face is far better than mine. Doesn’t he look like he’s having a great time?

Paul and I were up again early on Friday morning. The day began with a passionate session led by C.J. Mahaney (my notes). He spoke from 1 Timothy 4 and exhorted pastors to watch their life and doctrine. I am certain that this session was a great challenge and encouragement to the pastors in attendance. The final session was, fittingly, led by John MacArthur (my notes). He provided a biographical address in which he reflected on four decades of gospel ministry. He spoke at length about the benefits of expository preaching. The conference then wrapped-up with a brief panel discussion between John MacArthur, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan.

Not long after the conference closed, we met up with Timmy Brister who, it turns out, was to be our host for the rest of the day. We headed for the Seminary and met with Dr. Mohler’s Research Assistant. He was kind enough to give us a tour of Dr. Mohler’s offices at the seminary and to answer hundreds of our questions. He also showed us many of the highlights from the rest of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary campus (and a beautiful campus it is!). We then made the short drive to Dr. Mohler’s house and spent an hour or so touring around Dr. Mohler’s famous (is it infamous?) library which totals a little over 30,000 volumes. It is a truly remarkable library, especially for a bibliophile like myself.

The rest of the day was spent eating, browsing bookstores and chatting with Timmy. He was a kind and gracious host and seemed only too happy to take care of us until it was time to head to the airport. Our journey home was entirely and thankfully uneventful, though we did not arrive home until well into the wee hours of Saturday morning. (Parenthetically, when I arrived at church yesterday morning I found the seat where I usually sit adorned by the “Reserved: Tim Challies” sign which Paul had apparently confiscated from me at some point during the conference. I don’t think anyone else understood the joke!)

All-in-all, the Together For The Gospel Conference was an incredible event. What stood out to me about this conference is that it will not be remembered for any particular person. I don’t know that anyone will look back and remember the words or message of one speaker far above the others. What people will remember is the collective passion for the gospel, a passion that existed not only in the hearts of the seven men who spoke, but in the 3000 who sat and listened and participated. Truly God was exalted (and exulted in) from beginning to end. The passion for the gospel seems already to have spread far beyond the people who were in attendance. I have already received many emails from around the world written by people who have read blogs and recaps and are eager to listen to the recordings and to read the speeches.

Speaking personally, while I am not a pastor and thus was not the primary audience for this conference, I left Louisville deeply challenged. As Paul can attest, the conference gave me much to think and talk about. The Spirit moved this weekend to convict me of sin in my life and to challenge me to strive towards godliness. Simply being in the presence of so many godly men—some who were on the stage, some who were in the seats, and some who labored tirelessly to serve, whether by driving cars or distributing books—encouraged me to do far better in emulating the Savior. When I attend such conferences I often have to remark that godliness can be contagious. Or at the very least, the desire for godliness can be contagious. Such was the case last week. And I am grateful.

Like most of the men present, I am already looking forward to the next conference which is to be held in 2008.

April 29, 2006

Note - This is, apparently a transcription of the document and it contains a few typos and so on. The T4G guys will be releasing a final version soon. So take this one only as a guide while you wait for the real mccoy.

We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause - to stand together for the Gospel. We are convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many churches and among many who claim the name of Christ. Compromise of the Gospel has led to the preaching of false gospels, the seduction of many minds and movements, and the weakening of the church’s Gospel witness.

As in previous moments of theological and spiritual crisis in the church, we believe that the answer to this confusion and compromise lies in a comprehensive recovery and reaffirmation of the Gospel - and in Christians banding together in Gospel churches that display God’s glory in this fallen world.

We are also brothers united in deep concern for the church and the Gospel. This concern is specifically addressed to certain trends within the church today. We are concerned about the tendency of so many churches to substitute technique for truth, therapy for theology, and management for ministry.

We are also concerned that God’s glorious purpose for Christ’s church is often eclipsed in concern by so many other issues, programs, technologies, and priorities. Furthermore, confusion over crucial questions concerning the authority of the Bible, the meaning of the Gospel, and the nature of truth itself have gravely weakened the church in terms of its witness, its work, and its identity.

We stand together for the Gospel - and for a full and gladdening recovery of the Gospel in the church. We are convinced that such a recovery will be evident in the form of faithful Gospel churches, each bearing faithful witness to the glory of God and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Article I

We affirm that the sole authority for the Church is the Bible, verbally inspired, inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient and trustworthy.

We deny that the Bible is a mere witness to the divine revelation, or that any portion of Scripture is marked by error, incompleteness, or the effects of human sinfulness.

Article II

We affirm that the authority and sufficiency of Scripture extends to the entire Bible, and therefore that the Bible is our final authority for all doctrine and practice.

We deny that any portion of the Bible is to be used in an effort to deny the truthfulness or trustworthiness of any other portion. We further deny any effort to identify a canon within the canon or, for example, to set the words of Jesus against the writings of Paul.

Article III

We affirm that the truth ever remains a central issue for the Church, and that the church must resist the allure of pragmatism and postmodern conceptions of truth as substitutes for obedience to the comprehensive truth claims of Scripture.

We deny that truth is merely a product of social construction or that the truth of the Gospel can be expressed or grounded in anything less than total confidence in the veracity of the Bible, the historicity of biblical events, and the abilityof language to convey understandable truth in sentence form. We further deny that the church can establish in its ministry on a foundation of pragmatism, current marketing techniques, or contemporary cultural fashions.

Article IV

We affirm the centrality of expository preaching in the church and the urgent need for a recovery of biblical exposition and the public reading of Scripture in worship.

We deny that God-honoring worship can marginalize or neglect the ministry of the Word as manifested through the exposition and public reading. We further deny that a church devoid of true biblical preaching can survive as a Gospel church.

Article V

We affirm that the Bible reveals God to be infinite in all his perfections, and thus truly omniscient, omnipotent, timeless, and self-existent. We further affirm that God posesses perfect knowledge of all things, past, present, and future, including human thoughts, acts, and decisions.

We deny that the God of the Bible is in any way limited in terms of knowledge or power or any other perfection or attribute, or that God has in any way limited his own perfections.

Article VI

We affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is a Christian essential, bearing witness to the ontological reality of the one true God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of the same substance and perfections.

We deny the claim that the Trinity is not an essential doctrine, or that the Trinity can be understood in merely economic or functional categories.

Article VII

We affirm that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in perfect, undiluted, and unconfused union throughout his incarnation and now eternally. We also affirm that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, as a sacrifice for sin, and as a propitiation of the wrath of God toward sin. We affirm the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as essential to the Gospel. We further affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over His church, and that Christ will reign over the entire cosmos in fulfillment of the Father’s gracious purpose.

We deny that the substitutionary character of Christ’s atonement for sin can be compromised or denied without serious injury, or even repudiation, of the Gospel. We further deny that Jesus Christ is visible only in weakness, rather than in power, Lordship, or royal reign, or, conversely, that Christ is visible only in power, and never in weakness.

Article VIII

We affirm that salvation is all of grace, and that the Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God’s sovereign purpose to save sinners and in His determination to save his redeemed people by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to His glory alone.

We deny any teaching, theological system, or means of presenting the Gospel that denies the centrality of God’s grace as His gift of unmerited favor to sinners in Christ can be considered true doctrine.

Article IX

We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s means of bringing salvation to His people, that sinners are commanded to believe the Gospel, and that the church is commissioned to preach and teach the Gospel to all nations.

We deny that evangelsim can be reduced to any program, technique, or marketing approach. We further deny that salvation can be separated from repentence toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Article X

We affirm that salvation comes to those who truly beleive and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We deny that there is salvation in any other name, or that saving faith can take any form other than conscious belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving acts.

Article XI

We affirm the continuity of God’s saving purpose and the Christological unity of the covenants. we further affirm a basic distinction between law and grace, and that the true Gospel exalts Christ’s atoning work as the consummate and perfect fulfillment of the law.

We deny that the Bible presents any other means of salvation than God’s gracious acceptance of sinners in Christ.

Article XII

We affirm that sinners are justified only through faith in Christ, and that justification by faith alone is essential and central to the Gospel.

We deny that any teaching that minimizes, denies, or confuses justification by faith alone can be considered true to the Gospel. We further deny that any teaching that separates regeneration and faith is a true rendering of the Gospel.

Article XIII

We affirm that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers by God’s decree alone, and that this righteousness, imputed to the believer through faith alone, is the only righteousness that saves.

We deny that such righteousness is earned or deserved in any manner, is infused within the believer to any degree, or is realized in the believer through anything other than faith alone.

Article XIV

We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God’s purpose is evident in fait

April 28, 2006

The final session of the conference will be led by none other than John MacArthur who will speak about “40 Years of Gospel Ministry” and who was introduced by Al Mohler.

He had us stand and read for us the first two chapters of 1 Thessalonians (from our new MacArthur Study Bibles) and then proceeded to reflect on 40 years of gospel ministry. It was a biographical address, of sorts, and one that was very interesting to hear. He told about his slow start in the ministry, introduced us to his mentors, and shared the lessons he has learned over the past four decades. Because of the somewhat rambling, reflective nature of MacArthur’s speech, it was a little more difficult to encapsulate than some sessions this week. Therefore, I have merely taken down some of the themes and individual points, perhaps without a clear thesis or theme running throughout.

MacArthur believes that a committment to expository preaching will bring about the following benefits:

1) It establishes the authority of God over the mind and soul. There is an issue in the church today over who has the right to speak in the church. Even Jesus said He spoke only that which the Father showed Him to speak. When you preach in this way people understand Who has sovereignty over their souls.

2) It exalts the lordship of Christ over His church. This may be the most assaulted doctrine in the church today. “This doctrine has sailed down to us on a sea of blood.” When you bring to the people the mind of Christ contained in the Word of God you exalt the lordship of Christ over the church.

3) It is the Word of God which the Spirit uses to save and sanctify. This is so simple: the Spirit uses the Word! If pastors won’t submit to the Word of God, what will they submit to?

4) If I never preached a sermon I would thank God for the sanctifying grace of the day after day, year after year, sanctifying grace of studying the Word of God.

5) You honor by example the priority of Bible study. People get it. They know that the Word matters to you more than anything else because the Lord matters to you more than anything else. “You are a living demonstration of hermeneutics.”

6) I never want to be guilty of giving people the illusion that they’ve heard from God when they haven’t. This is why study and proper interpretation is so critical. Expository preaching guards against say what is against the Word of God.

7) It has a massive impact on the experience of worship. Transcendence of worship is directly related to the depth of understanding of the Word of God. Those who know God best, worship God deepest.

8) It protects people from the error and carnality which is deadly to the church. You can do sermonettes for Christianettes, but this does nothing to protect them from sin, error and temptation. You give them nothing at all; you are no shepherd at all. This leaves your people absolutely defenseless.

9) The pastor should want to be a person who fully understands the mind of Christ in so far as this is possible. No matter where he is, what he does, MacArthur wants to tell people what he knows of the mind of Christ. “We should be the voice of God on every issue in our time.”

“I could say more…that’s what we all say when we run out of material.”

Having discussed the benefit of expository preaching, he turned to the benefits to the church in this type of consistent, Bible-focused ministry:

1) A church full of genuine Christians who think biblically. “I go to church at a real church.” We can go to a real church with real believers. It is the real deal!

2) People develop conviction where they have clarity. Conviction makes strength and strength has impact.

3) When you exposit the Word of God, everyone’s belief is tested at every text. “Everything I’ve ever taught has had to survive the scrutiny of the text.”

“I know what it is to be exposed in a church.” After almost four decades his people know everything about him—all of his strengths and weaknesses. He looks at this people and sees a reflection of himself and these same strengths and his weaknesses. He is constantly overwhelmed by the love of his congregation for its shepherd. He knows what it’s like to be loved, challenged, forgiven.

In the end he reflected on how stunned he is by what has come of his ministry. He insists that he really only just preaches the simple truths of the Word. “I preach what captures me. I preach what thrills me.” He sits in his study week after week just trying to get the passage right. It may be that there is no more simple, pure way of describing the task of a minister of the Word.

Bob Kauflin led us in singing “It is Well With My Soul.” We will return for one final panel session which will feature John MacArthur sitting with Dever, Duncan, Mohler and Mahaney.

April 28, 2006

We began this morning with a medly of sorts that combined “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” with “The Gospel Song.” Mark Dever than dispensed a few thank yous and introduced the final series of books we will receive at this conference. They are Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison,Why One Way? by John MacArthur and a hardcover N.A.S.B. MacArthur Study Bible. He then introduced his good friend and this morning’s speaker C.J. Mahaney who will speak on “Watch Your Life and Doctrine.”

C.J. Mahaney began by asking us to lower our expectations from the amazing level of preaching we have experienced this week. He spent a little bit of time poking fun at himself, saying that once a person writes a book on humility he ends up being slotted to preach after John Piper (and before John MacArthur!). He described what he assumes people will be thinking while he speaks this morning: “Well, he’s no John Piper…I can’t wait to get home and make love to my wife.” He then confessed that when he first wrote this sermon he did it to attempt to impress us, but later repented of this and now seeks simply to serve those in attendance.

C.J.’s text will be 1 Timothy 4: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul cares for Timothy as a son in the faith. Beginning in verse six of this chapter Paul begins to address Timothy in a very personal manner. We are able to overhear this fatherly conversation and can be challenged by it as well. God wants to have a very personal word with pastors through this text. He wants to address everyone personally and care for each person’s soul.

This verse has a succinct summation of the job of the pastor. Feel the weight of this verse. Feel the implications of this verse upon your soul. Through God-appointed means, the preservation of yourself and your congregation is at stake in your obedience to this verse. Faithful, pastoral ministry could not be more important and the implications could not be more important—they are eternal.

Watch Your Life - In C.J.’s experience, it is most difficult to watch his life closely. It is easier to study doctrine than to study his heart. Reading and studying are easier than examining his motives. Pastors spend great time in sermon preparation but do they spend as much time in soul examination? All pastors are tempted to devote more time to public ministry than to personal piety. Aware of this temptation, God has given this command: keep a close watch on yourself.

The sobering reality for pastors is that skill and fruitfulness in ministry is not a substitute for personal piety. It is a man’s godly character that is the fundamanetal characteristic of pastoral ministry. The foundational assumption of Scripture is that a man provide a godly (though not perfect) example of character to his congregation. He quoted Spurgeon: “Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech.” The presence or absence of godly characteristics display whether or not a pastor is watching his life in this way. The effect on the pastor, his family and his church can be devastating when this commandment has been neglected.

He provided reflections on what Sovereign Grace has learned in dealing with pastors who have not obeyed this commandment.

1) The limitations of sound doctrine. Knowledge of Scripture is essential, but not sufficient, for we must also be obedient. Merely listening and being moved is not enough. It leaves us vulnerable to deception if we do not have a high view of specific application of truth to our lives. True knowlege is the prelude to action, and it is obedience to the word that counts in the end. The prelude cannot become the pinnacle. Truth must be both proclaimed and applied, preached and practiced, learned and obeyed. John Owen says, “As we learn all to practice, so we learn much by practicing.”

2) The war within never ends. Within each of us is a deadly companion actively opposed to our pursuit of God and godliness. We are commanded to keep a close watch on our lives because of the enemy within. He quoted at length from John Owen, whose writings he considers indispensible when dealing with the issue of sin. “There is no pastoral privilege in relation to sin.” Watching our hearts and lives is an invaluable means of protecting our hearts from the opposition of sin. If you do not watch, you will weaken.

3) We can’t effectively watch ourself by ourself. The limitations of sound doctrine and the presence of sin means that we require others. We need the discerning eyes of our friends on our lives. We simply cannot do it by ourselves. I can too often assume that because I can see your sin so clearly I have no problem discerning my own. But because sin deceives and lies, I need friends to help me discern the sin that is obvious to them but not to me. He quoted Paul Tripp who wrote, “Personal insight is the product of community.” He encouraged those in attendance to find people who we can ask about the sin we may not see in ourselves, beginning with our wives and extending that to pastoral teams and friends. When appropriate, a pastor should even share his sin with his congregation, though it requires wisdom to know when to do this.

Watch Your Doctrine - Because of all that has been said already through this conference he will accent only one aspect of Paul’s admonition: in watching doctrine we must never lose sight of Calvary. There must always been some sighting of Calvary in a sermon and people should experience this sight in each and every sermon that is preached.

What Your Savior Work - At the end of verse 16 is an unexpected promise. Obviously Paul is not teaching self-atonement but is accenting human agency in the experience of salvation. This verse reminds us of the vital importance of godly leadership. If we watch our life and doctrine closely, we can expect God to preserve us and those we serve until that final day. If it were not for the Savior, the burden of this verse would be too much to bear. As we watch our lives and doctrine, we can have confidence that the Savior will work.

We will return very shortly with John MacArthur, the final speaker of the conference.

April 27, 2006

The conference is now already more than half finished. We have only three general sessions and two panel sessions remaining. We will still hear from John Piper, C.J. Mahaney and John MacArthur.

I just shared a nice dinner with Josh Harris at that same restaurant I went to at lunch that most other people have not yet discovered. This is not to say that he and I shared a plate of food, but that he and I (and my buddy Paul) sat in an establishment that dispenses food and eventually at least some of us ate the food served by that establishment. I enjoyed meeting Josh, with whom I had only had a relationship via email and web sites (and, of course, I’ve read one or two of his books). He is clearly a humble, godly, teachable guy. Having sat with him and talked to him, even if only for a while, I can see that C.J. was obviously correct in his assessment of Josh and that he has left the church he began in very good hands.

This evening we will hear John Piper speak on “Why Expositional Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God.” First, though, C.J. introduced the books we received tonight. They include a paperback copy of the ESV, God Is The Gospel by John Piper and Counted Righteous in Christ, also by John Piper.

Tonight’s message will be, to the best of Piper’s ability, a portrayal of the glory of God. It will be composed of four sections. He longs for this conference to summon into being a particular kind of preacher.

Section 1 - Reflections on the kind of preaching he prays God will raise up in these days - preaching that is aware of the glory of God

He quoted Whitefield at length as he reflected on his longing for men to preach the Word. Here is what Whitefield wanted of those who would become preachers of the Word: They were to be mighty in the scriputures; aglow with the truths of the doctrines of grace; dead to self; willing to labor and suffer; indifferent to the accolades of man; broken to sin; dominated by a sense of the greatness and majesty and the holiness of God. He believed that preaching was heralding the Word of God from that kind of heart. Preaching is not talk, teaching, discussion, but the heralding of a message permeated by a sense of God’s holiness and majesty. It can be any topic, but that topic must be taken into the blazing center of the holiness of God in the Word of God. In the last century, the man who embodied this best was Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Where will the weight of God’s glory be felt if not in the preaching of the Word? If not from the man in the pulpit, where? God planned for His Son to be crucified and for hell to be terrible so we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when the pastor preaches. What makes preaching seriousness is that the mantle of preaching is soaked in the blood of Jesus and singed in the fire of hell.

What is tragic is that many evangelical voices today diminish the horror the cross and the horror of hell. The cross is stripped of its power to bear punishment that is coming. Oh, that God would raise a generation that would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of God’s seriousness! Earnestness is rare these days. Today, the joy of millions of Christians is paper-thin. By the millions, people, including pastors, are amusing themselves to death with what our culture calls entertainment while leaders of world religion write letters to the West condemning it and all Christian influence. Yet even in this age, people are telling pastors to lighten up, to get funny, to be amusing. To this John Piper wants to say, “where is the Spirit of Jesus?” How are people denying themselves and taking up Christ’s cross? How are they losing their lives for Him? How are they rencouncing possessions and hating family for the sake of being His disciple? How are they leaving their dead and following Him?

Section 2 - What you believe about the glory of God?

What you believe about the necessity and nature of preaching is governed by your sense of the glory of God and how you believe people awaken to it. From the beginning to end of the Bible, nothing is more ultimate in the mind and heart of God than the glory of God, the beauty of God, the radiance of his perfections. That is the ultimate allegience and commitment in the mind and heart of God. Everywhere you look, without exception, every place God makes explicit the ultimate reason for what He is doing what He is doing is for His glory. We are predestined for His glory, created for His glory, elected for His glory, saved from Egypt for His glory, rescued from the exile for His glory, He sent Christ so the gentiles would praise Him for His glory, we are to eat and drink and do everything to His glory, Christ will return so the redeemed will marvel at His glory. The mission of the church, therefore, is to declare His glory to the nations.

Nothing affects preaching more deeply than to be struck almost speechless (almost!) by the passion of God for the glory of God. What is clear from the range of biblical revelation is that God’s ultimate allegiance is to know Himself perfectly and love Himself infinitely and then to share that with His people.

From all eternity the always-perfect God has known and loved Himself perfectly. He has eternally seen His beauty reflected back to Him in His Son and has savored His beauty. He has no needs for He has no imperfections. He has no inclinations to evil because He has no tendencies to do wrong. He is the holiest and happiest being that is or can be conceived. Knowing and enjoying His glory is the reason He created the world. He would bring us to know and enjoy Him the way He knows and enjoys Himself. This knowledge and joy can become our knowledge and our joy (see John 17:26). God’s love is displayed in allowing us to know and enjoy Him in this way. It is God’s very nature to share the knowledge He has of Himself and the joy He has in Himself, though it cost Him His Son. God’s aim to display His glory and my delight in that glory are in perfect harmony. God is glorified by being known and so enjoyed that our lives are transformed into the kind of lives that display His infinite worth.

Jesus said two things to emphasis His role in giving us the knowledge and joy of God (see Matthew 11:27 and John 15:11). We know the Father with the knowledge of the Son. We know and enjoy the Father with the joy of the Son. Jesus has made us partakers of His own knowledge of God and His own enjoyment of God. That has got to become visible. Knowledge and joy are invisible—only God sees and know them. They will be invisible to the world until they change you. This is why Jesus said “let your light so shine that men may see your [sacrifical, radical] good deeds and give glory [not to you but] to your Father.” The challenge is so to live that men don’t glorify you for living that way.

When the glory of God is the treasure of our lives we will not lay up treasure on earth but spend them for the spread of His glory. We will not crave the praise of men. Every sin flows from a failure to treasure the glory of God above all things. Therefore, one crucial, visible way to display the truth and value of God is humble, sacrificial service of other people.

Section 3 - How do people awaken to the glory of God?

This is the goal of a pastor. He should want to so live, lead, preach, suffer that his people will rejoice at a message like this. The answer is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 - 4:6. God is the Gospel is Piper’s overflow of meditation on these verses. These verses show that people are changed the way and at the speed that God wants them to change. Far too many people abandon these verses for a new technique. They may produce change, but it may not be the change that God wants in His people. The job of the pastor is to make the glory of God seen so that people are changed.

How does this happen? See verses 3-6. In verse three we see that there are people who will never see. A pastor cannot allow failure with these people to change his method! The gospel is a gospel of the glory of Christ. We behold the glory of the Lord most clearly and most crucially in the gospel. This is so much so that Paul calls it the gospel of the glory of Christ. Here is why this is so important for preaching: the gospel is a message. It is words, sentences, proclamation. Here is the paradox: we must see glory by hearing what comes from the mouth of the preacher. You see with your ears! Your people see with their ears!

In Samuel’s day there was a famine of seeing and savoring the glory of God. God raised up Samuel. But in 1 Samuel 3:21 God revealed Himself through the Word. He appeared by the Word of the Lord.

The way you see glory today in this dispensation between the first and second coming is by hearing the gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ because through the Word of Christ, Christ appears. And what appears is glory—the glory of the cross. The glory of the incarnation. That is the job of the pastor.

Section 4 - How does this relate to “expository exultation” (Piper’s definition of preaching)?

If it is the purpose of God to display His glory in the world, and if come to know and enjoy it by beholding it, and if we behold it best in the gospel, and if the gospel is proclamation, then preaching is absolutely essential. It is heralding the gospel and the glory of Christ in the gospel. This is our central job.

Expository - This is necessary because the gospel comes in word. Here are five essential components of the gospel. 1) The gospel is a message about historical events—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 2) The gospel is a message about what those events achieved. For example, the payment for our sins, the completion of perfect obedience, the removal of the wrath of God, the installation of King Jesus, the destruction of death. These all beg for exposition. 3) The gospel is a message about the transfer of the achievements to particular persons. How this happens is the gospel. If this happens through works, there is no gospel. Only by faith are we grafted into Christ. 4) The gospel is the message about the good things that are now true about us because the achievement has been applied to us. For example, God is now only merciful to you and not wrathful (propitiation), you are now counted righteous in Christ (justification), etc. 5) The gospel is a message about the glorious God Himself as our final, eternal, all-satisfying treasure. Even gospel-loving pastors tend to stop at number four and this is why Piper wrote God is the Gospel.

Woe to the preacher who does this without exultation.

Exultation - The face and tone and life and demeanor, if dull or downcast, betrays the value of the gospel. If you do not value the gospel, you perish, no matter how many right thoughts you think. When he defines preaching as expository exultation, he means two wings on a plane. When one wing falls off, the plane crashes.

His prayer is that God may be pleased to raise up, here, preachers whose exposition of Bible texts is worthy of the truth of the Bible and whose exultation over it is worthy of the glory of God revealed in the texts of the Scripture.

Piper than led in prayer and, after singing “I Will Glory in My Redeemer,” we were dismissed until the evening’s final session, a panel session.

April 27, 2006

I just got back from a nice Italian lunch with my friend Chris whom I met at The Shepherd’s Conference and a friend from his church who is attending this conference with him. We ate the meatiest pizza I’ve ever laid eyes upon. They don’t make pizza like that back home in Canada! Of greater significance, we seem to have found a restaurant that has significantly less traffic than the other local hangouts. This may serve us well through the remaining day-and-a-half of this conference.

This afternoon we have the privilege of hearing R.C. Sproul speak on “The Center of Christian Preaching: Justification by Faith Alone.” It seems to me that if we could want to hear any man in the world today speak on the subject of “justification by faith alone,” it would be Sproul. Few men have dedicated more time to understanding and preaching this critical doctrine. Few men are more qualified to speak to share with us this: the very heart of Christian doctrine.

Justification is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls, and ultimately, the doctrine upon which you and I stand or fall. This doctrine is the “Atlas” upon which the whole of Christianity rests. Were Atlas to shrug, the entire structure of the Christian faith would fall to the ground and be shattered. This is not a common understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in our day. It is now considered, tragically, the small print of the gospel. The battle over justification by faith alone is considered, by so many, a tempest in a teapot. Many have declared the Reformation to be over since Catholicism and Protestantism have supposedly mended their fences and now stand together. The New Perspective tells us that both sides completely misunderstood Paul’s true teaching on justification. Yet it should not be surprising that we see a minimalist attitude being expressed about this doctrine. Towards the end of his life, Martin Luther warned (rightly it seems) that in every generation the gospel will have to be reaffirmed because this doctrine, when proclaimed boldly and accurately, will produce conflict. We are those who, when faced with the options of fight or flight, prefer to flee conflict even if the stakes are as low as being burned not at the stake but at the payroll of a local church. With this increasing significance comes an eclipse of the understanding of this doctrine.

Dr. Sproul will discuss the Roman Catholic understanding of the doctrine of justification so we can understand the Reformation understanding up against the Roman Catholic.

Rome did teach and does continue to teach that justification is a sacerdotal matter. The grace of justification is administered by and through the church, by the priesthood, through the sacraments. Justification begins by the sacrament of baptism which functions by the working of the works (near-automatically) and in baptism the grace of baptism is infused into the recipient of the sacrament, which is to say it is poured into their soul. This grace is sometimes called “the righteousness of Christ.” This does not fully justify the recipient because the person needs to assent to and cooperate with this grace to such a degree that he actually becomes righteous. If you are righteous, then you will be justified and remain in a state of grace as long as you keep yourself from mortal sin. Mortal sin is defined as sin that kills the justifying grace that has been infused into the soul. A person who commits moral sin loses his justifying grace. When mortal sin occurs, and justifying grace is lost, that can and often does happen, while authentic, genuine faith remains. A person can have real faith and not be justified. Once mortal sin has been committed, the church requires the sacrament of penance which is called “the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.” The sacrament of penance gains “congruous” merit, which makes it fitting that God once again restores a person to grace and gives him a new infusion of the grace that is needed.

Too often Protestants slander the Roman Catholic Church by not being accurate in regards to Catholic doctrine. Rome teaches that, in order to be justified, a person needs to have faith. The Church says that faith has three functions to perform in justification: the initiation of justification, the foundation of justification, and the root of justification. They maintain the importance of faith. It is a necessary condition for justification, but not a sufficient condition. Protestants believe that faith is a sufficient condition. The presence of genuine faith links you to Jesus and His righteousness and becomes the instrument by which you are justified. This distinction alone is enough to generate a reformation. The difference, then, is faith versus faith alone. Rome teaches grace plus merit. Christ plus your own righteousness is necessary to be redeemed. You cannot be justified without grace, but you also cannot be justified without merit.

A great debate during the Reformation was “the instrumental cause.” The church, beginning as early as Augustine, made us of Aristotle’s distinctions between different types of causes: material cause (the material out of which something is made), a formal cause (a blueprint or a plan), a final cause (the purpose for which something was made), and an efficient cause (the person who does the making). Rome says that the instrumental cause, the tool, is the sacrament of baptism followed by the sacrament of penance. They affirm that the efficient cause is God’s declaration. The Reformers said that the instrumental cause is faith. Faith is the instrument of our justification. This does not mean that faith is a work or carries its own merit. Christians—those who are justified—are at the same time righteous and sinners. The Catholic Church declared this a legal fiction.

Luther said that this is the heart of the gospel. God counted or reckoned Abraham as righteous by virtue of imputation—the single most important term in the debate. So much of the controversy focuses on this single idea of imputation. The meritorious cause that we have to be justified, the only ground of our justification, is the imputation of the righteousness of God to us. Don’t ever negotiation the imputed righeousness of Christ! This is not an abstract doctrine! It is not merely important for us to believe this, but to defend it and to contend with our all for this doctrine.

We are given a righteousness that is outside of us—apart from us. The only righteousness that will justify us is the righteousness of Christ. Without this we are naked and helpless. We need to be covered in Christ’s righteousness.

We are not justified by the doctrine of justification by faith. We can give assent to this doctrine and contend for it without having the faith that alone will justify you. Justification is not accomplished by a profession of faith. It is the posession of faith, not the profession of it, that saves. We must not give people a false sense of security by making them believe a profession is enough! The doctrine simply describes what it is that brings us into a state of justification.

Dr. Sproul recounted the testimony of his own conversion and shared how this doctrine leaves us as the publican, who cannot even lift his head but cries out “have mercy on me, a sinner!”

The gospel of Rome is no gospel at all. It saves no one. There is no other gospel than this one: justification by faith alone. This is a simple matter. It is not a difficult doctrine. But we must be careful. It is an easy doctrine to get into a head, but far more difficult to get into the bloodstream. For this reason we must hear this doctrine again and again and again. Satan constantly seeks to deceive us, thinking that we must add our own merit to Christ’s. But we must stand firm on this doctrine. “Do not move from that.”

Following Dr. Sproul’s speech, Bob led us in song again, singing “Before The Throne of God Above.” We will resume again with another panel session after a short break.

April 27, 2006

Interspersed throughout this week’s conference are panel sessions. There are five of them: two featuring the Together for the Gospel foursome and three others, each featuring one of the special guests (R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper). These sessions are an opportunity for those in attendance, most of whom are pastors, to listen to these men chat amongst themselves in a somewhat informal context. It is an opportunity to see a group of men learn from each other and discuss what is of utmost importance to them. They are loosely moderated but clearly without a strict agenda.

By the very nature of these sessions they are very difficult to transcribe or summarize in the same way as the general sessions. So much of the panel discussions depends on the relationships between the men, their jokes and jabs, and their interaction that I don’t feel I could do justice to them. Because of this I will not attempt to “liveblog” those sessions. If you are able in the future to obtain audio (good)or video (better) of these sessions, I would recommend that you do so. I’m sure they will prove both entertaining and edifying.

Having said that, if I can pull a few quotes or pearls of wisdom from these sessions, I’ll be sure to let you know about them.

In the panel session that just passed, Mohler, Duncan, Mahaney and Dever walked us through a statement of belief which was in the classic form of a series of affirmations and denials. I do not know when this will be publically available (it may be already). It has clearly been written within a cultural context and addresses many of the common errors within modern evangelicalism. Through their affirmations they bring the gospel to the forefront while critiquing so much of what we are told is Christian. They deny, though not by name, open theism, aspects of the new perspective on Paul, modalism and other Trinitarian errors, church growth, gender roles and more. It is a short document but well worth reading and meditating upon.

April 27, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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