We had 20 or so people from Redeemer attend Together for the Gospel 2010 this week and had a great time. We heard some great preaching, had great conversations, and made some new friends. After Thabiti Anyabwile’s message a number of people from, and outside of, our group were interested in my take on what was said. I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. The entire conference, like Thabiti’s message, was very clear about three things. 1) The gospel and our mission must be clear and central, 2) as the church we must live counter-culturally, and 3) cultural engagement is inherently risky/dangerous. I affirm all of this, but would also want to say a little more.
1. The gospel and mission must be central.
Too often, even among those who believe the gospel, it isn’t central. I find this a lot in the ‘burbs of Chicago. A church may affirm the gospel, but not preach it or live by it. And another church may be passionate about “mission,” but lack clarity concerning the nature of our mission. Many a “missional” advocate winds up lumping too much into the mission of the church. So I love to hear, and need to be reminded myself, that the gospel and the mission of the church to make disciples must remain central to our identity and work.
2. The church must remain a counter-culture.
The church will look different from the world as we continue to follow Christ. But we need to put the emphasis where it belongs. The church will look different from the world as we continue to follow Christ. The life and teachings of the Savior are what lead us to live and love in radically different ways than the world. We worship the triune God, and therefore reject the false gods of this age. We follow a risen Savior, and walk away from the satanic wisdom, empty morality and the wickedness that is exalted in the world. We are members of Christ’s Kingdom, and we are therefore most truly at home with him and his people, longing for the return of our King. But in saying this we must also say that Jesus has sent us into that very dangerous world. And as the counter-cultural people of God it is our present uniqueness that arrests the attention of the world and compliments our preaching. To be present means that there are aspects of a given culture which are entirely appropriate and good for us to receive and participate in, just as there are aspects that must be rejected outright.
3. Engaging culture is inherently risky/dangerous.
The New Testament and church history shows us this truth very well. False doctrine and ungodliness can quickly move into our lives and churches. Jesus didn’t send us into a petting zoo, but out amidst wolves who would devour us, and into a culture that would corrupt us. He therefore calls us to be both wise and innocent, just as Paul commands us to live carefully. We must be careful, but present. I know there are some people and churches who are thoughtless and reckless in the world, but their problem is not cultural engagement. Their problem is pride and folly.
Thabiti’s message was very good– especially his point that Paul’s ministry was driven by a pastoral purpose. In fact, Col. 1:28, 29 were the verses that God used to drive me into the pastorate and it is always ringing in my ears. The problem for some in my crew was that he over-simplified the cultural issue, made some very broad statements, and wound up muddying the water. [For the record, some of my friends do the same thing from a different perspective.] I found myself saying to our people that I think if we were sitting around, drinking coffee and talking it out with Thabiti we’d probably agree on more than it felt like in parts of his sermon. And honesty, if 7,000 people listened to my preaching on any given Sunday I’d probably need to issue clarifications after each sermon.
For me, the highlight was John Piper’s message. But CJ, Mark Dever, Matt Chandler and others were also great. If you only have time for one session listen to Piper, but they are all worth listening to. And if you wind up disagreeing in part, do not disregard the whole. Let’s be teachable, brothers.
The conference was a great experience, and I’ll share some of what our people thought in an upcoming post.