Over the next few days, several evangelical pastors and thinkers will be gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference. If you’re like me and stuck in a different part of the world, than hearing about the convergence of erudite, Biblically-minded thinkers like Albert Mohler, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Mark Dever is difficult to cope with (those of us in Auckland do have the option of the Stand Together for the Gospel conference this weekend, however).
For those of us who are unable to attend, here are several summaries of the day’s first round of talks from those who were there (please make sure you check out the original fuller posts). I’ll update with the audio, when it becomes available.
Session 1: Mark Dever — The Church is the Gospel Made Visible
Ephesians 3: 8-11
You can lose the gospel by not proclaiming it clearly, but you can also work against the gospel by the life your congregation lives.
1) How is God’s nature and character displayed in the church?
- Holiness: Distinct lives point to a distinct God. Our lives should be marked by God’s holiness and by the fruit of the Spirit. Our distinct lives should make clear what the gospel is like. There is a difference between sinners and repenting sinners. Holiness is freedom.
- Love: we are to be distinct from the world by the kind of love we have for others despite the inconvenience it may be to us.
- Authority: David’s last words (2 Samuel 23:3-4) show us that authority is a good and life giving thing. Ever since the Fall, Satan has been trying to tempt us to think otherwise. He wants us to think that love and authority can’t go together. But God can love us and rule us and correct us because He’s trustworthy.Our right use of authority in our congregation reflects God’s authority.
2) How is the truth about human beings displayed in the church?
- We were made in the image of God, and that value should be reflected in our churches. We should have relationships across typical boundaries.
- Our congregational life should also acknowledge that we are fallen. We are not the assembly of the self-righteous. An understanding of depravity sets us up to understand church membership, because we are already redeemed but God is not yet finished. It frees people to confess their sins to one another. We know there’s something not right, and we’re the ones who can tell the truth about that.
3) How is the truth about Jesus Christ displayed in the church?
We are the people who bear his name and his purpose. We are his body, his temple. How do we make Christ visible? Through our teaching and our constant worship. Our lives should display not only Christ’s person but Christ’s work. We demonstrate our love across differences and across denominations.
4) How is the right response of the gospel displayed in the church?
- We are to teach and model repentance and faith. We repent of our selfishness. The Christian life is personal but not private.
- Congregations are groups of people acting upon things they cannot see. It is a community based on God’s promises. The Word should be central in our churches. Sermons should be central because they hold our God’s promises to us.
Do you want to see your church do better at evangelism? Then help your church be a better church. Our churches are meant to depict the truth of the gospel. We are to be the appearance of the gospel to the world. This is the clearest picture the world sees of who God is and his will for their lives.
Session 2: R C Sproul — The Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel — What I Have Learned in 50 years
2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1
1) The Danger of Messing with “Mr. In-Between”
In the Old Testament, one of the problems the people of God dealt with in every generation was syncretism, which means to blend the elements of pagan religion (worship of foreign gods such as Baal and Asherah poles) and the religion of Israel. This kind of synthesis can be referred to as “Mr. In-Between.”
Examples of contemporary synthesis:
- Evangelicalism and Naturalism
- Evangelicalism and Existentialism
- Evangelicalism and Marxism
- Evangelicalism and analytical philosophy
- Evangelicalism and process philosophy
2) The Danger of Messing with the gospel itself
Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide were the two doctrines that seemed like the bedrock that all of evangelicalism could build on. But then confidence in Sola Scriptura began to be compromised. And then eventually we hit rock bottom when controversy erupted over Sola Fide.
At the heart of this discussion on the nature of faith is the topic of justification and imputation. Is the ground of my justification something I can get for myself? Or is it something that must be alien to me, that I must get from somewhere else? There is no “Mr. In-Between” here, no matter what some have tried to say.
Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents the ultimate synthesis that obscures the great antithesis of the gospel.
And today, we see attempts to improve the gospel. But the gospel is primarily about Jesus, who He is and what He’s done.
Our greatest challenge is with respect to our personal fidelity to the gospel.
It’s not our gospel. It’s God’s gospel. And there’s no way to improve it.
Session 3: Al Mohler — How Does it Happen? Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel
1 Timothy 6:3
2 Timothy 1:8-14
The New Testament is really clear about the realities of a false gospel. Yet there is seeming ignorance to the danger of false gospels in the church today. But if we love Jesus, we must love and guard the gospel.
Examples of the different trajectories that result in an adjusted, altered, and eventually wrecked Gospel:
1. The modern trajectory: Liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, and the like, where in the name of logic and rationalism the Gospel is stripped of anything supernatural. It is “demythologized” so that it can be believed by “modern” man. The result is that “theological liberals want to rescue Christianity, but they instead end up burying it.”
2. The post-modern trajectory: In contrast to modernists that want to establish that Biblical theology is false, post modernists reject objective truth altogether, so that Biblical truth is neither true nor false, but simply has subjective value. “Truth” is considered to be of value simply in its metanarrative meaning.
3. The moral trajectory: These philosophers are repulsed by Biblical concepts such as hell, depravity, & atonement, so they appeal that there is a “higher morality” than the so-called primitive systems of Christianity. In essence, these philosophers demand that God conform to their own notion of fairness. “People want God to be fair, but “Perfect” is infinitely superior to fair, & Perfect cannot be interrogated by fair.” (meaning that our imperfect limited concept of fairness as fallen finite humans cannot judge the fairness of an infinite perfect being)
4. The aesthetic trajectory: Embraces only the “good & beautiful” and rejects anything that offends like depravity or atonement, ignoring the fact that our fallen natures cannot be trusted to make accurate assessments of what is truly beautiful about the Gospel.
5. The therapeutic trajectory: Where we only find ourselves as sick, but not sinful, and the Bible is self-help, but not a source of external rescue from hopeless depravity.
6. The pragmatic trajectory: Truth ends up not being a foundation but only a tool to obtain the desired result. Managerial expertise and methods can produce apparent and quickly gratifying results, but “It produces crowds, but not churches, results, but not regenerations.”
7. The emotional trajectory: When we lean toward teachings and experiences that have positive emotional reward, but lean away from anything that has emotional cost. This leads to feel-good theology that avoids anything in Christianity that isn’t palatable.
8. The materialist/prosperity trajectory: Prosperity theology follows a trajectory that is not only false but makes God out to be a liar. This is where we come to think that we can have our best life now. This trajectory comes from seeking instant gratification. “It’s only “Your Best Life Now” if you’re an unbeliever.”
Some causes of doctrinal drift:
- Doctrinal Fatigue: having to go against the cultural tide and repeatedly defend Biblical theology over and over can lead to just tiring of it. But fatigue is disastrous to the metal of a bridge, the pilot of a plane, or the pastor of a church.
- Embarrassment: of the scandal of the Gospel, so that you progressively let go of doctrines that are uncomfortable to unbelievers. But “The Holy Spirit alone can make the Gospel credible.”
Expository preaching is the best safeguard against doctrinal drift.
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?'” John 6:66-69
How will we respond to this same question that Jesus asked His first disciples?