Saturday, September 30, 2006

Desiring God 2006: Day Two

The weather in Minneapolis was beautiful today. C.J., Jeff and I had a great time on the second day of the Desiring God conference.

Tonight in my hotel lobby I ran into Tim Challies who is live blogging the conference. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it. Live blogging an event like this is an amazing feat. I certainly couldn’t pull it off. I asked Tim if he was covering the question and answer sessions and he said he wasn’t because it’s too hard to cover all the content. This is understandable but unfortunate, because I’ve found these sessions to be some of the most helpful content of the conference. Not just because of the less scripted and spontaneous nature of what is shared, but because the comments are often illuminating and practical.

Let me try and give a sampling of both the profound and amusing in the Q&A discussions led by Justin Taylor:
Most surprising moment: Hearing the phrase “smart ass” from the mouth of John Piper. He used it referencing the way the folks at emergent described him before inviting him to lunch. Evidently, they weren’t too happy with the way the conference was presented, and used this phrase about Piper on their blog. Before articulating the reasons for the great gulf between the leaders of emergent and himself on issues of theology, Piper said that he liked them as individuals because they were “hot heads” and he was a hot head, too.

Second most surprising moment: Hearing David Wells say, “I want to be hip, man.” (To get the full effect you have to read the sentence out loud with a stately English accent.) This comment came after Mark Driscoll’s session when Justin Taylor asked Wells how two people (Driscoll and Wells) with such very different styles could be saying so many of the same things. To this Wells replied, “When I was listening to Mark speak, he so pushes the boundaries. When I say those same things, I sound staid. It’s not fair. I want to be hip, man.” There was immediate applause and laughter.

Most touching moment: Listening to D.A. Carson recount the story of his father’s faithful ministry as a pastor. Justin Taylor asked how pastors of small rural churches should feel after hearing about the wonderful numerical success of Driscoll in Seattle. Piper answered first, saying, “Feeding the flock of God is the most high and glorious calling in the world.” Then Carson shared the story of how his father ministered during many dry years in French Quebec during a time when the churches saw little to no numerical growth. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I believe his father served for decades into his sixties and had very little fruit to show for it. Not long after he retired, God brought great growth to churches in the region and no doubt it was tempting for his father to feel put on a shelf. But as Carson pointed out, his father's faithfulness in the lean years was absolutely vital. And his father passed into heaven deeply respected by the new generation of pastors and, more importantly, counted faithful by his Savior. Carson shared the story with tears in his eyes. It was very moving.

Most Intriguing Insight:
Okay, I don’t really know how to pick the most intriguing insight. But when Tim Keller was asked if he thought the emergent/emerging church movement would be a force in the future or just a footnote in evangelicalism, I thought his comments were interesting. He said that he did not think the emerging church movement would be around because it doesn’t have institutions or structures. Part of its DNA is to resist being boxed in by theological definition, structures, and institutions. He said that the emerging church has produced pundits who write books and comment on issues but he doesn’t think it will have a lasting significance.

Moment I Was Most Glad Not to Be Mark Driscoll: When John Piper gave warm pastoral adjustment and correction to him while he wasn’t there. I thought Driscoll carried himself really well at the conference. God is doing so much through this man. This weekend Mars Hill celebrates its 10 year anniversary. Praise God! I love his courage, his passion for God’s word and church and his zeal to reach a lost world with the gospel. And I sure would not have wanted to be the lone representative of the “younger generation” in the midst of the Giants of the faith assembled at this conference. But the moment I was most happy not to be Mark Driscoll came after his session when he had already left for the airport and John Piper commented on his message.

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.
Based on the way I've seen Driscoll respond to past constructive criticism, I trust he'll receive Piper's words humbly and learn from them. I can imagine that Piper's words will sting a little. But the wounds of a friend are worth the sting. And that's definitely the spirit in which Piper delivered them.

I felt in his statement not just a correction for Driscoll, but for me and every other young preacher learning to proclaim the good news of the glorious savior. Thank God we get to learn from guys like Piper. Thank God they’re talking to us. I’d rather be corrected by John Piper than cooed over by someone else.

We young guns have a lot to learn. We can’t be satisfied with being clever. We have to learn to show Christ as glorious. I see Driscoll doing this more and more, and I know that by God’s grace he will only improve in the days ahead. I’m glad that our generation has older heroes in the faith like John Piper who are willing to not only give us a chance to minister alongside them, but also provide the leadership to help us see what needs to improve.

So let me sign off by wishing Mark and all the saints at Mars Hill a hearty congratulations on your ten-year anniversary. God has carried you for a decade and he will be faithful for the years to come. Thank you for the example and inspiration you provide to so many churches across the country. Keep holding the truth tightly in your left hand. Keep showing Christ as glorious.

Friday, September 29, 2006

In Minneapolis: Day One

I flew to Minneapolis, MN, today with CJ Mahaney and Jeff Purswell. We’re here for the Desiring God conference entitled Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. I'm very excited about the chance to learn from men like David Wells, John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and Voddie Baucham (who hands down has the coolest name). But the chance to hang with my two dear friends CJ and Jeff (and to laugh with them, discuss the sessions with them, and learn from them) is what I'm most excited about.

I would tell you how rousing the worship was, but we totally missed it. We got into a lively conversation with a three guys from Mark Driscoll's Acts 29 Network (two from Mark's church and one from the Philadelphia area), and had to be asked by an usher to quiet down. Oops.

David Wells kicked off the packed conference with a message on the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. He set the stage noting that today Christianity is moving south and east, but it is dying in the west.

Drawing from Hebrews, he showed that in increasing ways we face a situation similar to the Jewish Christians to whom the letter was written. They were tempted to revert to Judaism out of fear of persecution. They needed a reminder of the supremacy of Christ over all the world. They needed faith in His ultimate triumph. We need that same faith.

One statement Wells made in reference to the seeker-sensitive movement was particularly striking. He said, "We are shrinking back from the uniqueness of Christ and his centrality. They [the recipients of Hebrews] did it out of fear for their safety—we are doing out of fear that we won’t be successful."

In what I found to be the most powerful portion of his message, Wells described the far-reaching effect of Christ's redemption through his death and resurrection. This he showed, must be the foundation of our view of culture and our interaction with the pain and suffering of life in this world. For, there at the cross, the very back of evil was broken. And like a chess match that has already been decided, the outcome cannot be changed. What we see today in terms of evil—in humanity and in creation—are the last futile moves of the enemy, not one of which is going to change the outcome that happened at Calvary. Christ is supreme in our world and our universe.

After the session, Justin Taylor did an outstanding job leading a conversation/question & answer time with Piper, Driscoll, and Keller. It would definitely be worth getting on CD. One of the key moments was when Piper described his recent lunch with Emergent leaders Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. His comments on how a truly radical Jesus is only discovered when we acknowledge the hell Christ came to save us from were powerful. I also benefitted from the answer given to Justin's question posed to Piper and Driscoll about interaction with pop culture. Here's my best paraphrase:

Justin: "Pastor Mark, you watch movies and TV, listen to modern music and go to comedy clubs. Pastor don't. (much laughter) How do you remain relevant without being immersed in culture. And, Mark, how do you remain faithful/pure as you interact with pop culture?"

A great question, which Driscoll didn't completely answer (and Keller called him on this). I'm looking forward to hearing more from Driscoll on the subject tomorrow. Piper noted that they are seeking to reach different audiences. He also explained that the first reason he avoids a lot of movies and media is because he's weak and would be easily tempted by much of the sinful content. In addition, he shared that just "feeling" and communicating out of the universal realities of the human condition (i.e., the fact that we're all going to die), can make our preaching relevant and powerful to our listeners.

Keller had very insightful things to say (as usual). I particularly appreciated his comments on the settings we have today in which to proclaim the gospel. It's obvious that he's been very purposeful and creative in NYC in finding ways to preach the gospel.

That's all for now. Let me know if you have friends at the conference. And if you're here with me, come say hello!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Summons of a Judge

My friend and fellow pastor, Kenneth Maresco, sent me the following quote by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and head-honcho of 9 Marks Ministries. It reminded me of last week’s cover story in Time magazine on the popularity of the health and wealth gospel and all its variations that make God a divine ATM to our every whim. I don’t buy any of it, but the subtle temptation to try and “sell the gospel” by appealing to felt needs can so easily slip into preaching. I need the challenging, biblical perspective that Dever delivers here:
When we hold forth the good news in our preaching, we should particularly beware of presenting this gospel as an option to be exercised for the betterment of sinners' lives. After all, what would a carnal person consider "better"? Leading questions like "are you scared of death?" "Do you want happiness?" "Wouldn't you like to know the meaning of your life?" are all well-intentioned, and any of them may be used by God's Spirit to convict someone, and to lead to their conversion. But such questions may also be answered by a simple "no." To use such questions as if they are the starting point for those considering the gospel is to make it sound all too optional.

I don't care if my hearers are scared of death, wanting happiness or meaning in life, I know that they will die and stand before God to give an account of their lives. And I know that God will therefore rightly condemn them to an eternal Hell.

So I find verses like Mark 8:38 useful, where Jesus taught "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

Or again, Romans 3:19-20, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."

Or Hebrews 9:27, "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment . . ."

This demand—rather than a marketer's appeal—is to be the basis of the evangelistic call in our sermons. Our gospel sermons are not to sound like the solicitations of a salesman, but the summons of a judge.
From "Evangelistic Expository Preaching," in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan eds. (P&R, 2003), 134-135.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Prince and the Pauper

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a godly, courageous and faithful servant of Jesus Christ. He was born in 1834 and died in 1892, and became the most famous and influential pastor of his century. Today he takes a place among the most powerful preachers in the history of the church. Spurgeon is often referred to as “the Prince of Preachers.” Each week in London 5,000 people would gather to hear his sermons. In an age before microphones and sound equipment, he once preached to a crowd of 20,000 people. A newspaper in London wrote of Spurgeon that he had “a voice of marvelous power, penetration, and variety of tone. He had resources, readily drawn upon, of pathos and a certain kind of humor; and he could vivify his sermons by all manner of telling...illustrations.”

How did this mighty preacher come to saving faith in Jesus Christ? Later in his life, Spurgeon took delight in telling the story. It was January 6, 1850 and he was 16 years old. Though he was knowledgeable of the Bible, he had not been born again. He was despairing and desperate to find some comfort for his soul. That Sunday because of heavy snow he couldn’t reach the church he planned to attend and instead wound up at a small Primitive Methodist church.

There were only 15 people present and, because of the weather, there was no preacher. So an uneducated and—by Spurgeon’s own estimation—not-very-bright member of the congregation was forced to give an impromptu sermon. Spurgeon remembered the man as "thin-looking," and either a tailor or shoemaker. He was not impressive in appearance, nor in his delivery of his sermon. According to Spurgeon, he didn’t even pronounce his words correctly as he read Isaiah 45:22, which said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” I’ll let you hear the rest of the story in Spurgeon’s own words:

“Blessed be God for that poor local preacher. He read his text. It was as much as he could do. He was an ignorant man, he could not say much; he was obliged to keep to his text. Thank God for that. He began, 'Look, that is not hard work. You need not lift your hand, you do not want to lift your finger. Look, a fool can do it. It does not need a wise man to look. A child can do that....Look unto Me. Do not look to yourselves, but look to Me, that is Christ….Look unto Me; I am sweating great drops of blood for you; look unto Me, I am scourged and spit upon; I am nailed to the cross, I die, I am buried, I rise and ascend, I am pleading before the Father’s throne, and all this for you.'

Now that simple way of putting the Gospel had enlisted my attention, and a ray of light had poured into my heart.

Stooping down, he looked under the gallery and said: 'Young man, you are very miserable.' So I was, but I had not been accustomed to be addressed in that way. 'Ah,' said he, 'and you will always be miserable if you don’t do as my text tells you; and that is, Look unto Christ.' And then he called out, with all his might, 'Young man, look; in God’s name look, and look now. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live.'

I did look, blessed be God! I know I looked then and there; and he who but that minute ago had been near despair, had the fullness of joy and hope. The cloud was gone, the darkness rolled away, and in that moment I saw the sun. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard the word Look, I could almost have looked my eyes away. I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith that looks alone to Him.”
And so the young Charles Spurgeon was gloriously saved and reborn as he looked with faith on Christ. What a wonderful example of divine irony! God saved the mighty preacher by the means of a simple and unimpressive sermon delivered by an unschooled and untalented man whose name has long since been forgotten. God saved the Prince of Preachers through the preaching of an intellectual pauper. The story gives me hope every time I stand behind the pulpit.

(The quotes from the London newspaper, as well as the quote from Spurgeon’s sermon that included the story of his conversion, are drawn from the small but useful biography of Spurgeon by Ernest W. Bacon entitled Spurgeon, Heir of the Puritans, Arlington Heights, IL, Christian Liberty Press.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Chatting with Hanna

Today I did an interview with a writer named Hanna Rosin who is working on a book about the homeschool college, Patrick Henry. She wanted to interview me because during her extensive time with students some of them mentioned reading my books on relationships. I guess she wanted to understand the whole courtship phenomena. She was a really nice lady. I've found that most journalists writing about the weirdness and backwardness of Christians are generally really nice people.

Last year she wrote a cover story for The New Yorker called God and Country . I also came across this video clip of Hanna being interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. I was surprised that it wasn't a complete homeschool bashing session. And I found it fascinating when Stewart talked about misconceptions New Yorkers can have about homeschoolers and vice versa. I think there's some truth in that.

P.S. - Regarding my previous post about the averageness of this blog...thanks for all the affirming comments, guys. Ya'll are the best. I especially liked the one about how I'd climb above "average" if I posted more than once every three weeks. Aha! So consistency is helpful? Thanks for the tip. Keep 'em coming. My brother Brett lovingly consoled me that the blog is actually above average but that's only because 10 billion myspace blogs have dragged the average so very low. I was slightly encouraged by this.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An Average Blog

CJ Mahaney is one of my dearest friends and a man of great discernment. The following is a playful email exchange we had about my blog that I thought you’d find funny. It began when CJ commented on my twin brothers’ blog The Rebelution and their “ranking” of my blog.

CJ: Tell the twins that just when I didn’t think I could respect them more, Carolyn tells me that your blog isn’t listed in their Crème de le Crème list of recommended blogs. They are to be commended for not showing you favoritism and for demonstrating discernment. Your blog is average/good but certainly not crème de le crème.

Josh: No, I would never make their “crème de le crème” list. I’m not sure my blog even qualifies as average!

CJ: Your blog is definitely average.

Josh: Well at least I have a blog! You’re blogless which these days means “loser.” And shared blogs like T4G don’t count.

CJ: I’d rather be a loser than have an average blog.

I never win these kind of exchanges with CJ. He always gets the last word, and he always makes me laugh. And even when I do get a good jab in, he simply reminds me that he taught me everything I know.

All that being said, you all already know that this blog is definitely average—and that it often dips below that measurement. And this, of course, is an appropriate representation of its owner!

But, folks, things are changing. With the help of the Bono of bloggers, Tim Challies, I’m getting a total blog/website overhaul. This is the full facelift/lipo/tummy tuck/botox/pec implant package of blog plastic surgery. When you stink as a blogger you make up for your deficiencies with better design. (This is the principle I apply to my game of tennis.) So anyway, stay tuned for the new look.

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