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.

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