“Axis after axis to Jesus”: Carson on Preaching Christ

And with that, the Gospel Jam Bonanza closed.

It was a great and busy conference—incredibly, TGC is officially 46 hours long.  That’s wild.  There is enough activity to fill two weeks of a normal life, but in the evangelical world, this is how we do it, to quote Montell Jordan.

On Thursday at 12:30pm, BibleMesh hosted its third and final panel of the conference, entitled “How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story” which featured David Helm, Kimberly Thornbury, and Russell Moore.  Gregory Allan Thornbury of BibleMesh led the panel on a fun and theologically rich tour of Christocentric parenting before a huge crowd of roughly 850 people.  We were again stunned by this attendance, which overflowed our seating area and again raised interesting quandaries regarding personal safety in the event of a fire or Rob Bell sighting.  The panel ranged over such matters as family devotions, how to share the gospel without pressuring the child, and what it means to share Christ to children in an everyday setting.  We were gratified by the turnout and the level of discussion and audience engagement.

Much else occurred this fine day, but the final session with Don Carson, entitled “Getting Excited about Melchizedek” from Psalm 110, was particularly noteworthy.  Carson’s talk ranged over a wide array of NT citations of the OT and left preachers and leaders with much to ponder in their reflections on homiletics.  I found this passage helpful:

His ultimate ancestry is grounded in the God of all eternity.  The NT authors are reading the OT carefully.  They are drawing inferences that cannot be easily refuted.  The one we are looking for is not merely the Davidic Messiah, but also the priest.  We need to follow the traces in putting together the whole canon  in ways that bring us in axis after axis to Jesus.  You can find trajectories to Jesus through the Sabbath, the twelve tribes, Jerusalem itself—you work hand in hand with the NT authors, and you will find these trajectories.  All these from the OT point forward and bring you to Jesus.  This gives you confidence to read the Word of God carefully and to discover how the NT writers read the OT.

The Gospel Coalition conference formally ended after this address.  We had a terrific 46 hours, and we’re thankful for what this conference represents and accomplished.  We want to publicly thank Ben Peays, Collin Hansen, and the rest of the TGC team for their partnership with us.  We saw an incredible response at the event, with hundreds of folks signing up for the course.  Such happenings leave us grateful–and eager for TGC ’13.

Everybody Wants Pauline Theology, Not Pauline Pain

Welcome back!  We’re glad to bring you more commentary from The Gospel Coalition.  This blog covers day two of the conference, Wednesday, April 13, 2011.  As with the first day, this one featured a swath of robust theology, expansive discussion, and good old-fashioned fun.  I don’t know if you’ve been to TGC, but it’s a blast—a really edifying blast, if I may modify that noun.

At 12:30pm, we at BibleMesh hosted a second panel in conjunction with TGC.  This one was entitled “Getting to Know the Bible Personally as One Grand Narrative” and featured Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, and David Jackman, with Michael McClenahan of BibleMesh as the moderator.   The panel went mellifluously.  Michael is a pastor-theologian who a) loves shepherding and b) has an Oxford PhD in Edwards and thus is able to speak practically and theologically.  He guided the conversation in such a way as to wean insights from our panel that spoke both to grand Christocentric preaching of the OT and to the way in which this kind of preaching births doxological living.  If I may say so, it was my favorite event of the conference, and it will be available in video and audio on this blog for free in coming weeks.

Another highlight of the day for me was a panel on theological education.  It was entitled “Training the Next Generation of Pastors and Other Christian Leaders” and it featured R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Mark Driscoll, David Helm, and Ligon Duncan.  Don Carson served as moderator.  The differing—though generally complementary—perspectives on display in this panel afforded much opportunity for critical thought on an engrossing topic.  Some panelists argued more for institutional, seminary education; others emphasized training in the church.  I would be so bold as to summarize and say once more that much that was said was complementary—the phrase that everyone seems to love today is “both-and,” and it applies here.  That is, the panel generally set forth the idea that seminaries are manifestly helpful and that church training is absolutely essential.

Here are some quick hits from the panel.  This is necessarily a rough cut, but as you’ll see, there was much to chew on in this discussion.

Mohler: People are innovating all over the place…evangelicalism started out as an innovative experiment.   This is a good thing.

Duncan: Ministry networks like Acts29 are being more intentional about theological education—these changes are influencing the theological landscape.

Mohler: Seminaries should help churches train pastors.  Pastors should be trained in churches.   You don’t need PhDs with theological expertise in every area. 

Duncan: There are some things that SBTS and TEDS and other seminaries can do that churches can’t do.  When you go into the ministry, you are being brought into a vital conversation that seminaries introduce you to.  You are equipped to counter thoughts that you may well encounter—you have help from a worldview professor, an OT professor, a NT professor.  In my classes at Covenant, I was exposed to the whole range of critical theory in biblical studies.  To be in a class with thirty other brothers  under a knowledgeable tutor is an incredibly valuable experience.

Driscoll: You need a both-and.  Future pastors need to be assessed.  You don’t need just a general education.  The church needs to help assess and then coach future leaders.  Even if you get formal theological training, when you take on ministry responsibilities, you need someone to call to save you from yourself.  For me, it was lonely when I started out.  We have a network on The City with 400 pastors on it from Acts 29, and I’m on it 7-8 times a day to help out.

Carson: Students don’t usually learn most of what I teach them.  They learn what I put at the center, at the heart.

Helm: Churches need a full reorientation of life such that people are trained.  Every believer is in gospel ministry and needs training.  Our competency, as 2 Timothy says, is from the Word.  If we had this focus, we would see gospel ministry happening throughout the church.  If we had this kind of culture, we would see people rising to the top.

Mohler: The faculty is the curriculum.  Ministry requires a running start, a base of knowledge.  It’s really, really important in terms of the minimal knowledge required to make a start.  Seminaries provide this.

Mohler: I sometimes hear students say in reference to coming to seminary—and SBTS—“I’m not really sure I need that” and I’m flabbergasted.  You don’t need that?  If you don’t have a passion for learning everything you can to train the Lord’s church, you should reconsider your call.

Carson: One of the things that really encourages me is those who in recent years go on to get PhDs.  It’s not necessary; I’ve always thought if I left Trinity I would return to the local church. 

As noted, these are mere snatches of the broader conversation.  Listen to the whole thing when it’s posted at the TGC website.  I personally was heartened by the panel on numerous fronts.  It is a great thing for churches to take primary responsibility for training future pastors.  It is also a great thing to observe how seminaries and Christian colleges can participate in the intellectual, theological and spiritual formation of future pastors.  Pastors certainly do need assessment and training, and Acts29 is leading in that area—bravo.  We often make caveats about pastors and educational training, finally, but as Carson noted, it’s a great thing for shepherds to get high-level training in order to feed the flock meat, not milk (Hebrews 5), to guard the good deposit (2 Timothy 1), and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28) with all the riches of Bible and theology at the forefront.

The final matter I’ll mention—with much great stuff left out—was Matt Chandler’s evening talk entitled “Youth” from Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14.  I found the very topic poignant, because Chandler, a young leader, has experienced the futility of this life, the fragility of the body, in a powerful way.  He nearly died from cancer a few years back, a shocking development due to the fact that for many he embodies youthful vigor and gospel passion.  Chandler opened the talk by referencing his experience, relating how the words of Ecclesiastes gave voice to his own testimony.  In the early days of his suffering, he did not easily rejoice.  He mourned his suffering; he was angry.  But he saw God bring him through all of that.

Chandler mixes a good deal of humor into his sermons, which connects him with his audience, even as he looks with a keen eye into the sins common to many.  He’s gifted in an unusual way with spiritual discernment, which gives his preaching bite and relevance (dare I use the word).  Here are some brief takes from his message:

God’s power is shown by him saying, “I’m letting you do this.”  I’m using you, dummy.  God’s commands are about him leading us to life.  A good question to ask people: how’s that working for you?  Sin brings sorrow, loss—these are the stories I hear at the Village Church.  That’s not what God brings to us.

This was particularly weighty:

Remembering rightly redeems our rejoicing. Paul loved to preach the gospel not only in a frontier setting.  He did that, but he also preached it to who?  Christians!  Nobody wants the ministry of Moses.  Being in the desert with complaining people, then dying before they get in.    Everybody wants Pauline theology, but nobody wants Pauline pain.

And finally:

Do not assume the gospel.  It has to be explicit, constantly explicit.  Remember moralistic therapeutic deism—do this, don’t do that, go here, don’t go there.  Don’t assume it.  If we teach kids merely not to do things, we don’t end up with Christians—we end up with nerdy lost kids.

When you hear cancer, you experience loss, the redeemed are quick to rejoice in Christ.  This is different than rejoicing in youth, your wife, your children.  All of that can be taken from you.   But Jesus cannot be taken from you.  That is our hope and rejoicing.

On that note, the day basically closed.  It was as mentioned a full and blessed day.  The wealth of teaching at this conference overwhelms you.  It’s a biblical feast, a gospel banquet.  At BibleMesh, we’re grateful for TGC.  Things have gone off without a hitch, we’ve been edified, and we’re thrilled to be a part of such a work of health as this.

Coming to You Live from Gospel Coalition 2011

BibleMesh is live and at a major Christian conference near you.  We are currently exhibiting at The Gospel Coalition 2011 national conference at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago, IL.  I’m writing with a few conference updates and highlights from the first day, yesterday, Tuesday, April 12, 2011.  The theme for the conference is “They Testify About Me: Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament.”

Yesterday, BibleMesh hosted a panel discussion entitled “What I’ve Learned from Years of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament” featuring Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, and Philip Ryken.  The panel was held at 12:30pm at the BibleMesh stage (yes, we have our own stage).  We expected 300, maybe 400 people if things really filled up.  We were a bit surprised–to say the least–when we did a soundcheck 90 minutes beforehand and found people already reserving seats.  Over an hour later, we realized that we very nearly had a fire-code crisis on our hands.  Over 1200 people showed up, completely shutting down traffic in a wing of the conference.  We attribute this attendance to God’s kindness, primarily, but secondarily to the excellent panel we were able to assemble.  The discussion ranged over hermeneutical (interpretive) questions, different theological ideas, and the true litmus test for any preacher’s Christ-centered homiletical approach: Song of Solomon.  We were thrilled with the commentary and insight afforded us by Dever, Begg, and Ryken.  The video will be released soon; it will be a major help in preaching the OT faithfully, with the hermeneutical key ever in view.

The first conference plenary session featured Al Mohler on “Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus” from John 5:31-47.  Mohler offered an exhilarating exposition of one of the core passages that grounds Christocentric interpretation of Scripture, a text in which Jesus suggests of the Old Testament scriptures that “it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).  In the course of his discussion of the text, Mohler listed five common ways of preaching the Old Testament that are problematic.  Here is a rough summary of this helpful material:

For many, the OT is a problem.  Christians have struggled to understand it.  Reasons: the OT is labeled Hebrew Scriptures in a context of political correctness.  This insinuates that the OT is someone else’s book.  Second, there are Marcionites, practical Marcionites, not card-carrying ones (those who believe that the OT is not Christian Scripture).  Third, we counter those who say the OT is to be read only on its terms, without any reference to the NT.  We must avoid synagogue readings.  Fourth, dispensationalism–one of the more common twentieth-century evangelical theological systems–rightly saw discontinuity but did not see continuity between the Old and the New.  Fifth, some preach the OT as outdated.  McLaren, for example, speaks of Noah’s account as “disturbing.”

Mohler fully affirmed the revelatory identity of the OT and suggested that in Jesus, the OT finds it fulfillment.  In a passage toward the end of his address, he noted that “Christ has appeared.  The sacrificial system has showed us that it doesn’t secure redemption.  We needed Christ, our great high priest.”

Later in the day, Tim Keller preached on “Getting Out” from Exodus 14, working out the ways in which the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt informs our own salvation.  I heard people say that this was practically Keller’s finest public address.  The message included a helpful probing of the ways that redemption frees the sinner.  Here is a rough reporting of Keller’s material:

There are four layers to redemption: 1) believers are free from law objectively (under guilt, condemnation)—through Jesus we get out; 2) we are free from law subjectively—deep down inside, everyone knows we should be perfect, which some parents aggravate and make kids prove themselves; 3) we are free from bondage to sin (not under law)—every time you sin you’re destroying yourself, whether a big or little sin; 4) we are free from bondage to idols—if you love anything more than God, that is an idol.

Keller next covered how we find release from sin:

How do we get out of bondage?  Crossing over by grace.  Every other religion is like a process—you put down a pylon.  Not with Christianity—one minute you’re not regenerated—the next you are.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones would ask people he met if they were a Christian.  They would reply, with typical British modesty, “I’m trying.”  He would unfold to them the reality of the gospel.  We are saved not because of the quality of our faith, but the object of our faith.  If you are a Christian, you have already crossed over.  All your other problems are flea bites.  Jesus’ salvation frees from bondage; it allows us to cross over.

These were a few highlights from day one of the conference; there were many others, and there is so much going at this veritable Gospel Jam Bonanza that one can scarcely keep up.  BibleMesh signed up several hundred pastors to experience our website, a great response to our platform.  Other interesting points of the day included hearing that theologian Michael Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary is publishing a book response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  This is terrific news, as Wittmer is a gifted and faithful man and a book response will endure.  The Band of Bloggers discussion–now in its fifth year, an impressive accomplishment for its developer, Timmy Brister–featured much stimulating content on one of the drivers of theological conversation in our day, blogs.  I had the pleasure of sitting with Ted Olsen of Christianity Today during the event and benefited from his reflection on online Christian writing (Ted was one of the first evangelical bloggers, if not the first).

At the end of the day, a group of scholars and pastors presented TGC co-founder Don Carson with a festschrift.  The project had been in the works for some time and was championed by Robert Yarbrough, John Woodbridge, Douglas Sweeney, and others.  It was a great way to close a terrific first day.  We at BibleMesh are grateful to be a sponsoring partner of the conference and a small part of what’s happening here.

Does the Tucson Shooting Show that Atheism Poisons Everything?

Christopher Hitchens tells us that “religion poisons everything” as he points to what he takes to be grave missteps by the likes of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jerry Falwell, and Pius XII. But then, what about the atheist Jared Lee Loughner, who shot six to death in Tucson, including a nine-year-old girl? (You may have seen the YouTube video, where he declares that he “won’t trust in God.”) Might we Christians use Loughner’s case to retort that “atheism poisons everything”? And could we throw in Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” and Timothy McVeigh, the “Oklahoma City Bomber,” for good measure? Not really. This tit-for-tat won’t get us far. Instead, we need to go broad brush for comparisons.

Take hospitals, for instance. I recently visited a church attendee under care at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital, founded by the Evangelical Covenant Church. As for myself, I’ve have tests or treatments at Lutheran General, out near O’Hare, and Evanston Northwestern, with some Methodist roots. Also, a few years ago, I had to rush a church softball team member with a broken nose a few blocks to St. Francis Hospital (part of Resurrection Health Care).

Back when I taught at Wheaton, I would pass Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s on the drive into Chicago on the Eisenhower. And in those days, our middle child was born at Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.

In 2008, when I broke my wrist in a Southern Seminary basketball game in Louisville, we had the choice of two nearby hospitals, Baptist and Norton, the latter with historical connections to the Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Presbyterians. Had we gone west rather than east, we could have used Jewish Hospital at the downtown curve of I-65.

Certainly, there are public hospitals associated with municipalities and universities, as well as for-profit hospitals across the land, but the absence of professedly-atheist hospitals is remarkable, given the atheists’ posture of moral superiority. Where is the Voltaire hospital, the Nietzsche clinic, the Bertrand Russell out-patient service? Maybe Bill Gates (atheist) can team up with Warren Buffett (agnostic) to build a hospital in honor of God-denying David Hume or Jean-Paul Sartre, but it’s hard to see how those old skeptics could stir one’s eleemosynary impulses. Maybe the atheists could name one for Castro or Che Guevara, whose Cuban healthcare system Michael Moore praised in the movie, Sicko. The problem is that these enemies of the Church had to kill and imprison a bunch of people to establish their “revolutionary” setup, such as it is.

In contrast, those Swedish Covenant Christians with a healing ministry down in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood did it all without coercing or being coerced. Not surprising, since nothing could be more natural for believers than to build a hospital honoring the Great Physician, who restored sight to blind Bartimaeus, who raised Lazarus from the dead, and who gives eternal life to all to turn to Him in repentance and faith.

–Mark Coppenger (Southern Seminary) for BibleMesh

Theologians Release Online Bible-Learning Innovation

April 11, 2011

Theologians release online Bible-learning innovation

CHICAGO—BibleMesh, the newest online portal for Bible learning, will officially launch its first course, “The Biblical Story,” at the Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference in Chicago April 12.

“The Biblical Story,” is completely online with nothing to download. It teaches the overarching story of Scripture through animation-rich video, anchored by New York City pastor Tim Keller. Through a wide range of short articles, interactive quizzes and teaching videos, featuring scores of internationally recognized pastors and scholars, the course shows how all of Scripture points to Christ, from Genesis to Revelation.

BibleMesh has been in development for three years, including a year of testing “The Biblical Story.” It has been used by churches, by educators, and by individuals seeking a deeper knowledge of Scripture.

Published by former American Standard CEO Emmanuel Kampouris, BibleMesh contributors include Alistair Begg, Christopher Ash, David Jackman, Harry Jackson Jr., Joshua Harris, J. Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Peter Akinola, Philip Ryken, Rico Tice, Terry Virgo, Wellington Boone, and many more.

“BibleMesh is not just facts. It’s a whole-Bible theology approach to learning the Bible,” said Greg Thornbury, one of the project’s theological editors. He added that the “The Biblical Story” is useful for seekers, new believers, and seasoned Christians needing a refresher course in biblical knowledge.

Discounts are available for groups.

Also featured on BibleMesh’s website is “Thesis,” a blog applying scriptural truth to everyday life.

For additional information, visit www.BibleMesh.com.


A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: On Being a Speciesist

Believing as I do in the priority of the human species among all other animal species probably makes me, ironically, a dinosaur. Happily, I’m not alone. Attorney, author, and activist Wesley J. Smith is also a proud speciesist. His latest book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, is not only a carefully documented analysis of a movement, it is a tacit defense of human exceptionalism.

It was Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, the father of the contemporary animal rights movement, who coined the term “speciesism” in his mid-1970s manifesto, Animal Liberation. Like the labels “racist” and “chauvinist,” a speciesist is a person who discriminates against another class of persons. In this case, someone who discriminates against animals by not giving them the same rights as people. I confess, I’m a speciesist then.

As Smith chronicles, the mission of the animal rights movement is to eradicate the notion of human exceptionalism. As Ingrid Newkirk, president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in Washingtonian magazine: “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all mammals.” What Ms. Newkirk meant by that, however, is entirely different from what most of us understand about our common mammalian identity. Newkirk later told a New Yorker reporter that “the world would be better without humans in it.” Using the language of the early abolitionists, some in the movement even argue that we should “liberate” all the animals from zoos, stop using dogs as guides for the blind, and give animals “equal consideration” as people.

Smith’s carefully researched, accessibly written, and copiously footnoted volume shows the toll the animal rights moment has taken on humanity. Far from peace, love, and understanding, the animal rights movement not only propagates human self-loathing, but often promotes violence against humans, incongruously, for the sake of loving animals. For instance, one popular animal liberation instruction manual is called, A Declaration of War: Killing People to Save the Animals and the Environment.

To be fair, most animal rights activists are not violent, but many have drunk the PETA cool-aid and find being human a liability rather than a gift. Although decent people clearly differ on whether or not we should use animals for food or for research purposes, almost no one thinks we should treat animals inhumanely. And where true violations of animal welfare occur, authorities are usually quick to prosecute.

Why, then, has the animal rights movement gained so much momentum in the United States and Europe? Largely because of the erosion of the West’s belief in “intrinsic human dignity,” says Smith. Where humans are devalued, animals are supervalued.

In a New Republic essay, “The Stupidity of Human Dignity,” atheist scientist Stephen Pinker argued that appeals to human dignity are really a way to sneak in new religious values. So I say, let’s not sneak anything in, let’s be quite candid. At the end of the day, human dignity is grounded in the Judeo-Christian affirmation that every human being is made in the image of God, the imago Dei. One doesn’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to believe that that’s the case, but we should be honest that the notion owes its origins to the revelation of God, not to the canons of science.

And what has that legacy bequeathed to us? It would take more space than we have here even to begin to outline that inheritance, but suffice it to say that belief in human exceptionalism has been the bedrock of human medicine, democracy, international human rights, religious liberty, the rise of hospitals, abolition, civil rights, and a host of institutions we take as evidence of a civilized society.

A society devoid of the concept of human exceptionalism is too ghastly to imagine. It would be a world like that of Hobbes’ Leviathan, red in tooth and claw. For while humans may contemplate animals rights, animals do not consider human rights at all. Which world is more conducive to human flourishing? The one where human exceptionalism is protected or the one where animals are given human rights? The one where human slavery is evil and keeping Koala bears and sheep in comfortable habitats is not? The one where the sanctity of the great apes is respected and humans—especially the unborn, disabled, and elderly—are loathed and killed?

–C. Ben Mitchell (Union University) for BibleMesh