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.
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.