26 June 2007

NFC: 6/26/07 evening session

by Dan Phillips

ore liveblogging!

We opened with a favorite hymn, "How Firm a Foundation," accompanied by piano, guitar, organ and violin. Even a single violin adds a surprising depth to the instrumentals.

Pastor Tom Ascol provided some of the history of the Founders Ministries organization. It was born of five men praying and talking in 1982, sharing their concerns about the health and wellbeing of the church. They were convicted that holding to the theory of inerrancy was of no value if we did not go on to ask what the Word actually teaches, and what impact it must have on our lives. So they decided to hold a conference, which they ended up naming the Founders Conference, since early founders of the Southern Baptist Convention held to the truths affirmed in the Baptist Confession of 1689.

The purpose of the Founders ministry, Ascol stated, is the recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Biblical reformation of local churches. Their great concern is not so much to make everyone into Calvinists per se, but to glorify God, honor His Gospel, and strengthen churches by a recovery of the importance of Biblical doctrine to Christianity. The problem is not so much Arminianism as it is non-theology, pragmatism over concern for God's truth. Churches must become Word-centered. None can glorify Jesus Christ if God's revelation is removed from center stage.

After more singing, Tom Ascol read Psalm 110, prayed, and introduced Dr. Wells. Following a song by a quintet, Dr. Wells took the pulpit.

David Wells brought the message: "Preaching the Truth of Christology for the Modern Age."

First, Wells confessed to being a non-Southern-Baptist. (I think he's from well east of here.) He also mentioned that he had not been told what his time limit was, which, he said, was a "strategic blunder" (to much chuckling).

He said we do not always know the line between Christ and culture, as it has been crossed seriously and repeatedly. The person of Christ has been reconstructed often through the ages, to fit individuals' desires or needs. Thomas Jefferson, in the White House, razor literally in his hand to cut out the portions of the gospels that offended his deistic sensibilities, is an example. Liberals re-mold Jesus into a great social worker. Or Jesus has been made a business executive, who found twelve individuals and took control of the market. Arthur Blessit, saying not to drop acid, but to drop Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The fundamental question should be how we fit into Jesus' ministry and world, not how we can fit Him into ours. It is not how we choose to see Him, but how He is in Himself.

Wells says his basic argument is that today there are two families of spirituality in conflict with each other. The one family is historic, Christian spirituality, and it begins above and comes below. The contemporary spiritualities begin below, and try to access God, or the Sacred, for their own benefit. "This is the crux, the heart, the center of the conflict between Christ and our postmodern culture," Wells asserted.

While there are still pockets of Enlightenment thinking, something new has been forming right before us. It is the emergence of spiritualities originating in the self and trying to reach out to "something bigger."

The spirituality from below. This is many of the 8 out of 10 Americans who say they are "spiritual." These look to a power from within, a truth that comes from private experience, as contrasted with an external truth from Scripture. So, these many say they are spiritual, but not religious (i.e. accepting doctrines and rules devised by others, or belonging to an organization that puts expectations on them).

Wells believes that this spirituality is the major competitor of Christianity.

It has arisen because of who we are by creation, and because modern life is harsh and difficult, and because we are losing our categories for understanding life.

First, we were created to know and serve God; our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, as Augustine confessed. This disconnection from God is what lies behind these spiritualities.

Second, the harshness of modern life. A book named The American Paradox said we have so much, yet so little. Never before have we been better off than right now, and at the same time so depleted, and so empty. We live longer, have more, are surrounded by more options and opportunities -- yet we're less happy, more depressed, less committed, less secure, and have more demoralized children.

Third, the costs to the human spirit for living in this kind of world are immense. Most of us are migrants, constantly moving from place to place, job to job, church to church. We have no secure connection to anything that lasts. All is transient. Loneliness is the modern plague of the unconnected and rootless.

This is why the self-movement has taken root in America. It speaks to the pains, wounds and confusion that people actually do feel. But we who set out in search for our self, have found that that self is fragile, broken, unhappy, and unfulfilled -- if we find it at all. The self-movement is not giving real answers to these real pains.

The Bible makes the point that our issue is actually God. It is His authority we defy, His laws we break, His target we miss. Only 17% define sin in relation to God, so inevitably they trivialize it. "Not to understand sin is to misunderstand God. to misread ourselves, and to misunderstand the world in which we live," he observed.

Most people do not believe that we are born sinners, including about half of those claiming to be born again. In other words, most people are Pelagians. And so, we approach God as we approach the marketplace, shopping for what we want, for therapeutic benefits, which we think we can have for the swipe of a credit card. And too many evangelicals respond obligingly by "marketing Christ" as if He were a means for therapy.

In the mall, I am sovereign; before God, He is sovereign. In the mall, I buy things for my own use; before God, I am bought for His service. In the mall, I don't commit myself to the product I buy; before God, I commit myself, yield my sovereignty, repent of having seized and misused it.
This is becoming the most serious competitor to historic, Biblical Christianity.

Second, the spirituality that comes from above. This is God in His grace and love reaching down to us, not because we are lovable or have reached up to Him, but even as sinners who are as unresponsive to Him as is a dead body to the mortician.

The NT frames this message eschatologically, Wells says. We encounter it in the language of the Kingdom of God in the Synoptics; in John it is above/below, glory/flesh; in Paul, this age/the age to come.

The Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels. It is not merely a kingdom, but the kingdom of God. We can wait for it, look for it, seek it, pray for it, inherit it, enter it, work in it -- but it is God's to give, and His to take away. It is God reaching down, breaking into life, not perfecting our work but creating afresh and anew something that was not in the human spirit before.

John reinforces this by his above/below contrast. John 3 contrasts the one of the earth with the one from above. John 6:33, the bread comes down from heaven (cf. 6:38). He was sent into the world, came from above, was sent into the world (cf. 17:8).

Paul (Wells thinks) sees the future as penetrating the present, in contrast to the hopes of the Jews. The spirituality is found only in Christ, because of Him and because of grace. It is all about God doing for the sinner what he cannot do for himself. The human spirit is not sufficient, but insufficient. That is the condition of receiving God's grace in Christ. Men do not rise up on mortal human wings of longing. Rather, we receive life as a pauper would.

New spiritualities talk, because no one has spoken to them. In Biblical faith we listen, because God has addressed us in His Word. New spiritualities work and strive; Biblical spirituality is all about grace, and about Christ, to the exclusion of these modern spiritualities. God is to be had on His own terms, not on the sinner's terms.

The NT writers are staggered by God's grace, by the fact that there is grace at all, and by the astonishing cost of that grace. The hymn-writers who use the word "amazing" about God's grace catch this correctly.

To our postmodern generation, beset by isolation and brokenness and rootlessness, this word of grace is a sweet word. It is the word of God's sovereign, redemptive love incarnate.

"This is our message," Wells said in closing. "It is the message of Christ."

Dan Phillips's signature


bloggernaut said...

Hey I almost never blog, hence my blog name is for irony only, but after this, well, ya never know...

I have been waiting anxiously for the conference's ongoings! I would really like to know what Southern Baptist churches in particular are going to so to engage this so-called "postmodern" society we live in. (I say so-called, because I actually think that our country is beyond mere postmodernity now, but that's just my take.) Anyhoo, I ask, because I have some faith and hope among our reformed brothers and sisters out there to actually DO something to inject the gospel into the culture in more thought provoking ways. Yes, I know this is a loaded statement which requires explanation, but I'll get to that later if anyone cares to ask. For now, have there been any suggestions or strategies at this conference (either formally or informally) to really get into the world and spread the gospel any differently than in the past 50 years???

Just to be certain, don't anyone get all defensive about church things now. I was a member of SB churches for most of my life, and I know the denomination as well as anyone could. The SBC is stagnating (admit it--it's true), and I think it's due to lack of authentic gospel preaching. So, I wanna know what people are going to do about it.

I'd better stop now before I get too worked up...

Letitia (just use "bloggernaut")

Dave on the Prairie said...

Everyone likes a good sale at the mall. Well, maybe not everybody.

Compromising God's word is kinda like marking down the price of following Him. Some pastors or preachers are doing this because they claim it will attract new people. Putting Jesus on sale, now 20% off. There are some people out there who like the Conviction Lite version of Christianity.

My view:
Christ gave 100% to us. What good to Him is someone only willing to give back 80%?

Also, I just read the Baptist Confession of 1689 for the first time. Thanks for the link.


donsands said...

"not perfecting our work but creating afresh and anew something that was not in the human spirit before."

I thought of 2 Cor. 5:17.

Thanks for taking the time to post this. You remind me of Tim Challis.

Seems like a well worth conference to be attending.

DJP said...

Letitia, Wells doesn't tend to stress methodology per se. His emphasis is not usually pastoral. He's an academic, and speaks thus, though what he says has practical implications.

Hargrave's emphasis in the first address was on pulpit ministry, since he's presumably speaking to a lot of pastors (among others). The practical takeaway emphasis I got from him is to preach the whole counsel of God, not cut corners. (This could be derived from Wells also.)

If pastors preach the Word fully, presumably the folks in their care will be better instructed, and better able to disseminate the message themselves.

My impression is that that, alone, would represent a seismic change in the SBC.

jsb said...

Thanks for the note on the purpose of the Founders ministry, which is what interested me. "Their great concern is not so much to make everyone into Calvinists per se, but to glorify God, honor His Gospel, and strengthen churches by a recovery of the importance of Biblical doctrine to Christianity. The problem is not so much Arminianism as it is non-theology, pragmatism over concern for God's truth. Churches must become Word-centered. None can glorify Jesus Christ if God's revelation is removed from center stage."

That's it. That is so it.

candyinsierras said...

Wow Dan. Great liveblogging! Right up there with Challies! Good job giving us the gist of the message.

Kent Brandenburg said...

From what I read of Wells, I hear a truth that the culture itself impacts the gospel, changing the nature of the gospel, paralleling the Scriptural teaching of separation from worldliness---separation the means of protecting the gospel of Christ. He makes the connection between the world and the flesh (self) and the gospel. He portrays compromise with the world in music, art, entertainment, etc. as the means of deterioration of the gospel. Keeping clear lines of separation is about the gospel.

philness said...


Thanks for the live blogging. I get the picture of God graciously reaching down to man with His instructions or manual for life (the Word) rather than man reaching up to Him with a list of repair orders. If we haven’t read the manual first we shouldn’t be calling on tech support. They’ll just refer us back to the manual and hang up on us.

Are you guys getting wet? Its rained for 2 months straight around these parts. I’m just a few hours away. Let me take you fishing if you get some time.

DJP said...

Philness, that would have been great. My time's been very full, and happily so. Thanks so much for the offer. Another time?

Yes, it's been pretty wet!

Phil did take me to this sporting goods store, the likes of which I've NEVER seen ANYWHERE. Really amazing.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Great stuff here!