In the essentials unity…
The Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) concluded last week in Louisville, KY. Everyone I have spoken to that attended T4G was greatly encouraged, impacted, challenged and eager for T4G 2008.
Other duties kept me from attending personally, but I downloaded all the conference MP3’s a few days ago and have listened to each message about three times (I thank the Lord for my iPod). I truly hope that they will also release the panel discussions in the near future as well.
I was greatly encouraged by each of the messages presented by these seven men (Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and John MacArthur). Arguably, these are some of the finest Bible expositors, theologians and Christian thinkers of our day. Some of them are friends, others mentors, some I have never met, but all have been examples to me of men dedicated to the truth of God’s Word and representing its truth uncompromisingly. We can rejoice that God has raised up such men willing to take a stand on what it means to really be committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, live according to its truths, and encourage others to do likewise. I do not say that lightly or gratuitously.
Though the messages preached were not for the most part expositional in nature from the text of Scripture as many would expect (with the noted exception of Ligon Duncan on his excellent message of preaching the O.T.), these brothers did faithfully declare needed and helpful biblical and theological principles concerning the local church, culture, evangelism, personal holiness, the glory of God, and the gospel. For example: John Piper was very passionate about what he called, “exposition exaltation”; John MacArthur shared meaningful sign posts that have marked his 40 years in ministry; R.C. Sproul gave an excellent theological treaty on justification by faith.
Then you add to them Al Mohler’s spot on views of culture, Mark Dever’s marks of a faithful pastor, Ligon Duncan’s encouragement to faithfully preach the O.T., and C.J. Mahaney’s infectious unconscious humility to guard one’s life and doctrine—we are given some indispensable foundations for biblical ministry. I am prayerful that the Lord will use these messages in future weeks and months to speak to my own life and ministry. I would urge you to obtain your own copy of the MP3’s HERE.
in the nonessentials, liberty…
One of the fruits of this conference is a T4G Statement on the Gospel drafted primarily by Dr. Al Mohler. This is a brief manifesto (18 articles) of essential doctrine concerning the gospel and its outworkings; urging the church at large to stand against the tide of unsound doctrine and the moorings of a distorted gospel by boldly reclaiming and then proclaiming the true gospel. Though not specifically mentioned, the concern is fueled by movements and skewed theological suasions such as the Emergent Church, Open Theism, New Perspectivism of Paul, Sabellianism, Pragmaticism, etc. Though we have many profound current statements on the gospel, and throughout all of church history great confessions and creeds, we can say amen for the need of this new kind of statement of faith that crystallizes biblical truth to confront and correct these theological aberrations.
As I was reading the T4G Statement I began asking myself a series of questions. The first one being a general and practical one that pertains to us especially who “live dialy” in the blogosphere: is it right in the public arena to pose questions about what anyone may assert about the Christian faith? What if this involves those whom you admire (like the brothers mentioned above)? What if they are friends or co-laborers in ministry or that are the leading “names” of our day? Is it proper to voice an opinion through the lens and plumbline of Scripture if that opinion is different or in direct conflict with theirs? IOW, are some exempt from public scrutiny concerning doctrine? Does the standard apply to all or just to some? And should some be given a pass because they have faithfully served the Lord for many years?
The clear answer came through the words of the Apostle Paul: “Examine all things; cling to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21); “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:9-11). Careful testing of all that represent the Lord and His truth, including myself, is essential to the health of modern day evangelicalism; and as well, in a spirit of humility, any of us in public ministry must submit to and welcome the constructive criticisms and probing questions from any believer in the Lord as a “noble minded Berean.”
I have not been to seminary for my training in theology. Though I considered that path several years ago, it is not how the Lord has led in my life in preparation for ministry. There are many others throughout church history that can apply to as well. Seminaries, though not mentioned in the Bible and have no real biblical footing, can be used in some manner to prepare men for ministry. But Scripturally, the duty is given to the leadership of the local church to train “faithful men to teach others also.” IOW, “the treasure” of the Bible was not given to scholars or educators—the duty to “contend for the once for all delivered to the saints faith“ is not the mantle of professors, but of the people of God; people who were primarily uneducated, unschooled, and unlearned. And yet, they were expected to understand, comprehend, apply, teach, preach, and live according to its infallible truths.
Today, one of the concerns within evangelicalism is that many of these heresies mentioned above were not born in the womb of local church ministry and leadership, but in the halls of academia and scholarship. The seminaries have virtually no accountability to the local church or local church leadership today—and it is troubling. Listen, every believer in the body of Christ is to be a faithful Berean examining whatever is being asserted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not meant for a few professionals, but for all who know the Lord and embrace His gospel. And an ordinary Christian equipped with the truths of God’s Word can confront and engage even the most profound of scholars and “win the day” for the cause of the gospel.
Beloved, if the Apostle Paul who penned the infallible, eternal truth of Scripture writing thirteen of the twenty-seven N.T. epistles under the superintending of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16ff) willingly invites examination by others, how much more should any of us, all of us in public ministry welcome that same examination? Even if those words of question and scrutiny come in the form of a corrective exhortation, passionate disagreement, gentle encouragement, or in the language of debate?
and in all things, charity.
On this blog, I want it to be understood, that if you read from time to time in these many articles of instruction from God’s Word on a myriad of subjects, when I am addressing those with whom I have served with in the past, or admire, treasure in friendship, and hold in high esteem, it does not mean that I don’t love them, respect them or honor them. We must guard our words and bathe them in a heart of Christian love and grace, but we must speak the truth and not shrink from our duty to represent the whole counsel of God. As Proverbs says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” I submit to you my brothers and sisters, that it is a sign of deep Christian charity that we continually examine our Christian leaders and what they are teaching for “teachers are subject to a stricter judgment.” And to ignore this duty, is to not operate in Christian love, but in self-preservation, political posturing, and timidity.
In that spirit, I would like to offer the following questions and suggestions about the T4G Statement on the Gospel with the motive not to be critical, but to see this statement stronger and more profitable for the body of Christ.
As you read this statement, there are three things that I would humbly submit for your consideration:
1. In these eighteen articles there is no Scripture listed. This, I believe, is crucial. All of these men are dedicated to the authority of God’s Word and to the proclamation of its truth rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17); and all of these suasions listed above have one thing in common, the purposed departure from the standard of Scripture. The Scriptures must define, shape, govern, and clearly demonstrate our convictions doctrinally and theologically. The T4G statement represents for the most part sound doctrine, but for the body of Christ in general to understand and have confidence in this statement, I think it is a needed component that with every affirmation and denial that Scripture must be there leading the way. This is the only thing that gives any statement of faith like this its authority. Without it, others could easily dismiss its assertions, importance and the weight of its convictions as theological bias..
2. There is no articles currently listed that deal with three key areas: original sin/the fall of man; the consequences of eternal judgment for rejecting the gospel; and practically, whom we partner with in the proclamation of the gospel and in the daily outworking of the gospel. This again is very important. The gospel of grace brings comfort to the sinner when they see the depth of their own fallenness from God; the gospel of grace brings a sobering warning to those who reject its claims; and in a highly politically charged environment currently in evangelicalism trying to recapture a societal morality through legislation rather than through regeneration—the gospel of grace must remain central for the Christian in addressing all cultural concerns.
3. Lastly, the language of the statement would benefit greatly from more specificity and clarity to provide context, definition, and precision in its claims. I.e. – a simple illustration of this can be found in Articles 1 and II in dealing with the authority of the Bible. I agree with what is written, but there is no definition as to what they mean by “the entire Bible”? The Romanists would claim that the entire for them includes the Apocrypha as well; or the Mormons claim that “the entire Bible” would also include the addition of The Book of Mormon. This may seem basic, but I know the framers of the T4G Statement would desire to see those blinded by these false gospels (Gal. 1:6-9) to be changed for eternity by its claims in seeing them respond to the gospel of grace by God's sovereign electing love.
Though the T4G Statement in its current form to me is not as strong as it needs to be, I believe it could benefit greatly by giving the proper time for discussion, debate, scrutiny and examination from many in Christianity and thus being multi-authored. May I encourage us all to pray that the Lord would guide these men as they consider the input, constructive criticisms and questions of others pertaining to T4G; and that they would be freed from the urgency of publishing deadlines, immediacy, and brevity. We are all on the same team here beloved and desire to see God glorified, His gospel magnified, and the onslaught of unsound doctrine silenced and genuine Gospel churches committed unashamedly to the truth of God’s Word.
To that end, we all can stand “Together for the Gospel”… Amen?
“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.”
2 Cor. 4:5
Friday, May 05, 2006