The Gospel Coalition: New England held their inaugural conference this past weekend in Boston with Tim Keller, John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Stephen Um speaking at the plenary sessions. If I said that I was looking forward to this conference that would be a drastic understatement (it’s been on my calendar literally since the day it was announced). There were so many highlights its hard to narrow them down, but I’ll attempt to do so (I missed the closing plenary by Carson for sake of my family, so I missed that one and am looking forward to listening to it when it’s uploaded online).
The Gospel is news, not advice.
This was hammered on by every speaker throughout the weekend. Keller emphasized that advice is counsel about what I want you to do while news is a report of what has been done. He went on to explain there are two forms of “Christian advice giving”: Legalism (“You need to do these things and if you’re not then you can’t be a Christian.”) and the more subtle form that says “Church is a new community you join in order to renew the world. Now we need to be loving and seek justice and feed the poor.” (note: these aren’t quotes from Keller, but my attempt to capture what he said). If we have received the Good News of the Gospel, we will be transformed.
We contextualize all the time, the question is whether or not we’re doing it well.
This is what I’ve been most challenged by. As a youth pastor, I see lots of over-contextualization (teenagers do this, so we should too in order to reach them with the Gospel). Keller’s emphasis is that we need a biblical/theological grid by which we interpret and understand our culture so we don’t find ourselves simply falling into cultural forms only to realize down the road that we’ve either changed our message or conformed so much to the world that we aren’t any different.
We need to think like missionaries.
This isn’t really a new thought, but a great point we all need to remember. People used to seek out the church for life-stage events (weddings, funerals, sicknesses, etc.), and they used to have enough of a background to understand the message they would hear. Now, however, we live in a post-Christian world where people do not have a biblical background enough to understand the Gospel when they hear it. We cannot minister in a post-Christian world the same way, assuming we can start with the Gospel and people will understand it. We need to think like missionaries, learn what their assumptions and desires are, and then listen carefully enough to lead them to an understanding of the Gospel.
The mind is meant to stoke the heart’s affection for God.
Piper’s message on Friday night was worth the entire weekend for me for very personal reasons. I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded that the “Gospel-Shaped Mind” is supposed to serve the heart in order that we might grow “hotter” in our affection for God. As a theologically-minded guy, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in ideas and thoughts about God. I tend to be more critical than I probably need to be.
While focusing on the all-sufficient goodness of God and our love for him, Piper said something along the lines of, “Our affection for God ought to be so great that there’s nothing more the world could give us, and nothing worse it could take away.” Wow, I’ve been chewing on that for days… and hopefully will continue to.
Here are a few quotes from Piper on this topic:
- “The mind is set free in order that it might continually throw kindling into the heart for love of God.”
- “God created you with a mind and a heart. The mind, when it’s rightly serving the heart, causes the heart to be aflame with Christ as its treasure. Spare no effort to think rightly, especially by the Word. You will be throwing fuel into the heart to grow a white hot affection for God.”
- “Right thinking is the servant of right feeling for God. Doctrine exists for delight. Knowing truth is meant to be the basis for admiring truth. For this to happen, the Gospel needs to shape both heart and mind.”
- Why Piper kept talking about “white hot affection” for God… “Because it’s as from from lukewarm as I can get, and I don’t want you to get spit out!”
Gospel-Shaped church’s witness will be tied to being a Gospel-Shaped community
I don’t even know where to begin here, because this was such a huge issue that everyone addressed (and Stephen Um’s message was focused on it), but for sake of clarity, let me outline what Keller shared from Leslie Newbigin about Gospel-Shaped Community – The Church must be a:
- Contrast Community. We should be different from the world. If we’re no different from the world… well, we aren’t any different from the world! If we’re the same, why should they listen?
- Servant Community. They have to see us as not living just for ourselves. If they think we’re only here to evangelize, then we’re just another power-broker trying to get bigger and stronger. Being a servant is part of being a witness, but we should make sure to guard against becoming a service agency.
- Non-Divisive Unifying Community. When our society was all Christianized the way we justified our existence was by saying “We’re not like them” (the Baptists, or the Catholics, or whoever else we “aren’t like.”). Now we need to define ourselves by saying we’re not like the world and pull together over the things we are united over. This will play itself out differently, and obviously there are some things we simply won’t be able to partner in, but we need to be committed to unity rather than division.
- Lay-Launching Community. In the previous generations it was the lay people, the typical congregation member, who carried out the work of the ministry. In our individualistic society, people cannot come to church as ministry-consumers, they need to come in order to be equipped and sent out. Because of secularism, globalization and diversity, the average Christian today needs to be more theologically astute today than was necessary 50 years ago.
- Suffering Community. In the non-Western church, the suffering of the church is one of the greatest gospel-witnesses in their community. We need to learn to embrace suffering in such a way as to demonstrate faith in the all-sufficient goodness and power of God when others would expect us to be falling apart.
- Prophetic Community. We need to be centered on the Word of God. We need to understand the Word and our world in such a way that we are able and willing to prophetically speak in such a way that will point people to the treasure of the Gospel.
I’m really excited about what God seems to be doing in New England. I’m truly thankful that God has seen fit to establish ministries like The Gospel Coalition where churches throughout our area of the country can be unified, built up, and encouraged to continue faithful proclamation of the Gospel.