Here is a brief overview of each of the plenary sessions from day 2 of the 2011 Gospel Coalition conference.
Session 5: James MacDonald – Not According to Our Sins (Psalm 25)
I had never heard James MacDonald preach, except for maybe a clip here or there from the radio or something. He was an engaging speaker and very passionate. He said before you can preach Christ from the OT, you have to know how to preach. There’s a need for people today to preach, “Thus says the Lord.” Then you need to preach Christ from the Word and He is in the Word both in the Old and New Testaments. He then preached through Psalm 25 detailing his own personal experience of being crushed by life’s problems lately and really having to trust in God like the Psalmist did. He used visual elements in the preaching, but it was definitely a word-based proclamation. The visual elements helped, but it’s hard to describe if you can’t see the video. At the end he explained how Jesus is in this Psalm. He embodies our trust, He exemplifies our trust, and He enables our trust.
I am not sure if the workshops will be recorded or not. But I’m glad I attended the ones I did.
Workshop 1: Colin Smith – Preaching a Christ to Whom We Can Come
Colin Smith originally hails from Scotland so his accent was on full display. What he said about preaching a Christ to whom our people can come, rather than one they are to follow and obey (only), was very grace-filled and refreshing. I’d say more, but you can download and read his presentation (in PDF) here, from his website and ministry UnlockingtheBible.com.
Workshop 2: C.J. Mahaney – Pastoring with Discernment: Applying the Gospel to the Hearts of Those You Serve
As always, C.J. Mahaney did not disappoint. His lecture was less a workshop, and more a sermon. It just was a sermon, no bones about it. About 800 or more it seemed were in the room for his session. He preached through the book of Jude with particular emphasis on “keeping in the love of God”, as people who were “loved, called and kept (vs. 1) by building ourselves up in faith (through rehearsing the Gospel to ourselves daily), by praying, and through waiting for God’s mercy. He also emphasized that Jude was very eager to declare the common salvation or the Gospel, but he had to contend. Mahaney stressed that contending isn’t optional, but we must be wise in what threats to the Gospel really apply to our church and need to be contended with in that context. The contending is important but Jude’s passion was the Gospel. He stressed that Jude wasn’t eager for secondary things or practice or church structure or social issues. We may be tempted to be passionate. What pastors are very eager about matters and is obvious to their people.
Workshop 3: Randy Newman – Questioning Evangelism
Randy Newman who is a converted Jew who ministers to college professors and the like with Faculty Commons, Campus Crusade, is also the author of a couple books on evangelism. Questioning Evangelism is his first book and what his lecture covered. Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well is a new book just published by Crossway. This session was excellent as he worked through the role of questions in evangelism. Answer people’s questions about the gospel with a question rather than an answer. He explained that you should look at people on a grid from A to Z with A being extreme atheist, and Z being almost a believer. Rather than aiming to convert people with a one-shot prospect, we should look for ongoing process. Try to bump them up a few rungs, by causing them to think and overcoming an obstacle. Let our Sovereign God do his work. Today people don’t share the many common beliefs that most Gospel pamphlets and tracts assume. So an incremental approach is better. I’m going to have to seek out his book, since this seems such a good approach.
Session 6: Conrad Mbewe – The Righteous Branch (Jeremiah 23)
With my parents being missionaries in Zambia, I was particularly interested in hearing Conrad Mbewe. I had heard of him only recently, and my parents don’t know him at all. Some apparently, call him the African Spurgeon. He’s a pastor in Lusaka and helps direct two colleges for pastors. Not sure if he’s quite Spurgeon’s equal, but he is passionate and articulate. His message on Jesus, the Branch was powerful. He explained the role of leaders and how their sins affect the people, and their judgment is the people’s judgment. God’s solution has been to give new leaders who are faithful to his people, but ultimately it is Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Branch who will arise. The restoration prophesied here is described as surpassing that of the Exodus. He said, “Let’s face it, this wasn’t fulfilled in the 1940s with Israel.” He finds the ultimate fulfillment in the eternal state. The message didn’t focus on particulars about the land promise or anything, it was a wider lens view of Jesus Christ and his Greatness and Glory.
Session 7: Matt Chandler – Youth (Ecclesiastes 11-12)
Chandler was the best message of the day, by far. He went so fast it was very hard to keep up. His own story of having been diagnosed with brain cancer a year or so ago, is compelling in its own right. His message on remembering the Creator in the days of your youth, was especially poignant given his own story. He connected the command to rejoice in 11:9-10, with the command to remember. We need to remember rightly (the Gospel and what God has done for us), in order to rejoice rightly. Our problem isn’t rejoicing, it’s rejoicing in the wrong things. Chandler also drove home the need for the Gospel in all of life, not just the entry to the Christian life. He displayed an amazing knowledge of the Bible and had a humorous yet insightful way of putting things. I’ve heard him compared to Mark Driscoll as far as the style of his church, and he is friends with Driscoll. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t wear a tie or anything close to that. But he didn’t come across as inappropriate or even close to it. His preaching could be put right up there with John Piper’s in a sense, or C.J. Mahaney’s. I was blessed and will want to download this to listen to it again.
This was day two, and I have to leave now to start day three. The conference will be over soon, unfortunately. But I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely.