Was the Church Advanced at ATC?

(Disclaimer: I am a graduate of Calvary Baptist Seminary and have a deep appreciation for the school, its professors, and many of its alumni.  There is a definite bias in this regard.  I also have appreciated the pulpit ministry of Dr. Tim Jordan, although I was never a member at Calvary Baptist Church while in seminary.)

As I walked through the doors into a very familiar building, memories came rushing back.  This was the place I had spent 5 of the most intense years of my life.  I didn't say 5 of the best years, although much of my experience was very positive.  Seminary was, in another's words, "the best of times and the worst of times."  I never faced pressures in almost every aspect of my life, marriage, family, and ministry, as I did during this period.  That's probably true for most seminarians.  But here I was, back at "school." I could remember where "Chief" Jordan's files were stored in a large room over to my right, now a coatroom. The remodel of the church that occurred several years ago looked very nice.  Everything was modern and inviting.  I began to see faces that I recognized--some came with names, some didn't! It was the first of literally dozens of reunions that would take place over the next 3 days.

It was a blessing to have my wife Deborah with me.  I don't usually take my wife with me to conferences, but the seminary had arranged a low rate for alumni which allowed wives to come for free.  I took advantage of that!  It took us about 11 hours to drive the 600 miles or so from Indianapolis to Lansdale.  The weather and roads were awful going through Ohio but cleared up once we crossed into PA.  We checked into the hotel, showered and freshened up and drove to Calvary Baptist Church, about a 5-minute drive from our lodging.

And although it was nice to be back at my alma mater for the first time in about 10 years, the real reason I was here was one of discovery.  Sure, I knew there would be good preaching and good fellowship, but what I wanted to know was what had changed at Lansdale.  This was not the same place I had left 11 years before.  For one thing, the keynote speaker was Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  I had heard Mark before at the Together for the Gospel conference at a Matthias Media conference in Chicago, but I had never heard him at Lansdale.  I mean, did they know Dever was a Southern Baptist?  This crossed all the lines I had known Lansdale to maintain.

Then, the music started.  Pete Radford, a former classmate of mine who now teaches in the seminary and leads the music ministry at Calvary, led us from the grand piano, ala Bob Kauflin.  And the songs we sang were a mix of traditional and modern hymns, P.P. Bliss and Chris Tomlin.  That was different.

Then, there was the demographics of the conference.  I had attended several of the Leadership Conferences that Calvary used to host in years past.  This conference was different.  There were many more younger men in the audience, 20-somethings.  The conference was also a little smaller in number than I remembered. There were maybe 500 people in attendance, although I didn't count.

Things were a little different.  I started picking up on this a few years back, when I received a letter from Tim Jordan to all the alumni basically telling us that they were changing their philosophy of music and referencing us to listen to a couple sermons on the topic.  Then, I heard Pastor Tim preach at the national GARBC conference last summer in Schaumburg where his opening line to the audience was something like "Why did it take us so long to get together?"

The obvious conclusion I reached and that Pastor Tim addressed in one of his messages at the conference was this: the ministry at Calvary Baptist Church & Seminary had been on a journey over the last several years.  It had stretched them and caused them to consider their ministry priorities.  They made adjustments.  That's pretty much it.

I do know that they have paid a price for the progress.  Many people have left the church, most over music from what I heard.  The seminary matriculation has been a constant challenge as more and more students from fundamental colleges flood to schools like Southern Seminary.  They have been excoriated on blogs, in "open" letters, and from pulpits.  Yet, they are not turning back.  This is definitely the road they are sticking to.  They love it.

As for the conference itself, I was enriched each time the Word was opened, whether it was by Dever, Jordan, Harbin, Doran, or Bauder.  There were wonderful testimonies of salvation, lots of free books and giveaways, a gym full of vendors, and wonderfully strong singing.  You can read my notes on the various sermons preached.  I tried to write down as much as I could from each message, although it is not a transcript and I'm sure I made mistakes and communicated a few things not as the authors intended.  I'm human.  But you can read that or better still, listen to the mp3s whenever they are posted online.

Highlights to me personally:

  • The preaching of Mark Dever: Mark is a gifted communicator and is able to take grand and lofty ideas from the Scripture and communicate them very clearly.  He is a brilliant scholar, yet a faithful, loving shepherd to his flock. He is a leader of leaders in great demand, and yet humble enough to talk to anyone about anything.  He has personally responded to my emails each time I have asked him questions about ministry. God is using him to bring about a wonderfully biblical reformation to the modern church. I use his materials with my own leadership team and pray for him regularly.
  • Reuniting with friends: I have rarely attended a conference where so many of my former colleagues, pastors, students, and friends were all in one place.  It was wonderful also to make some new friends.  I enjoyed meeting some guys who I only know from the online world.  It was great to see my friend Kevin Mungons.  My former pastors, Paul Auckland and Andy Counterman, were both there.  Dr. Bauder introduced me to Todd Mitchell, a pastor in Minnesota.  It was great to see friends from Northland days: Dr. Ollila, Dr. Olson, Jeff and Bekah Augustus, Todd and Wendy Barton, and others.  I enjoyed having lunch with Matt Jury, a faithful pastor in central PA, and breakfast with longtime friend Dan Kreger, who serves at Calvary in the missions area.  It was great to connect with many of my seminary profs.  Doug Finkbeiner: thanks for your really well prepared and delivered workshop on NT preaching.  Steve Horine: your smile and hug made my day!  You were very influential to me at an important time in my ministry development.  Sam Harbin: I will always thank God for your long ministry in my life, as a kid, teen, young adult, and seminarian.  And it was very special to have dinner with my grandparents who live in nearby Souderton.  I know there are others too I am forgetting.  Sorry! 
  • Dr. Bauder's message on Friday morning was one of the best I have ever heard.  I knew he liked gunsmithing, but I didn't know he was such a marksman!  At least with the Scriptures.  I was edified greatly.  I appreciate his very gentle and humble demeanor as well.  Most guys wouldn't give up the presidency of a seminary to stay on staff and do research and writing.  That's like taking a pay cut and a prominence cut all in one!  But I don't detect much of an ego in Dr. Bauder.  He has always been kind to me, even though I have disagreed vigorously on some of the aesthetics discussion online.  He is a patient man, seeing the potential in others and saying just the right things and asking just the right questions to make us all think deeply about important things.
  • The reformed perspective: it strikes me that I didn't hear much of the "Calvinism vs. Biblicism" debate I used to hear at Calvary.  I suspect (although it wasn't stated publicly) that most of the leadership at Calvary have become more reformed over the last several years, as I have also become.  One leader I spoke to at the conference told me that everywhere he goes he meets other guys who have been on this same journey but independently of each other.  It seems the Lord is moving among many in fundamentalism in this regard.  Whether or not you embrace some or all of the points of Calvinism, I think everyone should be encouraged that leaders are being sensitive to their own study of God's Word, even when that has mandated real change that they have had to publically embrace and take flack for.  I am not seeing just "get on the bandwagon" proponents of Calvinism; they are being challenged by the Scriptures on this issue.  I can tell you firsthand: it is incredibly painful to change the way you think on these kinds of issues, especially if they have been ingrained on your conscience.  However, it is also tremendously liberating to believe what you have been clearly challenged by in the Word of God.
  • The panel discussions: as I recorded in my postings, the first panel discussion was not really interesting to me until they finally got into a discussion of separation.  The second panel was really, really good.  Mungons captured some of it well over at www.baptistbulletin.org. It was just the kind of honest, loving, Christian conversation that should take place every time we get together as Christian brothers.  The tough subjects were not avoided and men were not disrespected.  I learned quite a bit just by listening.  Excellent points were made on both sides. 

So, did the Advancing the Church conference actually advance the church?  I think so, on a number of fronts.  First and foremost, the Gospel was clearly preached.  Some may think it odd to preach the Gospel to a group of pastors; it shouldn't be considered odd.  It should be normative.  I need the Gospel every day of my life.  It was prominent in this conference, especially in Dever's classic message on justification through the blood of Christ out of Romans 5.  ATC advanced the church in the level of conversation that took place.  Unity amidst diversity really did reign here.  The conference hosts did a magnificent job and advanced the church by caring for and refreshing the spirits of her shepherds.  Landmark sermons were presented to make the church think about who she is, where she came from, and to what she is called.  I look forward to the next one in 2013.

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Aaron Blumer's picture
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Thanks again

Thanks again, Brian, for reporting for us. We live in very interesting times (have there ever been uninteresting ones?). But I guess they are especially interesting to fundamentalist-movement watchers.
Maybe I'll make it to ATC in 2013.

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Quote: Things were a little

Quote:
Things were a little different. I started picking up on this a few years back, when I received a letter from Tim Jordan to all the alumni basically telling us that they were changing their philosophy of music and referencing us to listen to a couple sermons on the topic. Then, I heard Pastor Tim preach at the national GARBC conference last summer in Schaumburg where his opening line to the audience was something like "Why did it take us so long to get together?"

The obvious conclusion I reached and that Pastor Tim addressed in one of his messages at the conference was this: the ministry at Calvary Baptist Church & Seminary had been on a journey over the last several years. It had stretched them and caused them to consider their ministry priorities. They made adjustments. That's pretty much it.

I do know that they have paid a price for the progress. Many people have left the church, most over music from what I heard.

This is the story in too many evangelical and Fundamentalist churches. Many "evangelicals" are starting to see the error of their ways in confusing what is worship, what is fellowship, and what is influenced by public appetite for entertainment. The Biola University alumni magazine had a recent issue titled "Heavy Worship" which in essence indicated we have forgotten what it is and how to do so with music. Pagan public tastes changed the evangelical worship and eventually reached into many more conservative and Fundamentalist churches. If you were to ask the disenfranchised congregants they would say "they took away my church." The "they' are the professional clergy staff who usually initiate and pursue such change. They eventually get the board on their side through gradual member change or manipulation.
The unforseen consequences usually involve dumbed down worship, changes in values regarding worldliness, and questioning what constitutes Biblical discernment. This brings questions regarding separation. Calvary seminary has evidently been going through this evolution of change which was a foundation for inviting a Reformed Baptist to be part of influencing their constituency.

This is not your fathers discerning Dispensational, evangelistically zealous, Fundamentalist, Baptist approach to ministry where a Mark Dever may be learned from through his writings and now Blogs, but discerningly avoided in favor of that which is more Biblical, and much more effective in evangelism.

What some Fundamentalism needs is more an awakening resulting in people arousal in fervency and conversion of souls that grows churches through conversion growth. This will not come by looking to "Reformed" ministry and theology and those who represent it.

After reading this report by a Calvary graduate, I may better understand the journey that Calvary is on.

We should advocate a Bible teaching expository pulpit that involves in depth doctrinal teaching. However, it must be part of a broader ministry that awakens evangelistic zeal, does not avoid revivalism, and advocates Biblical discernment that brings loving but real separation as necessary. Mark Dever does not represent this. The article just posted by Kevin Bauder further reveals this. Mark Dever advocates some good things. He also advocates 5 point "Reformed" theology, and avoids zealous evangelism. His "9 marks" book is interesting. However, good books on the church have existed prior and since its publication. Perhaps we need to broaden our reading and awareness of present church ministries.

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Quote: We should advocate a

Quote:
We should advocate a Bible teaching expository pulpit that involves in depth doctrinal teaching. However, it must be part of a broader ministry that awakens evangelistic zeal, does not avoid revivalism, and advocates Biblical discernment that brings loving but real separation as necessary. Mark Dever does not represent this. The article just posted by Kevin Bauder further reveals this.

Your "this" includes too much. I do think you're right that revivalism would not be part of Dever's package or Kevin's.

Quote:
Mark Dever advocates some good things. He also advocates 5 point "Reformed" theology, and avoids zealous evangelism.

I wonder if you could tell us how he "avoids zealous evangelism"?

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Bob, I visited CHBC when I

Bob,

I visited CHBC when I was in DC a couple of years back. You are mistaken to think that Dever or his church is not evangelistic. I think your bias against anything Reformed is causing your mistaken assumptions here.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Brian McCrorie's picture
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Clarification from Dr. Tim Jordan

I received an email this afternoon from Dr. Tim Jordan. He gave me permission to post it here. I would defer to his clarification of a statement I made as he certainly knows better the situations in his own church. I appreciate his note. Here it is:

Quote:
Hi Brian,

It was good to see you at this year’s ATC conference. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for what seems to me to be a rather even handed evaluation of the conference. My own observations, like that of each and every individual, would be a bit different, but largely the same. Thank you for your concern with honesty. It was most obvious that you were striving for clarity and accuracy. I really appreciate it.

Along those lines there was just one thing of what you wrote that I wanted to clarify. I didn’t want to do it via Sharper Iron directly. Personally I don’t want to caught up into all of the drama, although certainly some of the discussions are quite healthy. At one point your wrote…
“Many people have left the church, most over music from what I heard.” Just for the sake of accuracy, in fact although people have come and gone over the years, the ups and downs in recent years are quite in line with the ups and downs over the past 35 years. In fact we have enjoyed stability and even some growth in the past two years. Of those whose stated reason for leaving was music (stated reasons and the real reasons are rarely the same), the vast majority have left because our music was too conservative, not too progressive.

So Brian, thanks again for your obvious commitment to be objective and honest. Feel free to quote this email in your blog if you feel that you should. Thanks again. I do hope to see you at ATC, 2013.

In Him,
Tim

Brian McCrorie
Indianapolis, IN
www.bowingdown.com

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I echo Roger

Bob T. wrote:

What some Fundamentalism needs is more an awakening resulting in people arousal in fervency and conversion of souls that grows churches through conversion growth. This will not come by looking to "Reformed" ministry and theology and those who represent it.

Bob T.

I grew up for 23 years at Bob Jones University, and was a member of Mark Dever's church for 2 years, and I've probably heard every sermon there for the past 10 years. People get saved at Capitol Hill all the time. They may not come down to the front weeping on a Sunday morning, but their lives change, they grow in the faith. The church is full of converts who are now in leadership positions. We had baptisms of younger and older adults all the time of people who were saved in the church, or through the witnessing testimony of someone in the church. I'll never forget the baptism of an aide to Hillary Clinton when she was a US Senator from New York. He had a clear testimony of conversion by hearing the simple gospel proclaimed week after week in church. I was rebuked by my own presumptions of the power of the God to save anyone from any background.

On Sunday evenings you will hear several different people come up and tell of ways to get involved in evangelism. You can go to the back and pick up Dever's book "The Gospel and Personal Evangelism." Evangelism indeed is zealous there, it's just not overly emotionally Finneyesque.

Frankly, you don't know what you're taking about, but yet you are so sure that you're right. I think that should cause some introspection on your part and searching for more information before casting judgment. Your general feeling that Reformed Baptists aren't as evangelistic may have been true 30 years ago, but I don't think it's true any more, at least with Mark Dever.

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ATC 2011 Audio now Available

We have just finished uploading all of the audio from the conference for anyone interested listening to any of the sessions.

[url ]http://www.advancingthechurch.org/audio.html

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Translating ATC to school ministry

As an administrator of a Christian school, I read Brian's assessment of the ATC; and I am very encouraged by the "direction" that Calvary Baptist Church of Lansdale has been taking over the past several years. I desperately wanted to attend this year, but another series of seminars (on infusing our curriculum across the board with real Biblical integration) indirectly kept me from being able to attend.

My school is on a similar journey--which somewhat mirrors our church's--and its demographic, cultural, and academic makeup makes this trip absolutely necessary. My tenure amounts to less than a year, but my experience at Calvary Baptist--with Pastor Tim's "preach nothing save the Word" ministry, which was of great encouragement and spiritual satisfaction for my soul--has prepared me well to use the Word of God as my primary guide for formulating a vision for my faculty and staff. Some call it "thinking outside the box" while often what is required is bold, radical adherence to the Scriptures without the extra baggage known as "tradition" or "preference."

Pray for us as we have experienced some growth over the past couple of years and challenges lie ahead. What a privilege to shepherd such a gifted group of educators and staff for the cause of Jesus Christ!

Look for more postings that will attempt to apply the "iron-sharpening" to our twenty-first Christian educational endeavors.

Soli Deo Gloria, Ron

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Seminars

Ron, I'd be interested knowing more about those curriculum seminars you mentioned. The whole matter of working out the unity of truth as it applies to the whole gamut of fields of study is of great interest to me.
Maybe you can post a link to more info?

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Seminars

I will do so as soon as I can. It is an area about which I have always been passionate.

What rekindled the spark is the fact that Bob Jones hired an Old Testament Ph.D. to lead the charge. He introduced the two-day seminars; significant to me is the need for theologians and Biblical "specialists" in the field of Christian education. His (and that of others who work with him) job is to specifically comb through all their curriculum to be sure that all has been thoroughly infused with a Christian worldview at the highest level (see link below). The teachers, authors, even the illustrators all are being trained. While the assumption is that these textbook editors are Christian (and they are) and are well discipled (and they are), that some are not always thoroughly prepared to understand the subject matter from a Biblical perspective beyond a surface level. This seems to deepen the level of scholarly content as well as the Scriptural foundation of the various fields of study. Some may not appreciate this until they examine how surface the average church's understanding of godly music really is! How many of our church musicians are also theologians? (Which may be why the concentration of music study and worship teaching in our churches is on "beat & rhythm" and the ever-general "worldliness," but I digress!)

This showed me that my seminary preparation has uniquely prepared me to lead the teachers in this Biblical integration effort! I no longer feel that my work in Christian education is a detour from my desire for a further degree in Old Testament. Instead, this is crucial for my work as a school administrator.

Our Christian schools need to be catapulted into the lead in education rather than continually lagging behind.

Here is a link with material that, when presented to me, challenged me to examine our own curriculum at Arlington Baptist School: http://www.bju.edu/academics/arts-and-science/natural-science/sits/2004-....

Soli Deo Gloria, Ron

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Thx

Appreciate that