The conference cranked back into session this morning with more folk (6-7k my rough estimate) and a plethora of more free literature from the numerous exhibitors at the conference. (Yesterday i thought it was limited, but they have been releasing in waves apparently.) While attenders have to wade through some "Christianized Commercialism", there are benefits. My backpack is literally full of free books, videos and journals, not including the bag full I received yesterday. Our staff is literally considering shipping the books home because we only packed small carry-ons. Very nice perk of this event.
Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest BIble Chapel spoke from Psalm 25 this morning and entitled the sermon When You Don't Know What to Do. As has been the pattern, his focus was on the text, strong exposition and clear application.
The afternoon was filled with 13 workshop options during each of three sessions. This allowed for folk with multiple staff to spread out and hear a number of different speakers and a lot of different content. The workshops can be found here: Gospel Coalition 2011 Workshops.
My first workshop was a panel that discussed the subject Training The Next Generation of Pastors and Christian Leaders. The panel consisted of D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, David Helm and Ligon Duncan. Frankly, the hour was somewhat disappointing. It could have been summed up in a couple of sentences. Seminary training is highly valued. There needs to be a strong connection between seminaries and local churches. They exhibited the pastoral tendency to answer with superfluous verbosity which limited the number of questions that could be discussed.
Regardless, there were a few positive takeaways: 1) Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary argued vehemently that in many respects, seminaries would be unnecessary if more churches would raise up their own leaders, offering Mark Dever's 9 Marks and its local church based Ecclesiological Bootcamp as an example. Yet Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Jackson in Mississippi, argued that seminaries were highly necessary for extensive training in theology.
Mohler made an interesting comment by saying, "Seminary professors should be frustrated pastors." He explained this statement this way. Seminary profs should be pastors at heart and should have pastoral experience. But they stay in seminaries because like certain military members, not all can be on the front lines. Some must be instructors and trainers for others to know the greatest of subject matter, God's Word. Thus they are "frustrated" that they can no longer be directly in a pastorate, but they recognize a special calling on their lives to pour into the next generation.
I actually skipped my second workshop in order to have some alone time in the Scriptures. Please don't tell my boss.
For the last workshop, I attended one called The Mission of the Church with Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Both men took 30 minutes to summarize portions of a book they are publishing on this subject. Both took painstaking effort to dig out what God has to say on matters such as social justice, mercy ministries and the concept of continuity between the earth/heaven as we now know it, and the new heavens and new earth. In my experience there is less discussion on these topics within fundamentalism as there may be in the broader evangelical community where there is often much disagreement on the emphasis of preaching/evangelism versus social justice.
Both men made compelling arguments that we should love people compassionately, looking to minister as Jesus did, which is to say, not separating body and spirit. However, DeYoung walked through the entire book of Mark explaining that Jesus' first and foremost mission was the proclamation of salvation. He wanted people to see his identity and come to faith in him as the Messiah. The healing and provision was a tool, but it never overrode his mission of preaching. The church is therefore called to the great commission. He said, "We make disciples as servants. We do NOT merely serve as disciples."
Gilbert tackled the section on the new heavens and earth and got a touch loquacious in a word study of "shalom". But he concluded rightly that the church is not called to do acts that restore the earth or bring in the kingdom. We are to live in a way that is distinct and that reflects the love and mercy of a future kingdom. He clearly explained from the Old and New Testaments that God builds the new heaven and earth, and that God's people are passive in that process. So it is God that will give us a completely new place to dwell.
Both men gave reasonable explanations in the limited time they had to rebuff some common errors in evangelicalism. It was not derogatory or sarcastic, but simply straightforward exegesis.
So far everything has been like drinking from a fire hydrant. I look forward to typing my notes and listening again to some of the sessions. There are two more sessions tonight that should prove to be very powerful. I agree with Bob in his update that singing hymns a capella with thousands of followers of Jesus is quite moving. But it is the preaching that has been the most refreshing.