Overcoming the World: 2014 Ligonier National Conference

Speaking at this years conference are Voddie Baucham, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, Albert Mohler, Stephen Nichols, R.C. Sproul Jr., R.C. Sproul, and Derek Thomas.  These men consider some very difficult question as it relates to our contemporary culture. How are we to confront this present world?  How do we live faithfully as godly remnant in such a world?  How should we defend the faith?  How do we stand up for and champion biblical ethics in a society that is hostile to our ethics?

From the website:

As has been true in every generation, the church today faces many challenges from the world. The intellectual and moral opposition that we face can seem overwhelming at times, which is why we need to remember that Christ has already overcome this opposition. By His life, death, and resurrection, our Savior has conquered our enemies, and by His Spirit He has granted us to share in the victory. The Lord, in His Spirit, comes alongside us to strengthen us for the battles we face. This strengthening occurs as we are grounded in His truth (John 17:17).

Ligonier is offering this years conference free for online viewing, it is also available for purchase.

Blog post of Highlights >>>

Overcoming the World >>>

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Rethinking Secularization

Al Mohler interviews Peter Berger, author of the book In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming A Fanatic.  Berger has had a tremendous impact on Mohler’s thinking, even though Mohler does draw very distinct lines of where he differs with Berger.

One of the nice things about the format of Mohler’s Thinking in Public podcast, is that he helpfully prepares the audience by providing needed background and context before going into the interview. Then throughout the interview he turns off the tape, so to speak, to summarize for the listeners what was covered and explains how that information should be thought about as a Christian.  Even though I was able to follow the discussion and the sociological concepts, Mohler’s comments throughout brought a greater deal of insight to this interview.

Some of the important concepts drawn from Berger are his concepts of plausibility structures and cognitive contamination.  On the surface these are word pairs that would cause me to check out of an article or interview. But Mohler has done such a good job keeping these things in a helpful context that I was intrigued.

One of the reasons Berger’s work is so helpful is because the world in which we live today is a world of pluralism; a world where there are a great many ideas about religion and God coexisting.  More than ever Christians today need to have a strong grasp of theology because we are bombarded by the contamination from this world of religious pluralism.  And one of the dangers that we see repeating itself over and over is when well meaning Christians will bargain away parts of the Gospel that they would never otherwise surrender willingly.

This is a very intriguing interview that will keep your mind churning long after it’s over.

Rethinking Secularization >>>

Christians and Culture with Ken Myers

I usually groan when I hear the words ‘Christian’ and ‘culture’ used in the same sentence.  But in the mind of Ken Myers it actually makes sense, and makes sense biblically, because he rejects the churches attempts at popular contextualization.  Mark Dever interviews the fascinating Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio.  There was so much information packed into this interview that I’ve had to listen to it twice, and it was such a joy the second time around.

Ken talks about his education, his work at NPR, and how Mars Hill Audio came to be, and what it’s focus is.

Ken  begins by saying that the difficulty in talking about culture is that we don’t know where to start; we don’t have a good framework to know how to tackle it. There are many who have attempted to adapt to the culture by introducing media, entertainment and appealing to a consumer culture, such as the Church Growth Movement, but they have not understood the dangers that they present.  And from a historical perspective now, those dangers have taken hold of those churches.  Most would agree that contemporary society is confused overall, and it’s irresponsible to look to the world for models that we would structure the church around.

In fact, we have become Christian “choosers”, or “consumers” today, rather than becoming Christian disciples.  We treat church like a commodity, and we treat people like consumers, and our culture has conditioned us to fill those shoes.

In the church, Ken sees a problem developing in the intellectual life of the church.  Pastors are taking cues from the dumbed-down pop Christian culture, while Christians are reading at a far lower caliber books than they did 30 years ago.  Today the demand for discernment is greater than it ever has been, and we are generally very ill-equipped for any kind of useful discernment.

Ken also talks about how Christianity has become more American than Christian, which is something that’s been happening for a long time.  There has been the temptation for the Christian church to be the “chaplaincy” for the American project.  Secular people have defined what the American project is, and the church is there to bless it.  Yet, in the other direction, Ken is disappointed in the efforts of the Right Wing to engineer a Christian culture into society via a political machine that has consumed billions of dollars.  He observes that there is only so much we can do that society will allow.

Given our media hungry culture, Ken says we as Christians must be skilled in the use of language.  God has revealed himself to our age through words and language. And we ought to be conversant in poetry, prose and language arts.

Ken talks about things that define how our culture operates and thinks, from “optionalities” (having the freedom of unlimited options) to the danger of informality. We have also lost formal rhetorical speech, and we are one of the only cultures that have lost this formal register of speech, because we have developed a suspicion of authority.  And this has application to churches who seek to contextualize themselves and their message to this culture.  Can we contextualize to a cultural that prizes informality because it rejects authority?  Are our church values of informality encouarging further rejection of authority?  These are serious questions that we need to be thinking about.

Here’s a Bibliography of books and articles mentioned in the interview:

Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly Article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Books by Mortimer Adler, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry

Knowing God, by J. I. Packer

Mediated, by Thomas De Zengotita

Mark Edmundsons article from Harper’s Magazine, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education

Why Read?, by Mark Edmundson

All Gods Children and Blue Suede Shoes, by Ken Myers

The Democratization of American Christianity, by Nathan Hatch

Foolishness to the Greeks, by Lesli Newbigin

Doing Our Own Thing, by John McWhorter

The Gravedigger Files, by Os Guinness

The Death of Character, by James Davison Hunter

Anything by David Wells

Technopoly, by Neil Postman

Culture Making, by Andy Crouch

This is a fabulous interview filled and will raise your level of Christian awareness.

Christians and Culture >>>

Christless Christianity

Michael Horton raises an alarm about the condition of our churches and the youth who are following us, as he discusses his book Christless Christianity on Christ the Center.  Horton clearly explains the gospel understanding and basic theological position of the average evangelical American who attends church.  Quite frankly it’s frightening.

Christless Christianity >>>

Paul Washer’s Shocking Sermon

Here’s the sermon that often doesn’t get Paul Washer invited back.  And no, it’s not because he’s boring.  Washer preaches with clarity and passion.  The reason Washer has caused such an uproar in some places is because he makes a frontal attack on some of Evangelicalism’s most sacred cows:  Assurance of Salvation, and sincerity in “making a decision” for Christ.

Washer pulls no punches.  Nor does he just attack for the sake of attack.  He attacks these forms of Evangelical religion like a surgeon attacking a cancer. He dissects and explains.

Washer rails against how Evangelicals are so quick to proclaim people ‘believers’.  One of the most damnable practices in the church is when a person doubts their salvation, they are usually taken back to that day when they “made a decision” for Christ and “asked Jesus into their hearts”, neither of which are statements found in Scripture (apart from a poor hermeneutic).  We are often guilty of giving people a false assurance that is based more on the ‘sincerity’ of their decision than on the presence of a transformed life.  Washer claims this tactic sends countless people to hell.  At the very point that a person may be coming to Christ with a legitimate doubt about salvation, we kill off that work with a sloppy proclaimation of false salvation.

Washer broadsides contemporary evangelistic practices, including child evangelism and Sunday School programs. He says he would not put his children in 80% of the Sunday school programs, because the gospel presentations we give to children are so seriously distorted they border on heresy.

This message needs to be preached to every church in America.  The congregations response would serve as a good litmus test of spiritual health.

Paul Washer’s Shocking Sermon >>>

Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church

What can I say about Paul Washer?  Lest I tread too closely to making too much of a man, I can’t help but be excited by a preacher who speaks for God, whose words convict and inspire awe before God and his work of the Gospel.   Here is a man who has a prophetic voice in the manner of a Tozer or Lloyd-Jones.  And in this message, Washer clearly and effectively levels ten indictments against the modern church that we must take heed of.  Here are just a few of Paul’s major points, though not necessarily his exact 10 indictments:

The modern church practically denies Scripture by embracing the sociological, the psychological and the anthropological as having authority over God’s Word.  The modern church does not know God.  The modern church has exchanged the Gospel and the power of God for tricks, techniques, and pagan-like methodologies.The modern church has robbed people of the power of the Gospel by embracing the heresy of decisionism.   The modern church is focused on prosperity and not on sin, thus defusing the one thing necessary for the Holy Spirit to deal with to restore a sinners true relationship with God.  The modern church is filled with and caters to the goats while the sheep starve under the hand of capitulating leaders.  The modern church has remained silent on the reality that God`s people are called out to be separate.  The modern church has torn Matthew 18 from Scripture, and along with it loving, compassionate church discipline.

Paul asks the loaded question of leaders, “Are you smarter than God?  Then stop acting like it!”  There is a sharp bite to Washer’s indictment, yet the cutting comes from spiritual wisdom, and one who loves Christ’s bride, the Church.

Washer spent 10 years ministering in Peru, where he started a missions organization called HeartCry Missionary Society, and has since returned to the US to oversee this organization.  He makes Grace Life Church of the Shoals his church home.

Many thanks to Chad of Christ Fellowship in Hannibal, Missouri for connecting me with Paul Washer.  You will be hearing much more about this man as my iPod is filled with Paul Washer mp3’s.

Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church >>>

Jesus: Made in America

Author Steve Nichols discusses some of the themes and observations found in his book Jesus: Made in America.

Nichols and the team at Christ the Center discuss the distinctions between the common cultural perception of Jesus as opposed to the Biblical Jesus. Our impressions of Jesus are largely based on a Victorian misrepresentation that our society has built a false image on.

One chapter he has titled ‘Jesus and Vinyl’ where he demonstrates that Christian’s draw most of their understanding of Jesus from phrases and choruses from Christian music that taken together provides a very distorted picture of who Christ is, and in reality is theology in a vacuum.

The bottom line of Nichols argument is that our society has made Jesus in our image which is far from the Biblical context.

This is a very enjoyable discussion about a subject that impacts every Christian today.

Made in the USA at Christ the Center >>>

Why Christian Institutions are Easily Lost, Al Mohler

Al Mohler recently visited Harvard’s Divinity Hall and reflects on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s address to the graduating class of 1838 which amounted to a declaration of war on Biblical Christianity.  Mohler asks the question, ‘Why do churches and denominations have a tragic record of keeping their institutions orthodox and evangelical?’  This is a sad pattern that crosses demoninational lines.

The bottom line is that in the tide of secularization, these institutions do not keep their people accountable. This is very insightful commentary by a sage of our age.

Why Christian Institutions are Easily Lost >>>