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The Evangelical Ministry Assembly, London, June 2011

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Category Articles
Date July 1, 2011

It was my privilege to be able to attend the Evangelical Ministry Assembly at St Helen’s Bishopsgate this week [22-24 June 2011]. Liam Goligher was set to be the opening speaker each of the three days.

LIAM GOLIGHER [1]

I have heard Liam Goligher before in Aberystwyth and at Banner, where he has not quite got on as well as he might. Here, in a tie-less button-down shirt and blazer and kicking off with a reference to the advisability of watching TV on a Sunday night, he seemed much more at home.

In an introductory message on John 15, he spent some time giving us the background from Isaiah and Psalm 80, the point being that the old vine Israel failed. It is in this context that Jesus says ‘I am the vine’. I was very happy with his replacement theology but he was very keen to emphasise the mixed nature of the vine even today. Conscious that some of us are Baptists he said that even Baptist churches are mixed. Sadly, he put it rather poorly saying that we Baptists know that there are unregenerate people in our churches but that is not the case. If we knew they were unregenerate, they could not be members! Baptist churches may be mixed but they do not set out to be, as some seem to.

He then went on to stress the importance of being under the Word and the importance of straight preaching of the Word. He also spoke of the importance of mutual indwelling. He was keen to see ‘remaining in Christ’ not as something mystical, but the everyday looking to Christ the only Saviour who we need to cleanse us or prune us by his Word as in Peter’s case (not removed as in the case of Judas). We ended with some poetry and a warm glimpse of heaven. The emphasis on straight preaching was appreciated.

DAVID WELLS [1]

The second sessions on Wednesday and Thursday were in the hands of the author and Gordon-Conwell professor David Wells speaking on culture. I had always assumed he was American or Scots so was surprised to hear his very English accent.

He spoke first of the superficial changes since 1945 but pointed out that below the surface real changes are afoot. He decided to focus on the growth of spirituality in the western world. His analysis was very interesting and helpful.

1. He spoke firstly of signposts that we are moving out of the moral dimension. He noted four shifts:

  1. From virtue to values. Today competence trumps character. Character can get in the way of making money. ‘Values’ is a 20th century creation of relativists. It simply means what is important to me. We treat values in a value free way.
  2. From character to personality. It is how you come across that matters today. In a moral world it is who you are that matters, but slowly and surely appearance has become the important thing.
  3. From nature to self. There was a time when the fact we are all human beings was important. Increasingly however the idea of human nature is under attack and is thought to be obsolete. We do not want to think of ourselves in that way but as unique.
  4. From guilt to shame. The vertical is forgotten and the horizontal is all important. The world is very anti-guilt. It is harmful. However, there are certain things that people want to hide. Hence shame is the thing not guilt.

2. He spoke secondly about spiritualities. In 1962 John Robinson’s Honest to God argued for a religionless Christianity. A little while later Time magazine asked the question ‘Is God dead?’ This came in the light of the increasing secularism. Ironically, the death of God theology died quicker than any other. In the seventies there was an earnest hope, on one hand, that rationality would triumph. There was concern, on the other, that this tidal wave might drive all before it. However, although secularism is rife in our world there is nevertheless at the same time an amazing emergent spirituality. Dr Wells suggested this would be a far greater challenge than secular humanism. The difficulty will be to distinguish true Christianity from these psychological spiritualities. While church going declines, ‘spirituality’ is on the rise. Very often people are ‘spiritual but not religious’ (ie no doctrinal, communal or ethical norms). This spirituality is expressed in various forms – kaballah, druidism, Buddhism, etc. The success of Dan Brown is due to its anti-church and yet gnostic, spiritual dimension. He then raised the question of why these spiritualities have become popular when they have, in these affluent and technologically advanced ages. The problem is that at the same time there is more depression, anxiety and alienation. It is like the beginning of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Such emptiness makes people long for something else. However, the spiritual world that is now coming in leaves no place for the weak.

3. Presuppositions

  1. The self has access to spiritual realities. Nature and grace are blurred, natural and supernatural revelation.
  2. They all assume the innocence of self. Original sin is not accepted. Pelagius redivivus.
  3. The sacred is there for a convenience. There is no danger.
  4. Truth is private and intuitive.
  5. This is not a personal universe. Christianity is about hearing a God who is outside of us. The new spiritualities are all about speaking in an empty and unspeaking universe.

DAVID ROBERTSON

After a wet lunch hour we proceeded to our seminars. I’m not sure what else was on offer but I ended up in the main one in St Helens itself with David Robertson, author of The Darwin Letters. Robertson has a rather strange accent (Scots but occasionally Aussie or London is it?), is a Free Church minister in Dundee at the church where M’Cheyne was once the pastor (he has written a biography of his predecessor). He kept assuring us he was an ordinary pastor as he told us anecdote after anecdote mostly of debates in secular bookshops. I would say, rather he is a gifted communicator who has worked hard and seen some blessing and his session was useful for provoking thought about reaching people today in perhaps less orthodox ways. He mentioned the Free Church website but his big thing is Solas.

TIM KELLER [1]

Our final session of the [first] day was with Tim Keller who spoke on preaching that connects. He also said several helpful though familiar things about communicating the gospel as he looked at this whole controversial area of contextualisation. He quoted David Wells and Don Carson (‘No truth which human beings may articulate can ever be articulated in a culture-transcending way ““ but that does not mean that the truth thus articulated does not transcend culture.’) and took us to 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 and Romans 1 and 2. I thought his idea that all cultures exhibit good and bad traits and sometimes both at the same time was helpful. His main example was the way Hispanics will wait until everyone is present, whereas the average WASP says it starts when the time stated says it starts.

LIAM GOLIGHER [2]

So Thursday morning we continued in John 15 with Liam Goligher. He spoke of how it is tempting to jump straight to the word ‘friend’ but again argued for the importance of first seeing the context. This was a unique moment in redemptive biblical history and that should be remembered. Three points were made, regarding

  1. The love of Christ. First the focus was on the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, leading into the love of Christ for believers and believers for Christ. Obedience is a key matter in the love believers show to God. That obedience leads to an exuberant and infectious joy that was seen first in Christ. We must love one another because of the joy he gives us. It was always God’s intention that we should love one another. The cross demonstrated how far love should go.
  2. The mind of Christ. It is clear from the Old Testament that Abraham was God’s friend and that Moses also had a friendship with him. This friendship is now extended to the early disciples, who are representative of the church. It is important to remember that Jesus is speaking to specific people in a specific context. They have been his servants but now there is a promotion. They are also his friends. Obedience characterises such friends. They are God’s friends (not that God is their chosen friend as in a human relationship but because God chose them). We are servants but not mere servants. How amazing and how humbling to think that we are his friends. The making known of what he learned from the Father is specific to the disciples there at that time. It would be enough. The twelve are appointed to witness to Jesus. We are witnesses only in a secondary sense.
  3. The purpose of Christ. Christ has appointed (an important and significant word) these men to do his work – to bear fruit. In the context the fruitfulness is not necessarily to do with evangelism but more with their loving one another. We too are sent by extension in obedience and love. Now is the time to trust Christ as his friends and as servants to a wonderful Saviour.

DAVID WELLS [2]

David Wells was good again. The accent is Southern African I guess. His second paper was on the impact on world views of globalisation and information technology in particular. Unlike previous generations, there is a unique and constant proximity to other worlds. What effect does all this have on Christians? What is affirmed and what is undermined? He considered two things.

1. How does this technology work? Space and distance have been practically annihilated. Our mobility increased first and led to a loss of community. This is the impact of modern travel. This has been added to by TV, telephone, e-mail and the internet. Suddenly omnipresence and omniscience appear to be realisable. It is in the area of economics that globalisation has been most obviously felt.

There is a world of consumer goods and it has power to shape thinking. There is a process by which information increasingly becomes global. Cars for example are typical of consumer goods that are produced on a global basis. The reason is economic. It enables discounting leading to affluence and consumerism. There is a moral dimension here but this is intended to be descriptive. By way of illustration he described a remote Maasai village with no trappings of western commerce it would seem, yet at one point a man held up a plant and said ‘This is our Viagra’! He also mentioned MacDonald’s move into Peking – a fast food restaurant in a land where the meal is still thought of as a time for sitting and talking – or seeing a student in China wearing a ‘Why can’t I have it all?’ T-shirt. Increasingly one can get the same goods, see the same movies, etc, in such different places. It is through IT that this is happening. This is new. Until now cultures have belonged to certain peoples with their own history and tradition.

2. The consequences from a Christian point of view

Benefits

  1. The benefits of instant communication are not difficult to see. This is obvious.
  2. We have become more globally conscious, as we should be. The call to go to the nations now involves us in

Disadvantages

Our capacity to maintain a Christian world view may be diminished. IT increases our ability to discover and retain information. However, the world that enters our minds can have a great influence on us in a way that other technologies would not. We are affected by

  1. Amount. Since 1960 we are taking in three times more information and the actual amount of information available is growing exponentially.
  2. Speed. The speed with which it all comes in makes it very difficult to discern true from false, trivial from weighty, etc. No filter can enable us to deal with this. William Donnelly predicted a confetti era when all things are supposed to be equal until assessed.

Observations

In 1909 Kuyper’s three important co-ordinates were our view of God, of ourselves, of creation. Today there is the virtual world and the question of what truth itself is. The internet is full of lies and there are no criteria to establish what is what.

Fascinating and thought provoking stuff.

TIM KELLER [2]

On Thursday afternoon Adrian Reynolds interviewed Tim Keller for a while, which was interesting. I was struck by a number of things especially the emphasis on prayer.

Later, he carried on with his message on the need to be flexible in our dealings with different cultures while we are careful not to compromise the gospel itself. He took us first to Paul’s speeches in Acts and outlined an unchanging content in

He also drew on a Themelios article by Don Carson. In this article he notes different scriptural motives for repentance and faith.

The final section of Keller’s paper spoke of the need with cultures we want to reach to

By way of illustration he spoke of drilling and blasting being necessary in order to break through and of ‘A beliefs’ and ‘defeaters’ which Keller fans are no doubt familiar with. Plenty of things to learn here even if one doesn’t take it all on board.

LIAM GOLIGHER [3]

Liam Goligher’s final session on John 15 looked at verse 18 and the verses that follow. He spoke about three things.

1. The world.

After so much about love (and joy) the verses here about the world (the human community that ignores or opposes Christ and that is led by Satan) and persecution makes something of a disjuncture. Jesus speaks to them about these things in order to prepare them for what lies ahead. He wants to strengthen their faith. The specific context is his coming death and resurrection but the application goes well beyond that.

Jesus is hard to hate. Even his enemies say good things. However, the truth is that the world hates Jesus and hates us who believe. One reason for this as that we are different and we testify against the world’s sin by this means. We are under the authority of an outsider, one the world cannot control. Following Stott he gave that quote from William Temple about the world, which ‘would not hate angels for being angelic; but it does hate men for being Christians. It grudges them their new character; it is tormented by their peace; it is infuriated by their joy.’ Not only do they hate us but they persecute us – because we belong to Jesus. The world hates Jesus and does not know him. This is because they do not know God. The Jews are very much in mind here. They are the branches that are removed. Israel claimed to know God but they did not. They had been warned many times but they still rejected the Lord Jesus who came. Christ is the true Israel and the only saving connection is in him alone. Yet this is not the Messiah they wanted and so they rejected him

2. The Spirit.

The world rejects Christ and his people but then he comes on to speak again (as he had in Chapter 14) of the coming Holy Spirit. The Spirit will come and convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. As his people bear a forensic and apostolic witness so the world is dealt with. The Twelve are Jesus’ witnesses. It is to them that revelation is given. That is why the church did and must commit itself to the apostles’ doctrine. The witness to the world is a witness to truth.

3. The church.

The concluding question is where are we in all this? These men did receive the Spirit and were then exposed to the fiercest persecution. Yet they went out and continued to go out and preach with great joy. Part of our testimony to the world is to tell the story of these men captured by the joy of the Spirit who went out with good news, good news for all. Often a Christian will say they have lost their joy. We need to point such people to the way the apostles did not lose their joy for they had seen the risen Lord. That is the place to fix our attention.

VAUGHAN ROBERTS

The second half of the morning of the final day of EMA featured Vaughan Roberts, who spoke very positively about Francis Schaeffer. He focused on what he called two contents and two realities, the contents being the truth of Scripture and engagement with society, the realities true spirituality and prayer. I didn’t catch the beginning of this talk but after I had found my place it was slightly disconcerting to be followed in by Francis Schaeffer himself. It could have just been someone who looked like him, I guess. During lunch an Anglican society was launched – The Anglican Mission in England.

At least the band were not there, so there was less singing. I also enjoyed the rap about the conference from Robert Prendergast of Calvary Chapel before the final session of the day. As with most conferences I attend the EMA was overwhelmingly white (and male and with a good sprinkling of double-barrelled names, which I don’t always see).

After lunch Roberts interviewed the main speakers (Goligher, Wells and Keller). This was okay. We often seem to get back to the question of ‘how do I get a big church?’ and none of them were as foolish as to suppose that they really knew how. I’m not quite sure why it was not opened to the floor or at least an opportunity for written questions given.

TIM KELLER [3]

Anyway, the final session was with Tim Keller. He began by admitting that much of what he was saying was just good pastoring and there was a danger in his approach of sounding too theoretical, which was good to hear.

Speaking again of ‘entering’ he spoke of beliefs that a culture finds plausible. Their culture predisposes them to find certain biblical doctrines acceptable or more acceptable. On the other hand, there are other doctrines that one’s culture predisposes one to reject. The ‘A’ doctrines we can think of as logs and the ‘B’ ones as rocks. Keller’s idea is that we float the rocks using the logs. He suggests that this can be discerned from Acts.

We therefore need to know which is which. For example, when the average westerner hears that God is a jealous God they are concerned. Of course, when we see it is love that refuses to be extinguished then it makes sense. C S Lewis argues for the wrath of God from the fact that God is love.

He then told a story that Harvie Conn told him about reaching prostitutes in Korea. They all thought they were too bad for God. So he began with predestination! Keller slipped in another nice story here of how R C Sproul answered a young girl’s objections to predestination and that led to Keller himself accepting it. A higher person’s authority to do what he wishes would be a real ‘A’ doctrine in Korea, and saying that it is helpfully the latter that westerners today appreciate most. There was also talk of how westerners commodify sex and make it a salesman vendor situation rather than a covenant one, etc, mentioning his ‘sin as idolatry’ argument and finishing with a summary of the atonement based on Roger Nicole.

Keller has said elsewhere in the same vein

My prof at Gordon-Conwell, Roger Nicole, used to say that there were many perspectives on the atonement, but the one theme that ran through them all was substitution. Christus Victor, for example, means Jesus fought for us, in our place; we didn’t do it, he did it. And so ‘penal’ substitution is the perspective of the law court, and ‘ransom’ substitution is the perspective of the marketplace, and ‘Christus Victor‘ substitution is the perspective of the battlefield, and ‘sacrificial’ substitution is the perspective of the temple/tabernacle. They all get at it differently, but the one commonality is substitution. God came and substituted himself for us – so we could be saved from sin. Nicole wrote this up in a little afterward to his festschrift, The Glory of the Atonement.

CONCLUDING GRUMBLES

I’ve saved you my usual moans about the band. I think it’s the drums that annoy me most somehow. The building doesn’t bother me, though on Day 1 I was stuck in ‘the south transept’ – not much fun. There must have been hundreds of people there – slightly less on Day 2 than Day 1? Near St Helen’s in St Andrew’s Undershaft there are just loads of books. I was pleased to see my books on sale. They have £1 offers each day – Derek Prime’s Bible Answers, David Bentley Taylor’s My Dear Erasmus and David Cook’s Romans.


Gary Brady is pastor of Child’s Hill Baptist Church, London, and blogged the Conference at his Heavenly Worldliness blog.

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