«TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMING A CROSS-CENTERED THEOLOGY Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jr., C. J. Mahaney Contributions by ...»
TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL
Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III,
R. Albert Mohler Jr., C. J. Mahaney
Contributions by John MacArthur, John Piper,
R. C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile
W H E AT O N, I L L I N O I S
Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology
Copyright © 2009 by Together for the Gospel
Published by Crossway Books
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Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4335-0206-4 PDF ISBN: 978-1-4335-1251-3 Mobipocket ISBN: 978-1-4335-1252-0 ePub ISBN: 978-1-4335-2218-5 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Proclaiming a cross-centered theology / Mark Dever... [et al.].
ISBN 978-1-4335-0206-4 (hc)
1. Preaching. 2. Theology of the cross. I. Dever, Mark. I. Title.
BV4211.3.P76 2009 251—dc22 2009012177 LB 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09
INTRODUCTIONT he great English preacher C. H. Spurgeon recounted one of the more unusual experiences of his highly unusual life. He was headed to Haverhill in Suffolk and, due to rail delays, was running
late for a preaching engagement. I’ll let him pick up the story here:
So it happened that I reached the appointed place considerably behind time. Like sensible people, they had begun their worship, and had proceeded as far as the sermon. As I neared the chapel, I perceived that someone was in the pulpit preaching, and who should the preacher be but my dear and venerable grandfather!
He saw me as I came in at the front door, and made my way up the aisle, and at once he said, “Here comes my grandson! He may preach the gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better gospel; can you, Charles?” As I pressed through the throng, I answered, “You can preach better than I can. Pray go on.” But he would not agree to that. I must take the sermon, and so I did, going on with the subject there and then, just where he left off.1 That great gospel is the subject of this volume (and the Together for the Gospel Conference at which a spoken version of these chapters was first presented). This volume is prepared with the assumption that there is widespread agreement about the gospel across denominational lines, but also with the conviction that the gospel is widely under attack. Some of those assaults are deliberate and intended; others are not. Some are subtle; others are obvious frontal assaults. It is with a love primarily for the gospel that these messages 12 INTRODUCTION were given. And it is with this same love that they are now brought together and presented to you.
The participants were given a free hand to choose and frame their own messages. We have all been a part of conversations and discussions about these issues, many with one another. We have all felt the need to contend for these matters. The tone of this conference was defensive, in the sense that pastoral work is partly defensive—defending the sheep against wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Building the church has always involved the sword along with the trowel. Contention and contradiction is a necessary part of preaching, as all faithful pastors know. While some may love such fights, we intend to love the gospel. It is because of that love—not a mere love of fighting and contending itself—that we are willing to contend for these matters.
When Erasmus wrote his quasi-irenic treatise On the Freedom of the Will, he wrote, “I take no delight in assertions.” Luther
responded in Lutherly fashion:
It is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion... I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible persevering.... Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity. Why, the Holy Spirit is given them from heaven, that a Christian may glorify Christ and confess him even unto death—unless it is not asserting when one dies for one’s confession and assertion.2 It is in a Luther-like sense of confessing that the preachers contributing to this volume offer these assertions.
Ligon Duncan begins this volume as he began that conference.
He entered the lists asserting that systematic theology is a worthwhile task. Indeed, in days when the narrative form of biblical
INTRODUCTIONtheology is attracting great (and deserved) attention, it is too often being pitted against systematic theology. Ligon defends the usefulness and necessity of systematic theology with clarity and vigor. A pastor must remember the truths in this chapter or risk losing the gospel itself.
Next up is Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti was new to the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference as a speaker. He has been a friend of most of ours for years, being a member and elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and now the pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman. We have shared conferences and weekends with him and have been instructed by his teaching and edified by the testimony of God’s amazing grace in his life. (Before his conversion, Thabiti was a nationally recognized college speaker on African-American studies. He had also been a practicing Muslim.) In his address at Together for the Gospel, Thabiti challenged us to recognize that the category of “race” is irredeemable. It brings far more confusion than light, more contention than understanding, more prejudice than impartial judgment. As you turn to that chapter—perhaps the most explosive of the conference—open your mind and get ready to think.
John MacArthur delivered a message on human depravity that was a model of clear thinking. In it, John masterfully assembled the witness of Scripture (in the very way Ligon had encouraged us the previous day) on this vital topic. John showed that a mistake here is a mistake in the foundation of understanding the nature of our problem. He laid out challenges currently facing this doctrine and concluded by calling us to be faithful to this aspect of the message, no matter how hard we may find such faithfulness.
The next message was mine. I had been mulling over for some time the confusion about the content of the gospel. The message came together as I reviewed notes I had made some months earlier about various issues that needed “addressing.” I began to notice that each one evidenced a distortion of the gospel. With encourageINTRODUCTION ment from my T4G brothers—and the Capitol Hill Baptist congregation—I worked and reworked the material until I felt I got close to saying what I wanted to say. I wanted to get evangelicals talking about what the gospel is exactly. Of course, they were having that conversation before this message was given, but I wanted to add my voice to the call for clarity on the gospel. What is the core of the gospel? And how important is clarity on that core? I wanted to encourage a continuing priority on evangelism in the local church.
I said to friends at the time that I understood that “gospel” could be used in a broader sense, but I was speaking about the heart of it, without which no other news is “good news.” In order to bring further clarity, I’ve appended a wonderful brief piece by Greg Gilbert on exactly this point.
R. C. Sproul brought to the conference what many felt was the most devotionally rich meditation on the sacrifice of Christ. And he did it by meditating upon the curse motif in the Old Testament!
In his own inimitable conversational style, with wide learning and profound biblical understanding, R. C. took us on a tour of Old Testament practices, verbally painting scenes before our eyes. Again and again, as we stared into the depth of those practices, we began to see the cross of Christ more and more clearly until, well, let me simply encourage you to read what I heard many call “the best I’ve ever heard R. C.” And, I promise—it’s not R. C. you’ll be glorifying when you’re done.
During the second night of the conference, Al Mohler brought a new depth of care to the topic of the atonement. This conference in many ways was birthed out of our concern that the atonement is being misconceived and mistaught in too many evangelical books and churches. It was Al who decided to wade into the sea of literature and explain to us what has happened. With a mastery of the literature that is both exceptional and yet typical of our well-read friend, he led us to see the lines of misunderstanding—of attack— that have been laid down against Christ’s death being in the place of
INTRODUCTIONsinners. His conference message, now here in print, should serve as a guide to the literature and, even more fundamentally, to thinking carefully about the atoning work of Christ.
The last day of the conference, John Piper brought the cross into our own lives and ministries. He posed the question, “How does the supremacy of Christ create radical Christian sacrifice?” Looking through the last few chapters of Hebrews, John called for us to live radical lives so as to have radical ministries. He called us to be God’s men. He called us to be certain that in such a ministry suffering will come. He inspired us with the example of the late Sir Norman Anderson, a brilliant Christian scholar in London who taught Islamic law for years and who suffered a great deal in his life, though without apparent bitterness. (I had the privilege of knowing Sir Norman a bit, and he was as strikingly kind as he was brilliant.) John helped us examine what caused such willingness to suffer, and he turned us to the Savior to see how Christ’s person and saving work is displayed in our suffering. As a result, I, along with many others, felt compelled to follow Christ “outside the camp.” We pray that you will resolve to do the same as you meditate on this chapter.
The final message was once again given by the conference pastor C. J. Mahaney. C. J. preached a wonderful message titled “Sustaining the Pastor’s Soul.” He presented Paul as an example of one who suffered without complaint and served with obvious joy, regardless of the circumstances. And he called us to be “happy pastors,” too. What was it he repeatedly said? “How striking that the one with the most responsibility was the one with the most joy.” Many times since hearing this, when I have been tempted to complain, I have thought of Paul’s example and been rebuked and, as C. J.
would say, “adjusted.” Looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, C. J. helped us consider Paul’s foundational gratitude to God, his continuing faith in God, and finally, and most convictingly, his love for others. C. J. brings the great commands to love God and neighbor specifically to the pastoral ministry through the example of the
16 INTRODUCTIONgreat apostle. Even though this message appears as the book’s last chapter, if you’re a pastor and feeling particularly pressed, let me suggest that you begin there.
Well, what remains now is for you to read the volume and be built up. Thank God for his faithfulness to his covenant, even to the point of Christ’s death on the cross. This is good news indeed!
—Mark Dever, October 2008, for Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and C. J. Mahaney