June 9, 2009
Advance 09: The Conclusion
Reflections from the front line.
The final day and a half of Advance 09 built upon the themes started on the first day, brought another talk from Mark Driscoll, and marked the arrival of the Baptists - researcher and author Ed Stetzer, local Durham pastor J.D. Greer, the one and only John Piper, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Daniel Aiken.
I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the Acts 29/Southern Baptist connection. I know there's a Calvinist resurgence among Southern Baptists, but they still seem like strange bedfellows to me.
The juxtaposition was clear on Saturday morning. When the worship team from Mars Hill Seattle gave the platform over to Daniel Aiken, I experienced some mental whiplash. The group from Mars Hill offered a loud mixture of Green Day and the David Crowder Band. Then Aiken offered a fine sermon, but in a style and substance straight from an old-school Baptist revival or pastors' conference - complete with the voice inflections that southern preachers have been perfecting for going on a century now. Having served the North Carolina Baptist Convention for nearly a decade, I can understand a fringe of Southern Baptists overlapping with Acts 29, but Aiken is at the center of Southern Baptist life and didn't seem to fit the conference.
Meanwhile, one of the best talks I've heard in a while came from another Southern Baptist, Ed Stetzer, who spoke on the church as a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God. Two of his best comments went something like this:
1) "Some of you here need to get over the man crush you have on Driscoll and love the church you are in." Wow.
2) "Conferences like this can be a sort of pornography that promotes an unrealistic image of the church - one that is sure to leave you disappointed and feeling that you deserve something better than the church you serve back home." Wow number two.
He went on to say, "Most of us here are not going to serve a hip church filled with cool people. So stop wishing and waiting for a church that's cool enough to deserve you and start serving the church you're in." Someone needs to say this at every conference.
Speaking of Driscoll (if I dare, after Stetzer's comment and the heat some Out of Ur commenters threw out over the weekend!), he gave his second talk about some of the idols that plague churches and leaders. Two of the seven were especially powerful.
The first idol was money. He said that two theologies make an idol of money: the prosperity gospel (which says those who have money are holy), and the poverty gospel (which says if you don't have money you are holy). I couldn't agree more. I just don't see "God's preferential option for the poor" in the Bible.
The other idol Driscoll mentioned was "truth." - when we make a certain truth into an idol, we place that truth above the gospel (bad enough), but we also must demonize others who hold a different truth. He used Calvinism and Arminianism as an example. Then the clincher: "Some of you will say, 'Pastor Mark, don't you do this?' and I have to respond, 'I am the chief of sinners.'"
The guy I was most curious to hear was Piper. I confess that I have never read any of his books, listened to any of his sermons, or even seen a picture of the man. But his name and quotations are all over the place, plus he's currently in sort of a nice-guy theological slapdown with N.T. Wright, so I wondered what the fuss was about.
Piper gave two talks, both of which dealt with missions and the need to once again engage in worldwide missions to the peoples of the earth. His talk on the second day, on prayer, was much more engaging and helpful. The apex was his comment: "You cannot know what prayer is for until you know that life is war." He built upon the war imagery by saying that when it comes to prayer, we've taken a wartime walkie-talkie and turned it into a domestic intercom. So instead of calling in God's armies to help us overtake a dangerous enemy, we treat God like a butler and ask him for little favors associated with our comfort.
I'm in no danger of developing a "man crush" on Piper (and his strangely permanent smile is still freaking me out just a bit!), but I did appreciate his thoughtful engagement of the topics and his obvious zeal for God. I think the same can be said for the conference as a whole - it was engaging, thoughtful, and mostly concerned for God's mission for the world and our place in that mission.