June 5, 2009
Live from Advance 2009
Chad Hall reports on day one.
A few months back, I noticed that a big conference featuring John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and others, and sponsored by the Acts 29 Network, was coming to a neighboring city. I don't quite consider myself Reformed enough to be a part of Acts 29, but I signed up for Advance 09: Resurgence of the Local Church anyway. Thursday was the first half day, and here are some highlights and reflections.
Speaker # 1 Mark Driscoll
I guess the way to get a few thousand conference attendees to show up on time is to have Driscoll kickoff the conference exploring the question "What is the church?" He threw a few jabs at emerging church folks, and poked fun at some virtual church, pajama wearing pastors (nothing too serious) before settling down to explore eight aspects of a true church: 1) regenerated church membership; 2) qualified leadership; 3) gather for preaching and worship; 4) sacraments rightly administered; 5) unified by the Holy Spirit; 6) discipline for holiness; 7) obey the great commandment to love; 8) obey the great commission to evangelize. (These points may be covered in Vintage Church.)
Driscoll said that preaching is first priority for a church, and too many preachers are cowards who offer suggestions rather than commands. He noted that the church was birthed with a man yelling and still requires a man yelling. He also quipped that churches should drop Sunday school because it keeps unchurched people away. He got a boo or two, but I couldn't agree more.
Another good line was a warning: "Don't be so creative that you become a heretic. If you have to choose between faithful and cool, choose faithful."
And I cannot remember exactly how he said it, but he said something akin to "leadership without control is not leadership." Still chewing on that one.
Speaker #2 Tyler Jones
Jones is the pastor of Vintage 21 in Raleigh and a guy I've known and liked for years. He offered an expose` from Ephesians on the decline of the local church and what a resurgence requires. Very helpful talk. He said that all the reasons we can give for the decline of the church can be boiled down to two: 1) culture has changed and become hostile to the church; 2) culture has changed and the church hasn't changed with it. He said the problem with both camps is that they make the issue about "them" - the culture at large - instead of "us." The primary issue is that we need to center on Jesus through a lifetime of "active repentance."
Jones hit another high note when he said allowing gospel-centered virtues (such as morality, doctrine, social justice, or tradition) to replace the gospel as the primary focus makes idols of those otherwise godly concerns.
Speaker #3 Bryan Chapell
Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I was impressed with his approach to the topic of communicating the gospel through preaching. The core of his intro (love for Christ fills our hearts and pushes out all else) reminded me of Dallas Willard's discussion of the "gospel of sin management" in The Divine Conspiracy.
Chapell talked at length about how any and all scripture texts (including the Old Testament) connect to Christ in one of four ways: predicting, preparing, reflection or the result of Christ's coming and work. So all preaching must have Christ at its center.
Chapell also echoed a theme from Driscoll and Jones that grace is the fuel for obedience.
Speaker #4 Matt Chandler
Like Jones, Matt Chandler (pastor of Village Church in Texas) took a look at the church in Ephesus, but drew from Acts, Ephesians, and Revelation. I hadn't heard Chandler before, and I found him to be a highly engaging speaker who spanned a range of emotions and thoughts to nail home what caused the church at Ephesus to go from boom to bust in about forty years. In sum, the church had lost their first love, which had three characteristics: 1) fear of the Lord and worship of his name; 2) a culture of sin confession; 3) they destroyed their idols.
Chandler said that most preaching today is centered on pragmatism, because preachers assume people know the character of God. But preaching on the nature and character of God is vital if the church is to be true to our first love.
Aside from the particulars of the talks, I found the militaristic logo for the conference interesting. Also a lot of war, battle, fight language from a few of the speakers. Not sure what to make of that. I was also surprised at the high number of women at the conference. For a group that is clear in their conviction that church leadership is for men, there were plenty of women who evidently agree.
I look forward to seeing what the rest of the conference brings. I'll offer more highlights and reflections at the conclusion of the conference.