Back from Kentucky!

You know its been too long since you’ve last posted when the whole format of the posting page has been changed. The last few weeks have been packed with events, teaching prep, seeing Leah and Micah off to NH, and then four days in Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel ’08 conference. Needless to say, the conference was ‘off the charts’, as Pastor Greg Golden would say. I’m going to take some time to describe the week, to let you know what I was challenged with, and provide some links to men who probably are better suited to write full recaps of the messages.

Of course, you should go to challies.com for recaps of each message, as well as various videos and pictures of the week. If you would like to listen to the messages for free, go here. I’ve attempted downloading them, but have thus far only been able to listen to them online. If you figure it out, please let me know.

Here’s a video about them giving books out for the week. You’ll notice the massive book store that they had there. They had almost every major Christian book publishing company there, and they only had books they would recommend displayed. On top of that, we were given about 15 books, many of which I was already planning on buying.

Free Books

“The Courage to be Protestant” by Davide Wells- Wells has become known for being an amazing source of insight and knowledge when it comes to true Christianity and the culture. From what I understand, this book envelops a couple other Wells books in making observations about where the church is in today’s culture.

“The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors” by Thabiti Anyabwile- Anyabwile is a pastor in the Cayman Islands, former pastor at Mark Dever’s church in D.C., and was an addition to the teaching line up at the conference this year. Much to our surprise, and honestly a little disappointing, he didn’t have a cool accent, but he did give an excellent message about the myth of race and the church’s responsibility to apply the truth of mankind being one in Adam to it’s practices and the proclamation of the Gospel. As Thabiti said, “They brought the black guy in to talk about race.” This book is about three lesser known African-American pastors through troubling times of slavery, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the turn of the 20th century, to the first two World Wars. Should be quite the interesting read.

“Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth” by Al Mohler- I wrote about this book here. When I finished reading it, I realized that it was probably going to be given to me at the conference. Oh well, I guess I have an extra to give out as a present.

“The Gospel and Personal Evangelism” by Mark Dever- This book asks most of the questions about who should evangelize, what evangelism is, and why we should do it. I haven’t read it, so I can’t tell you much, except that Dever’s message on how the church is misunderstanding what the Gospel is was terrific and thought provoking, and if includes any of that in this book, then we should be well off.

“The Truth of the Cross” by R.C. Sproul- out of the 60 or so books Sproul has written, I doubt this ranks up there as ground breaking, but is a solid message none-the-less. It is a continued call to properly understand the cross and the implications of it. To quote Mahaney’s book, “we never move on from the cross, only to a deeper understanding of it.”

Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution”– by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach- This is potentially the book I’m most excited about. Of all the books written in the last couple of years, this may be one of the most important. It was near the top of nearly ever top 10 list of 2007 that I respect, and was thrilled to get it at the conference. I will write more on this subject later, as this was one of the main themes of the week.

“In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement” by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever- this book is a compilation of previously written pieces on the subject of penal substitutionary atonement, and I was able to read it on the plane back, and it was superb. There are those that outrightly reject the idea of penal substitution, and an article written by J.I. Packer is included that expositionally confronts the objectors. Also included is the introduction Packer wrote for John Owen’s “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. This intro is a fantastic defense and explanation of Calvinism as well as the doctrine of limited atonement. Along with an article and intro by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan provides a very helpful list of great works on the subject of the atonement. A great, quick read, and an important defense of a crucial doctrine.

“If You Could Ask God One Question” by Paul Williams and Barry Cooper- This is more of a little reference that provides succinct answers to common questions. For those pastors who struggle to be brief, (I hardly know any like that…) it is a good little tool.

“Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck- Doesn’t the title alone make you want to read this? This was also on my wish list, and I read through the intro on the plane on the way home. From the intro, I can tell you that this book is going to be an insightful and entertaining read. They call out the emerging church personalities and hold their feet to the fire. DeYoung approaches it as a young pastor of a church in a college community, while Kluck is more of a reporter and lay person. This provides two good, different approaches. What I’ve read so far has been fantastic, and I can’t wait to finish it.

“The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur- I know, this is an old one, but it is an updated version. We had a good laugh at thinking the Gospel according to Jesus had been updated. Ironic. Anyhoo, the book is a confrontation to the easy-believism and one of the initial calls to Lordship salvation in the 80’s. A must read by every Christian. (Selfishly, I was hoping for MacArthur’s “Two Sons” book on the prodigal son. One of his best messages EVER was on that subject, and out of that was born his new book. I guess they handed it out at the Band of Bloggers mini-conference prior to the main conference.)
“The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright” by John Piper- Piper’s response to N.T. Wrights claim on the New Perspective on Paul. The Master’s Seminary dedicated the faculty series of chapels to this subject on year, and honestly, I still don’t fully understand it. So I am looking forward to reading Piper’s response.

“Christ and Culture Revisited” by D.A. Carson- fresh off the presses, Carson’s brand new book asks and answers the question of how involved the believer should be in their culture. I’m very excited to read this from one of the great thinkers God has given the world today.

“Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God” by Bob Kauflin- Kauflin led the worship again this year, and is a Sovereign Grace worship leader. Though he comes from a charismatic background, I would say this is a must-read for anyone involved in leading worship. Kauflin has an amazing hear and passion for worship, and wonderfully conveys Bible-centered worship, rooted in Christ. Kauflin proves himself to be a wonderful writer, encouraging the reader throughout, and continuing to light a passion for worship. Kauflin wrote “Grace Unmeasured” as well as other great song, and has done a terrific job at getting hymns back into circulation and updating music to lyrically rich songs.

“Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel”– by Dever, Duncan, Mahaney, and Mohler- this book is a compilation of the first T4G conference with chapters by MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper. For some reason, I already had it, so I’ll give this one away to a friend who was with us the first time, but not this time.

The last thing handed out was a small ESV Bible, great for keeping in the car and using in emergencies, according to Ligon Duncan. I didn’t have a small Bible, so that’ll be exactly what I do!

“Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp- While this wasn’t an official handout, it was made available at the beginning for free on a first come-first serve basis. It is an updated version of one of the greatest pieces of how to raise children. If you have young children, this is a MUST read. You and you’re child will reap the benefits of the time and effort you put in to this book. Tripp is a leading writer on the subject of raising children and counseling today, and his wisdom has proved itself to be invaluable to countless believers.

A Surprising Conference Highlight

I’ll write more about individual messages and conversations that were born out of those messages later, but I did want to share what ended up being the highlight for me. When we were preparing to board our plane to return home, we noticed that it looked like John Piper would be on the same flight. Our connection was in Minneapolis and that’s where he serves, so he was going home, too. As we boarded, he was a few people behind me and an overanxious young man turned around, noticed Piper was on his flight, and started yelling “Mr. Piper!!! I KNEW you’d be on this flight!!!” It was fairly embarrassing for everyone else there.

I’ve never been the type to fawn over people, especially brothers in Christ. It isn’t that I’m blown away by the man, but its more from the thought that he’s probably used to people acting like that and I would want people to treat me like a normal person. When I was in college, I was never comfortable with people having MacArthur autograph their books. I saw many have him autograph their study Bibles, which just seems way out of line. What does an autograph do? You know you met him, and its not really worth anything.

Anyways, we get on to the plane and I’m seated near the front of the plane, and I see Piper come on and stop between first class and coach. He was looking for a spot to put a carry-on, and after finding room, went to find his seat. The seat in front of me was open, so I’m thinking, “Wow, Piper’s is going to sit in front of me!” Then he sits down next to me…. I don’t know what my face looked like, but I’m sure it was wide eyed and a little shocked. We shook hands and introduced each other. I told him I was at the conference and that 14 other guys from my church were on the plane, too. He actually had heard of SGUC, which was cool. He went to school with one of our pastors at Fuller Seminary back in the day, and the son of Dan Fuller (a professor at Fuller) went to SGUC with Greg.

We chatted about small things, about the conference, what we were reading, family, and such. I mostly didn’t want to bother him, since I know he had a long week at the conference and was probably a little tired of being hounded by over zealous college and seminary students. So for the most part, we just read, and he tried to nap. One thing that was funny was that he was talking about how he had flight from Newark to Minneapolis rerouted mid-flight to Green Bay. When we neared Minneapolis and the pilot announced that we’d circle for about ten minutes, he said that they better not go to Green Bay for fuel. Now, the last message of the conference was by C.J. Mahaney and one thing he spoke about was being thankful and not giving into the temptation of complaining. Piper caught himself, laughed, and said, ‘But this may be in the plan of God.’ I told him that we’d also been constantly reminding each other of the message all day.

As I was sitting there, I was trying to read, but every minute or so, I kept thinking, “I’m sitting next to JOHN PIPER!” and I’d have to go back and read the section again. Nevermind that it was on penal substitutionary atonement, I was also distracted by the man who had such a huge impact on my life. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m also thinking of how my mom or sister would kill to be in this seat right now, and are probably going to kill me for not asking the hundreds of questions bouncing through my mind. I figured he had a long week and was going home to prepare to preach to his own people, as well as probably writing another book in his spare time and organizing another conference in the car ride home from the airport. I concluded that I’ll have plenty of time to catch up with him in eternity.

I did get to ask him one question, though. Ever since I read “Hidden Smile of God”, I’ve always wondered about William Cowper’s salvation. He was a hymn writer who struggled deeply with depression throughout his life. His depression drove him into despair and significant doubts about God. It was never anything that he seemed to make a lot of progress on, and I felt like Piper left the issue in the air. Obviously, he said he couldn’t say whether he was saved or not, as we don’t have that knowledge or the ability to make that call. But he said that isn’t why he included him in the book. The reason he was included was to show how God can greatly use a man with such weaknesses. Besides that, he said that the depression was something that ran in his family for a ways back. Something Piper said stuck out to me, “You know, not all darkness is sin.”

In all, it was an incredible surprise. The two hours sped by and obviously I wish I could talk to him more, but I’ll get that opportunity in eternity!

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“Culture Shift” by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

If you know anything about the men that I look up to in the current evangelical environment, you know that Al Mohler is one of my favorites. He always offers a keen, Biblical perspective on whatever is happing in our world or in our culture. In a time where people are more concerned with political correct speech, Mohler stands out with his Biblically-correct speech. That is why, when I found out he was finally putting out his first book, (that’s right, he’s never written a book before this) I was pretty pumped. Even though I figure I’d be getting the book for free at the Together for the Gospel Conference next month, I couldn’t help but buy the book immediately. As it turns out, Mohler still hasn’t written a book…

That isn’t to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy his first book, “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth”, it just isn’t really a book. It is closer to a collection of blog essays pumped up to be a collection of essays. The book is made up of essays dealing with a plethora of issues. Mohler addresses hot topics from abortion, public education, the separation of church and state, war, torture, freedom of speech, and recent disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami, and Hiroshima. With each topic, Mohler offers a succinct description of the debate, and how Christians have usually been approaching the subject unbiblically.

Mohler’s greatest concern isn’t necessarily trying to tell Christians how to think. You’ll notice that each chapter just offer a paragraph or two on what a Christian is to do. That is because Mohler isn’t trying to tell people how to think, more how not to. He is encouraging mainline, evangelical Christianity to stop reverting to the ‘christianese’ it has been speaking, and to search the Bible for a true, Christ-like perspective.

There are a few chapters that I absolutely loved. The first is one on how our society is raising a generation of wimps. Parents are following their children everywhere, saving them from any sort of pain, from rejection to the skinned knee. We are raising kids who can’t stand correction or admonition. They are getting to college and many don’t know how to swim in the currents of academic criticism. He points out how our schools are gradually giving out more A’s, and it isn’t because the the work is improving, but the standards are being lowered. Not every kid is going to be an outstanding student. Not every kid is going to excel on the fields. Not every kid is going to be the prom queen or king. It is a great chapter that every parent should read. I know I found it helpful and will be re-reading it as Micah grows older. (turning 1 this week!)

Another chapter that was fascinating was on the topic of abortion. Sonogram machines are being used to prevent abortions, and some of those that are pro-choice corner are saying it is unfair and basically brainwashing. Speaking of these places, one Planned Parenthood vice president had this to say: “From the time they walk into these centers, they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind. And that is to have women continue in their pregnancies.” Now pick up your jaw off the floor. She says the ultrasound technology, “isn’t a matter of providing more knowledge, but an attempt to manipulate women.” So much for fighting for the woman’s right to choose. Now she’s fighting for the right to kill the child. The mother’s rights have largely been abandoned by many in the fight.

Mohler has another chapter on the changing perspective on abortion, mainly in the pro-choice corner. Many are beginning to come to out and say that they realize that abortion is a sick, depraved practice. He sights a debate that was had on slate.com between two pro-choice personalities. An interesting portion of the chapter was where the woman arguing that abortion wasn’t as bad said that she saw the time coming where unwanted pregnancies would “join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society.” Mohler, in reaction, wrote, “Taken by itself, this is a truly amazing comment. At the very least, it suggests that, in Katha Pollitt’s social circle, obesity and smoking are taken as genuine moral issues, while abortion- the killing of an unborn human- is not.”

Overall, the book was a very interesting read, and one that I would fully recommend. Being only 160 small pages, the reading doesn’t take long, and the topics are addressed thoroughly, but succinctly. But, Al, I’m still waiting for a book. I’d still love to have him sit down in one topic, flush it all out, and write the insightful masterpiece he is capable of.