Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Advance 09 conference in Durham, N.C. Admittedly, I was walking in where angels fear to tread. The lineup of speakers was at one time thrilling and concerning. If you read ET’s you know that we all share an affinity for John MacArthur and all of us have served in significant ways at GCC. Needless to say, John has taken issue with some of the speakers. Going to this conference did not come without calculated risks. But Piper was coming and it was within driving distance so I took it.
That being said, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the challenge and encouragement some of these men were to my soul. Clearly they were outside of my “ilk” when it comes to dress, style, methods, etc. But despite our differences, I found some very helpful conviction and challenge in what they said.
What stood out to me and what I want to reflect here is a call to evaluate the “application” in our preaching. This post can be considered my contribution to the “second person” application post a few weeks back on ET.
For the record, I am a committed application guy and I often use second person, but not always. For me it simply relates to the text before me that week. But in their respective messages at A09, Matt Chandler and Brian Chappell (especially) challenged me to ask if my second person application was little more than religious moralism. I have to admit, the question was an insult when I first heard it. My heart cried out, “No way!”
Here’s their point and where my conviction began. If our preaching simply conveys a “do more, try harder” emphasis in the second person then people will seek to do what the Bible commands apart from the grace, strength and power of the Gospel. We might, I’m afraid, be guilty of telling them to commit the Galatian heresy – to finish in the flesh what God began/does in the Spirit – without even knowing it. Chandler related how people who live like this often put God in their debt. They do all the right things but when things don’t go well, they question God! I don’t deserve this! I did everything you asked! I was good and THIS is how you repay me!?!? If you counsel at all, you’ve seen this perspective many, many times. As I reflected I could see traces of commands to obey without a call to do it in and by the grace of the Gospel. And I wondered why change I thought to be so obvious and needed, never came.
Chappell gave some VERY helpful advice in balance. To make sure that your preaching is Gospel filled and Christ exalting remember this – every passage says something about God (who he is, what he requires, etc.) and every passage says something about us (who we are in light of God, what we are required to do, etc.). Then he asked, “What is the only thing that connects men to God in a way that is acceptable to him? What is the only power we have that allows us to do what God commands? The Cross!”
That thought has helped me immensely in these past weeks and I trust, has made my preaching and application more Christ exalting and more helpful to the people who listen. Commanding people obey is good preaching, Paul’s writings are full of it! But commanding them to obey in their own strength and effort is simply religious moralism because if they are able to make progress on their own, they will pat themselves on the back and not give the glory to God!
Lord willing I will be posting additional thoughts from the conference as it relates to preaching in the coming weeks.
(Matt Waymeyer fell off his chair upon reading this last sentence. Please pray for his recovery)