Dear Friends at Bethlehem and Beyond,
I’m writing to invite you to an unusual conference. This Fall’s Desiring God National Conference is one of the most extraordinary we have conceived. Our expectations are very high that its effect will be mind-sharpening, heart-humbling, mouth-seasoning, backbone-strengthening, and Christ-acclaiming. Our theme is The Power of Words and the Wonder of God.
This conference is an overflow of our amazement at the significance of words. Think of it:
- The Son of God is called the Word (John 1:1)
- The universe was created with a word (Hebrews 11:3)
- All things are held in existence by Jesus’ word (Hebrews 1:3)
- God reveals himself to us through his word (1 Samuel 3:21)
- Jesus healed and cast out demons with a word (Matthew 8:16)
- Faith is sustained by words (Hebrews 3:13)
- We fellowship with God by the words of prayer
- We worship him through the words of song and confession and preaching
- Our relationships are all sustained and nurtured by words
- We speak our love to each other by words; kings rise and fall by their words
- Politics and news and entertainment and business and education and international relations and families and friendships—all are possible because of words.
Language is God’s idea. Words are his creation. They belong at the heart of who he is. They have huge potential for good—and catastrophic potential for evil.
The tongue, James says, is seemingly untamable. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9).
Every issue today—political, religious, educational, theological—relates to the way we use words—thinking them in our heads and speaking them with our mouths.
What would the world be like—the home, the church, the school, the public square—if words were used the way Jesus used them? That is not an easy question. We might be surprised.
We have asked Sinclair Ferguson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, to set the stage with an exposition of James 3:1–12. This text is astonishing in the power it attributes to the tongue: “No human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8).
Paul Tripp, who teaches at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and counsels at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, has written wisely in his book War of Words on the crucial place of the heart in how we help or hurt each other with our words. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We hope to love people better with our mouths because of this message.
Daniel Taylor, who teaches English Literature at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a lover of stories and has written about their power in his book Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories. This power is more pervasive than you may think and touches the heart of the gospel.
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has agreed to tackle the knotty issue of tough and tender words, words in controversy, words in confrontation, words like Jesus and Paul used when they called people vipers and said, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Bob Kauflin, a worship pastor with Sovereign Grace Ministries, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, just wrote the book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God. He will help us explore what happens to words when we put them with music and sing them. Why is the Western world so filled with singing? Just turn the knob on your radio. Hundreds of stations. And most of them are singing. What is this power?
The task I have set for myself is the question: “Is There Christian Eloquence? Clear Words and the Wonder of the Cross.” Paul said, “Christ did not send me . . . with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Yet who can deny the eloquence of Paul and others in the Bible? What is this? Should we pursue it?
We will worship Christ together. We will think hard. We will pray. We will meet people who are serious about their minds and their hearts and their mouths. We will buy books. And I pray we will go home ready to obey the words, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
I would love to see you there.
with David Mathis, Executive Pastoral Assistant