Commending Christ, Q & A

Desiring God 2009 Conference for Pastors

Commending Christ

Scott Anderson: Okay, well we’d like to start off with a question for Michael, and that would just be to tell us more about Christ Bible Seminary in about two minutes.

Michael Oh: All right. Well, a general pattern that we have, especially in Japan, but also all around the world, is that churches are the way that they are because the pastors are the way they are. Pastors are the way they are because they’ve been trained to be that way in seminary. And for good or bad in Japan, that is the pattern. And there is a tremendous need to counteract and to push against great legalism in the church, greater love for traditionalism and traditions than the gospel itself and people and God. And our seminary exists to buck those trends, to return grace to the classroom, to return grace to the lives of pastors, and to return grace to the Church of Jesus Christ in Japan and to plant churches like that. It’s slow and it takes time. It takes a generation or two generations or three generations, but we’re in it for the long haul and we’ve been blessed by the students that the Lord has brought to our door.

We feel it a privilege and a stewardship to love them well and to model in our relationships, in our prayers together, in how we love their families, in how we train them and disciple them, to do all in grace and in the Gospel. And I love them and I’m happy to have one of our students here from Japan, Kent.

Mark Dever: So, do you teach the Old Testament there?

Michael Oh: Yes, we do.

Mark Dever: Do you personally?

Michael Oh: I do not. I do not. I actually try to teach as little as possible because we’re trying to get this huge ship out of the harbor. I think my gifts perhaps lie more in the leadership areas and in the vision casting and in the training of these wonderful men and leaders who the Lord has given to me, in our team, our faculty, our staff, and students, than always in the classroom. Mainly the areas where I will teach is church history, and I’ll teach some theology, and I also teach a foundational course that every student of ours takes called Personal Holiness, where we talk about the Puritans and suffering and prayer and fasting.

Scott Anderson: Excellent. Good. Mark, a question for you. Please define the gospel in 60 seconds or less.

Mark Dever: There is one God. He made us. He made us in his image. He made us good. We’ve sinned against him, and we’ve fallen. God would be just and good to judge us eternally. But in his amazing love, the eternal Son of God has taken on flesh, become incarnate. Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, lived the life we should have lived, he lived perfectly, and died on the cross in the place of the sins of everyone who will repent of their sins and trust in him. And God raised him from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He will return in the same manner. And he calls us to repent of our sins and trust in him, and he will give us new life. He will fill us with the Holy Spirit, give us the new birth, and adopt us as his reconciled children forever.

Scott Anderson: Amen. I want to go right down the panel here, starting with John. And the question came in, what do the other panelists think about Mark’s admonition that we preach the gospel in every sermon that we preach? John?

John Piper: I don’t say what he just said in every sermon, but rising increasingly in my own understanding of how the gospel relates to everything is the desire to make everything pervasively gospel-oriented, so I’m fudging. I don’t yet feel obliged as a steady-state pastor who speaks week in and week out to say all those pieces every Sunday. I want to point to Christ every message, and I want there to be enough of it in the hymns and in the service so that everybody knows I’m moving towards Jesus and I’m moving towards the cross as the foundation and the solution for everything, but I don’t operate as I write a sermon that I have to get that whole piece into every message or into every Bible study I lead or into every page of every book. It’s just not that clear for me that is obligatory. So, that’s what I feel and what I think about it.

Matt Chandler: Yeah, I think I would land at the same spot where it’s going to be Christocentric, it’s going to mention the cross, and it’s going to contrast what I’m saying from what religion is and what the gospel is. And so, I think that’s the piece I’m looking for — how do I distinguish, particularly in my context, this from what Christian Smith called Christian moralistic therapeutic deism and the gospel? How do I distinguish this message, knowing that the bulk of my hearers are going to hear it through that other lens? And so, I think that’s yes, but certain pieces of it and always to try to distinguish between religion and the gospel.

Scott Anderson: Michael?

Michael Oh: I think for us in Japan and for us in terms of our church planting efforts through All Nations Fellowship, we have expectation and hope and anticipation and actualization of non-Christians coming every week and new non-Christians coming almost every week. So, in that sense, I think we certainly have it as an aim and as something that’s in the forefront of our minds, our prayers, our development, that we have the gospel preached every single week. And of course, for the Christians who are there, we feel strongly as well that it’s the gospel message that is needed not merely at the point of conversion for our salvation, but throughout the continued sanctification of our lives. So, I would say we have it as a goal and a hope, and we aim towards that in our ministry.

Scott Anderson: Very good. Let’s follow up on that. And this was directed to you, Matt. Talk a little bit about the believers’ need to hear the gospel. One person phrased it this way, “Are Sunday mornings mainly for believers or for unbelievers?” Another person phrased it this way, “Is the message proclaimed to the unregenerate sheep the same as the message proclaimed to the regenerate sheep?”

Matt Chandler: I think it is. I think you see it in Romans 1:15 where you see Paul saying, “I eagerly desire to preach the gospel to you.” Well, he is talking to the church. The letter is to the church, to barbarian, to Greek, he says, “I want to preach the gospel to you.” And so, I think a major piece of progressive sanctification is understanding the atonement, understanding that I, in this moment, am a wicked sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ. And to understand both of those now today, that it’s not just, “I’m all just redeemed.” Yes, I am, but I’m still a wicked sinner in need of the mercy of Christ, in need of the blood of Christ, and in need of the cross of Christ.

I teach it this way: there’s never a point where we lean against the cross of Christ. There’s just never that point. We lean against it, and we go, “Oh, you guys should come.” It is a constant bowing before and saying, “There’s room, there’s room.” And so, I don’t know how to answer the question of whether or not the gospel presentation on a Sunday morning is for those who are regenerate or those who are unregenerate. I think the answer is yes. The gospel message is for those who are perishing and those who are saved.

Scott Anderson: Anyone else want to jump in on that one? Mark?

Mark Dever: Well, in my sermons, I mean sometimes it sounds like that little 60-second thing I just did, but often, there’ll be parts of it in different places because I’m just engaging with the Christians and the non-Christians. So, I have an application grid and I’ll sometimes say with point two, make sure you’re talking about man here and sinfulness. And then in point four, include the rest of the story or something. And I think when you expand the treatment of the gospel like that, yeah, that’s what we Christians rejoice in. I mean, that’s what gives us hope. That’s why the Lord has weekly meetings for us. The beginning of every week we begin by reminding ourselves on Sunday morning that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning. We begin by tithing our time. We begin by reminding ourselves of our identity by washing ourselves in the gospel. So, yes, the Christians very much need to hear the gospel. I want to hear that more than anything else when I am assembling with Christians the first thing in the week.

Scott Anderson: Amen. Very helpful. John, here’s a question for you, and let’s go ahead and just get this one out of the way. This came up several times phrased many different ways, and the question goes like this: in Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, he defines antinomy as, “An appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.” Is the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man “inexplicable” to our finite minds? How is it that we are calling people to repent of their sin and yet it is God who must grant them repentance?

John Piper: Well, the last part is not inexplicable to me. The more theoretical piece about human accountability in view of divine sovereignty may be. So, let me just say a comment about those. To me when Jesus stands in front of the tomb of Lazarus and says, “Lazarus come forth” to a dead man and he comes, that’s not inexplicable, because his word created life. Command what thou wilt and grant what thou commandest. This is not inexplicable, this is explicable. You’re talking to dead people; they need to live. You are to call to them, “Live!” And when the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and you command the dead to live, they live. That’s not inexplicable. It’s just miraculous.

So, my issue there is not, whoa, this is a fog. A great mystery hangs over why you would call dead people to do things. You call dead people to do things because the word of God is powerful and creates life. Now the first way you ask the question is, is it an antinomy, or a contradiction, or humanly inexplicable, how God can be absolutely sovereign over all human decisions and those decisions still be responsible, accountable decisions? I think that is the one for me anyway, for which I don’t have an ultimate answer. Because it really boils down to how did the first sin happen, which is for me the hardest question of all.

I don’t know how the first sin happened. I don’t know why Lucifer, created as a perfectly good being, would sin. To put the name of free will on it is just a name that doesn’t provide any explanatory power. It doesn’t work for me. So, I have no final explanation. So, at that level, the antinomy that Packer talks about between humans being held accountable for their actions, which in the Bible they clearly are, and God being ultimately decisively in control of all of those decisions. Those are two truths in the Bible I would die for. I don’t solve that problem with free will. It doesn’t provide any explanatory help to me at all, nor do I find it taught in the Bible.

I’m willing to just live with that mystery and say, “Let’s make sure we lift him up as really sovereign, really totally in control. Let’s make sure we call people to account to do what they’re called upon to do. And let’s live with all the biblical teaching in the middle, that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and the natural man cannot please God, and therefore speak to the dead with divine authority that they must live and believe and obey or perish."

Scott Anderson: Mark, here’s a question for you. Talk a little bit about the great problem as Stott calls it of the invisibility of God, how the outworking of faith through the local church in the world seems to be Jesus’s most basic evangelism plan. This relates to a couple of questions that came in. Is Matthew 28 given to the church or individuals? What about the lack of New Testament admonition and rebuke for not doing personal evangelism? Elaborate on that.

Mark Dever: I don’t know that I have much more to say on that other than what I said in whichever talk I addressed that in. In 1 Peter 3 you see this, and the disciples evangelize when they scatter all who went and preached. We don’t see that that’s limited after the persecution in Jerusalem just to the apostles. So, I think that the church as a whole, just speaking systematic-theologically over Scripture, is clearly acting as a witness. And that’s what I tried to put together last night biblically, and then give practical examples. As far as who the Great Commission was given to, it’s given obviously in an immediate sense to the disciples, the apostles.

But then when you look and you see how that’s applied in the Book of Acts, the Christians beyond the apostles clearly understood it as something that they themselves were to continue to fulfill, and thus Christianity continued to grow. And then when Peter writes in 1 Peter 3 that we’re to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have to anyone who asks us, that may sound a little bit more passive, but that still shows that absolutely every Christian has that kind of responsibility. And then you can get further out, which I did actually in Luke 6, about the overflow of our hearts being what shapes our mouth.

So, I think it may be a more implicit command than we sometimes present it as, even if you take the Great Commission out of it. But I think there’s no way around saying that every Christian has the obligation and the opportunity and the responsibility and the privilege to share the good news of what God has done in Christ. We’ll do it differently according to how the Lord has gifted us and what responsibilities he hands to us in our lives. So, a pastor is going to have one kind of responsibility, others are going to have another kind. But there’s no way that I think biblically we can responsibly say that all Christians aren’t obliged to participate in that.

Scott Anderson: Let me ask a follow-up question then. Is there ever a sense where, because of my lack of personal evangelism, that someone’s blood is on my hands? We think of the text that talks about the watchman on the wall who was not a good watchman.

Mark Dever: I think the answer to that has to be yes, but because Christ has borne all of our sins, I don’t know how that plays out in eternity. I got nothing else on that.

Scott Anderson: All right, John?

John Piper: Because of Christ’s blood, we don’t know how it plays out. I don’t understand that sentence.

Mark Dever: Well, it’s clear in the New Testament there are rewards talked about, but for all of our status, we’re there because of God’s grace in Christ. So, when I’m told in Hebrews 13 that I’m accountable for the members of my congregation as an elder, I believe that and I believe it fervently. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I believe it. James 3:1 tells us that teachers will be held accountable to a stricter judgment. I believe that. I don’t know exactly what that looks like on the fourth Thursday in heaven when I’m there, but boy, I believe it and it has a weight in my soul.

So, on the question of the blood on our hands, I look at the watchman passage in Ezekiel and I think, yeah, pastors are in analogous positions. And a secondary analogy then I think would be Christians who know the gospel sharing it or not sharing it with others. But then on the other hand, we Christians sin and we have a Savior and he has reconciled us to God by forgiving us for our sins, taking the punishment for our sins. So, I know that my status before God is as a fully loved and adopted son reconciled to God completely. So, then what it means is that there are rewards and maybe stricter judgment I don’t understand, but I believe it.

Scott Anderson: I think maybe at root there, and I want to go to this, is this issue of motivation for doing evangelism. What I think underlies that question is this sense of fear. I’m afraid. Or maybe it’s love for the lost, or disobedience to God. Missions happen because worship doesn’t, there’s another motivational element. Let’s just talk and jump in as you want to. You hit on it, I think, in your first talk. Let’s just go over motivations, maybe a triage of motivations for doing personal evangelism.

Mark Dever: I suggested simply obedience, love for the lost, and love for the Lord.

John Piper: You really suggested more as you went on, especially the way you ended, namely, that there is a lot of joy in heaven, and if it’s joy in heaven, we surely wouldn’t want to be out of sync with the angels, would we? And so, we should be happy. And if we’re happy when people get saved, then we sure would want to maximize that happiness. And there are a few things like this. I pray for myself, for my children, and my church that they would not miss out on the joy of leading someone to Christ. My guess is that most of the brothers in this room have probably not personally walked anybody into the kingdom in a long time. I haven’t for some time.

People get saved as I preach, and they tell me about it months later. That’s a little different. It’s rewarding. It’s gratifying. But to walk somebody like you’ve described, there is a sweetness to that personal arm-in-arm movement from darkness to light that very many pastors don’t experience for long stretches of time. And it is sweet. It’s just powerful. My daddy, who was an evangelist, I asked him a question a year before he died, “What’s the key to joy in the church?” Unhesitatingly, he said, “Soul-winning.” It’s because he knew what had made him tick for 50 years and why he was the most amazingly happy man I’ve known. He was constantly experiencing saving grace flowing through his life into the lives of others. And miracles were happening in other people’s.

So, joy, you hit it at the end. And when we went home after your first talk, we kind of leaned over to each other and said, “Number four, he’s going to get to number four isn’t he? Like joy?”

Mark Dever: Well, there that was. Scott, what else do we have?

Scott Anderson: All right, well that was somewhat of the motivation question. Let’s go to the methods question.

John Piper: No, no. We’re not done with motivation here. Come on, come on.

Matt Chandler: I think they’re broad categories, so I think you can go into subcategories now, but I think the four are covered. So, we can start breaking it down into subcategories here and say, “Okay, I want to be the leader that God’s called me to be for the church to model for the church he asked me to lead.” That we should do. But now we’re under obedience. So, I think what we have left now that these kinds of broad strokes have been painted are subcategories. I guess we can do that. But I think the things in my mind are filed under obedience. They’re filed under joy. They’re filed under these kinds of larger headings, these larger fruits.

Mark Dever: I mean, regarding the desire to glorify God, I really do think that it’s amazing that this is a way we can bring God glory now that we can’t in heaven. So, that does add a special sort of zip in the step to make sure you’re taking up these valuable opportunities when you’re given them because we won’t have those eternally.

John Piper: And we need to say love here. Where I get the most convicted is when I measure the emotional level of desire I have for my children to be saved compared to my neighbors. I say, “Whoa, why is that?” And for whatever reason, I’m knit together like that. I’m just so one that the thought of them being lost is sometimes almost unbearable. And then I ask, “Why not for Bob and David next door? Why?” And so, I pray that when I say I want to pursue my joy, it’s really my joy in their joy and the absence of longing for their joy is a deeply convicting thing. And I think all of us pastors should just be on our face that Jesus’s teaching about the 99 and the one would be a very sobering parable.

You have these 99 folks here, and we’re so happy about them. And there goes one off, one of those 1 Timothy 4:1 people who quit believing, or were never believing, and they’re gone and how do we feel about that sheep? Just measure that by the closest people you have that you really care about and whether it’s something similar. And then ask God to change your heart, that love piece is one I’m just always anxious to grow in.

Scott Anderson: Amen. Well, let’s go to the many questions that came in on methods, methodology, that type of thing. So, let me set it up this way and I think I’d like to pair the answer here with Mark and with Michael. And then I’ve got another pair of questions for Matt and for John. What’s the place, Mark, for methodology and programs for evangelism? For example, I’m thinking of things like “Way of the Master”, “Evangelism Explosion”, door-to-door evangelism, niche evangelism, “Bikers for Jesus”, “Hunters for Jesus”, and that type of thing. Is it somewhat of a “God can use any method and he chooses to use some more than others” kind of thing? Are there methods that should be off limits because they alter the nature or character of the gospel message? Talk to us about methodology a little bit.

Mark Dever: Well, I think I can answer all the questions you ask, yes.

Scott Anderson: That’s great. So, elaborate on that.

Mark Dever: Certainly, there are different methodologies. Certainly, any of those that contain the gospel we can use. Certainly, some are better than others. Certainly, there are some we should not use because they distort the message. So, I think things like some of the programs you mentioned are like that. I think some of the programs that you mentioned I will happily use and would use them as tools. So, I don’t care that our congregation all knows one tool to use. I actually prefer them knowing and using different tools. I would rather equip in several different ways, so people see that the tool isn’t the point, it’s the message that you’re communicating.

But then I think that if we can equip them well with those, then the opportunities are just laying out all over the place in their lives or especially organized events. So, I think the homogeneous unit principle is absolutely terrible for a church and really cuts across Scripture — this idea that everyone in church should be a part of the same demographic group because that’s most naturally attractive to non-Christians of that same demographic group. I think in terms of evangelism, that’s fine. If you want to have a “Bikers for Jesus” thing, super. But it’s not your church.

But if you’re trying to reach people that way or people born on Thursdays, that’s fine. I mean whatever works in terms of getting people together, getting a non-Christian to identify with you on a non-sinful basis. You don’t want to join together in your vices, like a liars group, or whatever. But any way that we can tell the gospel to people.

John Piper: Why not liars for evangelism?

Mark Dever: All right. For evangelism, John is willing to lie . . .

John Piper: No, no, no. You gather all the liars together. They’re a good group to talk to.

Mark Dever: Well, we’re here. I mean, I loved your Rose story. That was so good. Jesus died for that rose. That was great.

Matt Chandler: Did you call me a liar?

Mark Dever: Well, sort of. But no differently than you called me one in the talk.

Matt Chandler: Sure. Excellent.

Mark Dever: So, I think we want to use those natural affinities the Lord has given us, but that’s not the mature church. That’s a way we have to make friends with the non-Christians and let them know about Jesus.

Scott Anderson: Michael, would you talk a little bit about methodology in your ministry context In Japan?

Michael Oh: Japan is a tough field. It’s a tough place. You name the methodology; it has failed in Japan. So, I think the clearest message to that is that methodology is not the answer. It’s not the answer. It’s the substance behind the methodology. It’s the substance of what that methodology is delivering. And like Mark said, I’m a yes on most methodologies. There’s no one size that fits all. Our ministry is targeting young people, the younger generation, which is an unreached people group within an unreached people group in Japan. And our methodology is nothing unique; it would be seen as very common in many places around the world. But it’s the substance, I think, that we are hoping to focus well on and present well and be well in the ministry. And we’re finding that the substance is really what is delivering. So, I won’t waste our time I think even talking about the various methodologies.

Scott Anderson: All right, here’s a pair of questions now for Matt and John along those lines. Matt, the question for you now is, what is the connection between a gospel that is in fact relevant for all people at all times and the need to contextualize that gospel message for a specific people you’re trying to reach? There’ll be a follow-up question for John related to Whitefield in that regard. But talk about your context. You said the gospel is relevant. It is. What does it mean then to break that down for your people?

Matt Chandler: Well, my context is the Dallas and Fort Worth area, which is highly churched, and there are large churches. You can see some of the churches in Dallas from here in Minnesota. I mean they are $150 million or $200 million buildings. One church in town just started $250 million. Yeah, look south.

The context that I find my life playing out in is one in which the bulk of people, not all people, but the bulk of people have some understanding of who Jesus is. So, I use the phrase inoculated. That’s been my experience. The bulk of people have enough of Jesus to feel like they don’t need him, or that they understand him enough that they turn you off easily. So, here’s how I contextualize, just to be honest with you. I will constantly contrast the difference between the gospel and religion. Constantly.

If you listen to me on podcasts, I constantly want to say, this is the gospel, and this is not the gospel. This is not the teaching of Christ, but it’s morality and religion. This methodology is religious, and this methodology is gospel-driven. And so, how I contextualize the gospel in my setting is to constantly contrast it with something familiar with them, though I don’t want to call it evangelicalism, even though that tends to be what I call it. I want to say, this is probably what you grew up with. This is why it’s not true, because of what Jesus just said here. So, that’s how I’m contextualizing the gospel.

Whereas, I look at other dear friends of mine like Driscoll, and I have an ongoing argument of who has the harder job. Is it him trying to proclaim the gospel in a completely secular society or me trying to proclaim the gospel in a society where everyone feels like they already know the gospel despite the fact that they don’t know the gospel? And I’ve had some of the most gut-wrenching experiences in another church being a part of their baptism service, when they were just saying, “Hey, would you help us baptize? We’re baptizing a lot of people.” I was in the water with a girl and she said, “I want to be baptized, my mom is sick.” And then I had to say, “Well, okay, this is about to get really awkward because I’m out of the water. I’m not baptizing you.” She says, “I’m getting baptized. I love Jesus. My mom is sick. I need to be baptized, but my mom is sick.” Okay, this is a problem.

So, that’s what contextualization looks like for me. I need to contrast religion with the gospel. And at times, I need to contrast secular thought with the gospel. But the bulk of the people out in the crowd for us are de-churched, which means they grew up in church and they started seeing some of the weird hypocrisy in it or how it didn’t add up or how it didn’t make sense, and they walked away. And now, for whatever reason, they’re coming back or friends are drawing them in. But even those friends have church experience, even people who’ve never professed Christ have some church experience.

Last time we baptized, we had a guy that got in the water and just grew up an atheist his whole life. And I was like, “Thank you Jesus for that.” That was just a little gift for me. I felt like that had my name on it: for Matt Chandler from Christ. I slept well, and a witch was baptized. I mean I was beaming. I mean I had music up on the way home like, “Pagans, yes!” Versus someone just getting in the water saying, “Hey, I grew up in church my whole life. I thought this is what it was. This isn’t what it is. This is what I come to profess Christ as my Lord and Savior for the first time, despite the fact that I had every one of Michael W Smith’s albums.” So, that’s how I contextualize it.

Scott Anderson: Okay, excellent. So, John, working with context a little bit and a little bit back to methodology, I’m trying to pull these together in a Whitefield question. Was it just a different day and age in which issues of contextualization for preaching in the UK and preaching in America, you just preached if you were an itinerant evangelist like that, if you were in that type of ministry? That’s one question, and related to it though would be the fact that it seems that Whitefield kind of pioneered the use of newspapers in his day, promoting his meetings and promoting his schedule. Can you comment on how churches or pastors should use advertising and means of technology to promote their ministries, to promote their church? The question was, what does Bethlehem Baptist Church do in that regard to reach the community?

John Piper: Yeah, where I ended on the paradoxes, the conundrums, the riddles, the contradictions of the good and evil is something I’ve learned in large measure, besides from life, by reading Mark Noll in his historical work. Because Mark is a believer, he’s an evangelical, and he’s probably the foremost church historical scholar in America today. And that’s the conclusion of every book he writes — that it’s ambiguous. So, in regard to this issue, Whitefield is responsible for most of the problems in the world today. He’s responsible for the emergent church, and he’s responsible for the seeker-sensitive movement, and he’s responsible for TV evangelism, and he’s responsible for the weird use of everything, because he broke through in the modern era, just kind of on the way out of the old world to the new world, and became the first actor-preacher, entertainment preacher, media-savvy preacher because of newspapers and letters and publication of journals.

And I mean if you read Stout, he says all these things, only he says them cynically. And I would rather read Noll writing that biography. He would say them and be sober about them. He wouldn’t have a snide attitude about it. But if you can navigate your way through the cynicism and the snideness, there is truth there. And so, yes to Whitefield’s alertness to sending somebody ahead to make sure they know he’s coming and putting things in newspapers and publishing journals and using the latest transportation like horses and buggies and ships to get to where he needs to be. And also in his efforts to forge an international coalition from Scotland to England to New England so that this thing has some staying power.

We usually think of Wesley as the one who had all the organizational savvy because he organized all these small groups and became the head of a denomination. And Whitefield said, “You’re not going to put my name on anything.” But he did the organizing as he moved around among pastors and leaders. And I think all of that was right for him to do. I mean he broke out of the churches. It was inflammatory that he preached in public and not in churches. And it seemed to undermine things, and it gave rise to modern parachurch evangelicalism, which is a problem and a gift.

Everything’s ambiguous, everything. Everything you look at is good but also bad, except the Bible and Jesus. Everything. And so, everything should be corrected. Matt Chandler’s way of doing it should be corrected, along with my way and your way. Everybody needs correction and we’re constantly navigating our way through ambiguities in life. And so, I want to say yes to what he did. As far as what worked then, you couldn’t do what he did today. I don’t think if you went downtown here and put up your little stage and started preaching you would get a response. Everybody would call you a wacko and 20 people would gather around and make fun of you.

God was at work in the 18th century. God came down. He came down on Wesley, he came down on Whitefield, on Edwards, on the Tennents, on the Erskines, and these guys had a movement that God did. You can’t make that happen. And then when it starts to happen, you just try to humble yourself and be obedient to it. And then of course he had all these phenomenal gifts and for whatever reason God blessed it, and he’s doing it today and this is a phenomenon. Doing that seminary is strange and weird, and Mark’s kind of foursquare church way of doing it there is it’s own thing. It’s just phenomenal.

Mark Dever: We’re going to use that as a 9Marks promo. Thank you, John.

John Piper: It’s just unbelievable, I mean, isn’t it incredible? I don’t really know what your question was asking. Just tell me when to stop. Consider the Reformed thing. You have Seattle, you have Denton and Highland Village, you have R. C. Sproul, you have Alistair Begg, you have Capitol Hill, and you have Sovereign Grace Churches. I remember when I first met Mark Driscoll, I said, “This looks like a little hipper Sovereign Grace.” He said, “Who?” He never even heard of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace. So, there are Reformed charismatic deals over here and this kind of Reformed, hip Seattle thing over here, and what is that? What in the world? Nobody is organizing this. Nobody is managing this.

There’s just a lot of unusual, Whitefieldian release of energy and relevant ways of talking today that I just stand back and say, hm. I asked C.J. one time, and now I’ll stop after this. I talked to C.J. one time, and I described about 15 of these streams that I see, and I said, “So, do you think that anybody should try to make that into a river?” He said, “Oh yeah, yeah.” And I think that’s kind of like what Together for the Gospel is. And I said, “Well, I don’t have that gift. And so, if you want to try that, you can.” But I’m just watching, enjoying, and doing my little Bethlehem Baptist effort here.

So, I doubt that that will ever happen or should happen that you try to find out all the outcroppings of the movement of God’s renewing Spirit in our day and get them all together in a room and make it a thing. God is doing it, and we’d probably mess it up. Everybody should just love each other and just do real well what you do. That’s my sense.

Scott Anderson: All right, in the time that remains, we have two more big sets of questions to talk about and then a few smaller ones if we can get through them. There are a lot of questions on this particular topic. Mark, you wrote in your book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, “A gospel that does not offend, has not been understood.” Now this is for the whole panel, but why don’t you take it first, Mark. How should that be understood? A gospel that does not offend has not been understood.

How should we understand that statement with respect to two types of evangelism, confrontational evangelism as in the person next to you on the plane and door-to-door work, that type of thing, versus the more long-term, relational evangelism — a family member that you’re wooing over a long period of time, a neighbor, and that type of thing. What does it mean to be salty? Is there a right or wrong way to provoke unbelievers? Talk about that a little bit.

Mark Dever: I think we tend to think that the door-to-door, cold turkey evangelism is by nature offensive, and the long-term relational evangelism is not offensive. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. It’s the message, not our method, the message that needs to be offensive. So, let’s say if I’m not a believer and Michael is a believer, but we’re friends, we’ve gone to school together, we’ve gotten to know each other, and Michael is sharing the gospel with me, I want to be offended not at Michael per se — though it might bother me that he thinks this — but what should really offend me is when I understand what he’s telling me about God and my sin. Now that’s what needs to be offensive.

And that’s where I think we can learn something very positive from Whitefield. In the sermons of his that I’ve read, he never tries to dress up the gospel and make it immediately sugar-sweet in a way it shouldn’t be. Some of the programs you mentioned a few minutes ago when you mentioned various ones will say things like, “Would you like this free gift of eternal life?” Well, I just think that’s a bad tee-up to the gospel. I mean that’s a shoe salesman in the 1950s. I mean the obvious answer to that is, “Yes, I would, please.” For Jesus to the disciples, he says, “If you want to follow me, take up your cross and follow me.” Well, the obvious answer to that is, “No, thank you.” The cross wasn’t a religious symbol. That’s just like saying go be killed terribly, publicly, and shamefully.

So this good news that we have to present is undermined by some of the less thoughtful ways we try to appeal to the non-Christian in wanting something immediately happy. And I think that the offense that we’re looking for is an offense in the realization of the gospel message itself, not in our method of being confrontational.

Scott Anderson: Anyone else?

John Piper: I think what would help people understand that sentence — if a person hasn’t been offended, they haven’t understood the gospel — is to say what that means is nobody likes to be called a damnable sinner. If you find that person, that sentence will be false. The day that you enjoy having your sin exposed and your wickedness exposed, and your selfishness named for what it is, the day that you start enjoying that, will be the day that sentence ceases to be true.

So we just need to make sure that the word offense is understood correctly. It’s probably skandalizō (stumbling). You’re telling me something I’m stumbling over on the way there. You’re not jumping on top of it and saying, “Thank you for putting that under my feet.” We get to that point. But for a person that doesn’t feel, “I don’t like to be called a sinner, and I don’t like to think of God as angry at me, and you’re telling me that I deserve everlasting punishment,” where in the world do you find anybody that says they like that? And so, that’s what it has to be.

Mark Dever: I think in our experience, the people that Matt doesn’t like to baptize are like that. I mean, if you’ve been brought up in a Christian home, you don’t remember a time when you didn’t love the Lord, you were converted (we conclude, theologically, early in life), you may not watch them go through that experience of being individually scandalized. So, in our experience, we find that with people growing up in Christian homes. But they too, themselves, can’t like the idea that they deserve God’s judgment. There was some point at which they mentally, morally bowed their knee to Christ. And so, that offense is then for them in the past perhaps, but I think we probably run into people to whom it’s not immediately offensive because the Lord has converted them early on.

Scott Anderson: Let’s run with that just one step deeper then. We want to live in such a way that Christ is seen as a treasure. Christ is seen as attractive to unbelievers. What does that mean then? Is it primarily an external thing? Is it that people will observe my peace, or my marriage, or the smile on my face, or in some circles the things I do and don’t do, or the places I go and don’t go. Is it primarily a disposition of the heart kind of thing, or is it an external thing? And then does it cross a line at some point where you may like what God has done for me, and this is all true, but there’s all of this sin and repentance stuff that has to be talked about as well. Maybe Matt, would you take that? You’re in that suburban context with a very religious group.

Matt Chandler: I think you want to, in your preaching and teaching, demonstrate this. I’ll roll it back here because what we’re trying to do at The Village is stop some of the cycle. And so, one of the first things we wanted to address at The Village was children’s ministry. How are we going to teach our children? How are we going to teach them Jesus? How are we going to teach them the gospel? Because what we found is that the bulk of religious people who we were baptizing, who were coming to know Christ, were offended that we would question them. And in fact, there were people who left. I remember one man in particular that came and sat down with me and just said, “I’m leaving. I feel good before I come here, and then I don’t know when I leave. So, I’m going.” Well, I mean he’s in a great place to go and never have that happen again. That’s all over the place.

But what we were finding were these conversion experiences that looked like this: “Little Timmy, do you want to come to heaven with mommy and daddy, or do you want to burn in hell? What do you want to do, Timmy? Okay, let’s go up front.” And so, for us, to combat it, we are thinking, let’s start early. Let’s start early. And so, we teach doctrine to our children. I think of my little five year old. I think she’s just doing it because she doesn’t want to go to bed at night. But when I try to put her to bed at night, on the way out of the room, she’ll ask me, “Tell me about Jesus and the cross,” or, “Tell me about the Trinity.” The Trinity is bothering my five-year-old, which is a great deal. It’s bothering me too, but I’m going with what Anne, what Carl, what Matt and those guys are writing, what they’re teaching our children is great. I’ve got my five-year-old asking me about the triune God, not hearing, “Oh, God hates liars, don’t be a liar,” or, “These are the character issues that God enjoys.” And so, I think right out of the gate, we’re trying to combat that cycle by really addressing children’s ministry and preschool ministry in a profoundly doctrinal way.

So, here’s how I’ve taught it out loud to our people. My daughter, about the age of two, fell in love with pink, all things pink. So, here’s how we talk about God, “How good, how beautiful, how right is God that he gave us pink?” So, that’s a different way. Anything my daughter enjoys, I want to trace back the authorship to Christ. Anything my son revels in I want to trace back the authorship to Christ, as the creator of all things.

So, what I’m trying to do early on is not point to God’s disappointment in our failures, but in his deep love for us in giving us such things to communicate his love, his grace, and his mercy, so that God, for my three-year-old daughter at the time, was the God of pink, and then the God of candy, and he’s the God of dress-ups. We took our kids to China. He’s the God of that too. We just continually want to instill the joy of who he is in them by very early communicating, “Look at what he did. Look at what he did.” And so, I know that’s a roundabout response to that question, but we haven’t mentioned that part of all of this yet in regard to evangelizing what’s next and instilling the joy of Christ in what’s next. And so, primarily, yes, there’s the front line, but in regard to breaking the cycle and wanting the joy of Christ to be there. That’s what I want. That’s my pursuit. That’s what I’m after. That’s the goal.

We want to instill that very early on into our children, and then in preaching and teaching, it’s what we do.

John Piper: So, God gives pink, God gives candy, and God’s the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Matt Chandler: Sure.

John Piper: And then where do you stir in, “And you don’t deserve any of this? And the only reason you get it is because . . .” And how early do you want her to receive that and how do you tell?

Matt Chandler: Sure. I want to constantly talk about two things in our home, over everything, over meals, over daddy-daughter time, on date night, at bedtime, etc. I want there to be two constant themes: goodness, grace, and mercy, and our wickedness. And so, when God gives me the chance to point out her wickedness, I want to point it out and then point right back to the God of pink. And so, I think it’s the same conversation. I think it has to be the same conversation. But it was my experience, especially early on in talking those first two years with guys, that God had become a policeman. That was it. He was just the divine policeman who saw all that they were doing wrong and yeah, loved them, but there was no grandeur, glory, might, and power.

They thought, “I’ve just failed in all these areas.” So then you got back to religion. You got back to, “Let me try to earn his favor. Let me try to earn his favor.” So, in small ways, the God of pink is to look at the grandeur, look at the might, look at the glory of God, and then look at you. Look at how unbelievable he is to you. Look at how unbelievable he is to mommy and daddy. Look how gracious he is to you. And this is one of the things I’ve tried to teach our staff. We’re all young. I mean, I apologize to my children constantly. I’ll say, “This is Daddy’s wickedness. This is God’s still working on Daddy’s heart.” Even big things. I think that there might be a little too much television in our house. So, then let’s gather up, and I say, “I’ve failed you. This is daddy’s mess. This is Daddy’s need for grace. This is Daddy’s fault.” And so, to me, it’s the same message. It’s the same message. The goodness and might and beauty of Christ our wickedness.

John Piper: So, I think where the rubber meets the road is when you get to that point and the question arises, “So, I want pink and everything good and I don’t deserve it, and you’re telling me the solution is Christ and the gospel, how do I get it?” And that conversation is going to happen pretty early.

Matt Chandler: Sure.

John Piper: So how do you not bring a three, four, five-year-old to a premature profession of faith?

Matt Chandler: Yeah, I don’t know how to answer your question. I pray a lot. And then I tell you where I’ve benefited so far is that my daughter, for whatever reason, probably to have me on my knees much more often is just born a skeptic. We were reading her a little book about the Trinity that gave an illustration about it, though it was a really horrible illustration. But it gave a little illustration. She immediately found the flaw in it. She was like, “That’s not true. That’s not true. I play happily by myself all the time.” Okay, all right. Well, the author’s an idiot, Boo. And there are a lot of morons out there, and we’re going to have to watch out for them.

So, I think that he’s protecting me right now because my daughter’s a skeptic and she’s not going to say, “Oh, daddy believes this, let’s go.” Because even now, there have been times when my wife and I, almost with a little look of panic, look at each other across the dinner table because of something she shot back at us. Or we say, “Hey Boo, do you want to pray?” And she says “No, I don’t. You go ahead, Daddy.” So, I don’t know. So far what you’re saying has not been true because there’s no premature decision of faith. She’s still probing it for weaknesses.

John Piper: That’s an advertisement for the children’s desiring God conference in April. There we go. Those are not easy questions. I’ve raised five kids up into professions of faith. I can describe how we did it, but I don’t have great confidence that we as a church have got that one figured out so that we don’t raise up a generation of nominal Christians.

Scott Anderson: Mark, one last question for you, and then I’m going to pitch it over to John with actually a last question that I’d like you just to direct. It’s one that came up many times here and we’ll get to it in a second. Mark, salt, light, in the world, but not of the world. It’s a savor of life unto life for some. I want Christ to be attractive. Pastors are asking about this. Again, I want to hear you go at that. I want to love my neighbor. I want to live a winsome life. And yet there’s really hard things I’m going to have to tell them at some point that may not be attractive at all. It’s leading to a question I want to ask John about fear. So, just talk about again that in the world, but not of the world. We want to be salt, light, love, the savor of life, the aroma of Christ, Christ is great, he’s my treasure, and also, this is really going to offend you.

Mark Dever: Well, usually we’re talking about my neighbor, it’s not going to be one conversation. There’s going to be a relationship that gets built up. And the first time I have lunch with almost anybody, by nature, I just interrogate them. I ask them about their parents, their grandparents, how they met, when they became Christians, if they’re from a Christian home. I ask what they did when they were five, when they were 10, when they were 15. And I say that they can ask me all the same questions. When I’m first meeting a neighbor or somebody like that, people tend to like to talk about themselves. They feel loved, and in fact, I am loving them. And they know that, and they sense that, and I’m genuinely interested — well partly, depending on what we’re getting into. But I mean to be interested. I’m curious. So, they’re being genuinely loved, and they sense that, and people are naturally going to like that.

I don’t think that’s manipulative. I just think that’s our nature and the way the Lord made us with human relationships. So, then at whatever point, however long I’m carrying on this conversation, at whatever point I get to, at some point the fact that I understand, not because of my personal evaluation of them uniquely, because of my own study of God’s revelation of himself and of the truth about us, that we are all sinful and then I draw out the implications for them personally.

I think they understand that I’m not the author of that and I’m not shooting at them, though they may feel it’s kind of horrendous that I can actually believe that and be let around to wander around free in the country. I was talking to a secular Jewish friend the other day. I don’t think he had understood before, though we spent a day booking a few years ago, going to used bookstores, and thought I’d covered this, but maybe he forgot. But anyway, it came up again with what I think Christianity teaches about sinfulness, and he just thought it was horrible. Now, I don’t think that trashed our relationship. That may have made him not particularly anxious to call me again soon. I don’t know.

But I think if you do it in the context of getting to know somebody, even if it’s on an airplane trip and I’ve been sincerely interested in them and their family and what’s going on, then it’s the message that’s offensive. They don’t have a reason to personally reject me. And this is one of the places I love, John, the way you talk about being satisfied in God because I think people see that. I think the Lord made us to be like that. And even for people who hate the message, they like what they see as the result of somebody who is truly happy and satisfied in things that seem that just have a sort of pre-cognitive feel that they’re innately good and right, that you can be a human being and be satisfied like that not based on any external possession.

There’s something I think that rings true in them. In Bunyan’s Holy War, you’ve got the town of Mansoul. Diabolus takes over the whole thing, except the town crier, Old Man Conscience. He’s largely controlled by Diabolus. But every once in a while, he grabs the bell and he just starts ringing the bell and running through the town of Mansoul, saying, “Diabolus is a liar and a thief. Emmanuel is the true prince of Mansoul.” Well, that happens when you talk to your non-Christian friends. When you’re delighted in God, when you’re satisfied in the Lord, there is something authentically human about the way he made us to be that will make even the most offended non-Christian see something winsome and attractive, not because we’re clever or witty or dress well, but because we love the Lord. And that’s how he made us to be.

John Piper: I want to add a little tiny follow-up because I’m trying to figure out why I’m less successful than Mark Dever. I think there’s something about the way I’m wired that if we get to that point about some bad news being shared about you, it’s kind of over at that point, whereas he is wired in such a way that the relationship survives. I state things in such a way that it’s over, I mean, they’re gone.

Mark Dever: Give me an example of when you’ve done that?

John Piper: Just saying, “You’re going to go to hell.” I don’t mean that I say it like that, but I speak about the reality of hell, the reality of their sinfulness, and their depravity. But you seem to be able to do it differently. There’s kind of an outgoing interest that makes these ultimates not feel at that moment as ultimate — and I’m hesitant to say “as they are” because that sounds bad — as they seem like they should be felt to be. And yet that rescues the relationship for you to get them to the point where they can see them as serious as they are. Whereas, I think I may prematurely push them to the ultimate sense of, “You’re not feeling how serious this is yet, and you need to,” and that makes them feel like, “There’s no future for this relationship. This preacher guy is too heavy.” Whereas you speak about things and the heaviness factor is suspended somehow for a season and then can come in and a conversion happens. How does that happen?

Mark Dever: Well, I don’t know that I’ve really seen that many people converted. I’m glad you think I’m successful at that, but I don’t know that I have. But I think when I have and I look at it, I don’t think it’s ever been an airplane conversation. It’s been like with Ryan just studying Mark’s Gospel for three or four months together. So, Jesus is saying offensive things. I am helping them come to understand Jesus. I’m helping them come to understand the Gospel and what Christianity teaches. So, it might not have such a personal dart as if it were in the first conversation. Michael is just a complete secularist and I tell him, “Yeah, you’re going to burn.” It’s not like that.

Instead, Michael is curious about Christianity so he’s reading about Jesus and we’re talking about it together, and it’s more Socratic and he comes to see, “Wow, this is what Jesus teaches.” And I go, “Yeah.” I mean a perfect example is Belial, this Muslim Lebanese friend I mentioned in one of the talks, in that very same conversation, he was praising me and my wife for having such a righteous home because he’d been in our home, and he was just contrasting it with Britain. And I thought I saw an opportunity for the gospel there and I don’t know that it was quite right, but I said, “So Belial, do you think when I die, I’m going to go to hell?” And he paused for a moment. He said, “Surely not. God would not send someone so righteous as you to hell.”

And I knew that when I asked him that question, he would ask the follow-up, which is why I asked it. And he paused for a minute, and he said, “And do you think when I die, I will go to hell?” I said, “Oh yes, Belial, you’ll certainly go to hell, because I will go to hell. Everyone will go to hell because of our sins against God, and we need a Savior.” So, that was an example in which I did sort of push it personally like that in order to get somewhere, but I had that relationship already.

John Piper: And it survived?

Mark Dever: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Scott Anderson: We are torn not to stop on these things, how we need the Lord’s help in these things. Well, John, I want you to encourage us even as you close us in prayer. There were several questions that came in. They weren’t questions, they were confessions of men who are here. There were phrases like, “I am paralyzed by fear. I can preach to hundreds in my congregation about the gospel, but I cannot bring myself to open my mouth to an individual. I’m afraid that I might manipulate them. I’m afraid I might say it wrong. I’m afraid of losing the relationship. I’m afraid of being rejected. I’m afraid of failure.”

And then several of them have a sense of guilt over not doing that, which has been brought to light through this conference. What do you tell those folks? Which is many of us, if we’re honest. We have strong fear and hesitation in this regard. How do we rest in the gospel even as we pursue these things for God’s glory?

John Piper: Just to orient myself on that spectrum of fear, what I find most indicting about my own fear is that it rises in proportion to the sophistication of the person I’m talking to. When I do my jogging evangelism in my neighborhood it’s mainly poor and uneducated people that I’m passing as I jog, and I’ve got tracts in my pocket, and it’s Monday or it’s early in the morning and I’m not pressed for time. So, I’m jogging, and I pray for the Lord to help me stop. I find that relatively easy to do. So, here’s three guys. There’s a Native American, an African American, and a Hispanic guy, and they’re trash-talking each other. It’s about eight o’clock in the morning and they’re just laying into Bush and talking about Obama. And I thought, “This is cool.”

So, I just blunder right into these guys and say, “Hey, can I tell you about Jesus?” Now I find that incredibly easy to do because frankly, I feel superior to those guys. There it is, the end of Whitefield, right? There goes John Piper down the tube with his selfish ego. But if I run by a bus stop and there’s a nicely dressed woman and she’s on her way to work downtown on the 46th floor of the IDS tower as a lawyer, I don’t stop. I’m sweating and I have cut off Bermuda shorts on. I’m 63 years old. I look like an idiot. She’s so perfect. So, all that to just say I’m with you and that’s pride. That’s fear. That’s ranking Acts 5:41, which says, “Rejoice that we were shamed for the name.”

I don’t mind being shamed by somebody who’s a lower educated person, but I don’t want to be shamed by a lawyer. Do I need the cross or what? Now, what do you do? I don’t think I can say much more than has been said except that life is very short and the approval of the Creator of the universe is infinitely more valuable than the approval of any sophisticated person. And I’m not responsible for their conversion, I’m responsible, as Mark just laid it out so well, to be faithful to the gospel and everything is going to work together for my good. If they roll their eyes, if they spread rumors about me, if they say ugly things, it will turn out for my good.

See, I think all of us are wrestling with things that happened to us when we were four. I can name two horribly embarrassing things that I can remember from grade school that I think scarred me forever and made me very hesitant to say certain things in certain situations. So, preaching is easy. Piper is bold and acid-tongued. But I am no more bold than you are on the airplane, and a lot of it is owing to different kinds of experiences we’ve had. And I just think we should look that in the face and say:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11–12).

That is addressed squarely to our situation. They’re going to revile. Reviling is the thing I don’t want more than anything. Shoot me, yes. Revile me? No. Make me lose my job and I’ll be cool and strong, but I don’t want to be reviled falsely. So, Jesus takes that one on and he says, “Great is your reward in heaven.” So, brothers, do we believe in what’s coming? I really think being heavenly-minded is the answer here. Life is short. Heaven is long. Christ is there. His approval is there, someday. He is on our side. These people, it doesn’t matter ultimately if they’re on our side are not. He matters ultimately. Do we believe it, at that moment on the plane or in the neighborhood or at the office or wherever. Do we believe it?

And so, let’s pray for faith. Let’s pray that he is supremely valuable to us and that we then would be granted the gift to care that others join us in that supreme value.