My church, Colonial Baptist Church, in conjunction with Shepherds Theological Seminary (which I am attending), recently concluded their first annual national church leaders’ conference. The theme was, “Christ and our changing culture,” and the speakers included names such as Al Mohler, Gene Getz, Erwin Lutzer, Rick Holland, Greg Gilbert, and Stephen Davey. An excerpt of the website description reads:
We live in what may be one of the most challenging cultural contexts experienced by God’s people. Frankly, our culture isn’t so much post-modern anymore as it is pre-Christian. And as our pre-Christian culture sheds any remnants of Judeo-Christian roots, the role of the pastor is becoming increasingly challenging… How do we serve and lead in such a culture, braving the effects of a growing marginalization and antipathy?… Some leaders will choose not to think too seriously about culture—assuming all is well; others will attempt to evade their culture and try to stay out of harms way; still others will attempt to embrace culture and thus forfeit the distinctives of the gospel.
Greg Gilbert is senior pastor at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and frequently writes for 9Marks. His message during the second general session of the conference was excellent. Though some people had a problem with the way he interpreted the harlot and Babylon in the book of Revelation (since he is Amillennial), I actually thought that, though I wouldn’t agree with his interpretation of what these symbols actually represent, I thought the way he used them in his message was a legitimate application for our time. His message followed this outline:
1) “Remember that culture is presented here in Revelation not as a friend to God’s people, but as an enemy.”
“It’s a fact of history that whenever things are going easily for Christians… Time and again… They begin to theologize about the goodness of culture.”
2) “Remember that culture is presented here as a dangerous seductress… And frighteningly dangerous.”
“The allure of the world when you are being persecuted, is not nearly so strong as when you are being seduced.”
3) “Remember that the mark of God’s people is to resist Babylon’s allure.”
“This world, for all it seems to offer, is not your friend. Stay alert, and persevere, and remain faithful.”
4) “Even under the world’s hostility, remain faithful to your king.”
“When you become a follower of Christ, you are swearing allegiance to a rival king.”
When you hear about all the Christians who are being martyred every day because of their faith, sometimes it doesn’t make sense why the world hates Christians; but if you remember that we have sworn allegiance to a king who is hostile to the ways of this world, it begins to make more sense. As Greg put it,
“If Jesus is just your friend, it’s really not a big deal. But if Jesus is my king, it’s a whole different deal… Because He doesn’t just want my friendship… He wants my allegiance.”
5) “Remember how it ends.”
We know the end of the story. We are not fighting a losing war. Christ has won the victory, we should be fighting in these skirmishes every day with the knowledge that the war has already been won by our king!
After Greg’s message, I went up and spoke with him for a few minutes. I asked him the same question I asked Dr. Mohler – “What one thing do you think pastors need to know in the ministry, but seminary students don’t usually learn in seminary?”
His answer was similar to Dr. Mohler’s: learn to get a grasp on the English Bible… Sometimes we spend so much time learning how to parse a verb (when now you can just hover the mouse over the word in a program and get all that and more) and we don’t get much training in seminary on exegeting the English Bible well… That’s something that one of my professors, Doug Bookman, is very intentional about – encouraging us to not only learn to study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, but to get a good grasp on the English Bible as a whole – the flow of the narrative, the passages in their context, etc. This is something that the typical modern Christian is lacking, and I hope I can become more fluent in this area so that I can be better equipped to teach others how to really understand God’s Word.