The Liberate 2013 conference is over, and it was fantastic! Here are my reflections, which are my own personal opinions, on whatever things stuck out in my mind.
1. Grace in Church Planting, Tony Merida. I really really like this guy, I wish I knew him. I have a secret desire that has been brewing for some time to plant a church. I am not called to do so at this exact time, but I got some great info from Tony. I think he really did connect with grace in talking about this, because it seemed to me that his main point was to connect with grace-starved sinners by having meals with them. Many of the key teachings and moments in Jesus’ ministry happened over a meal. The pharisees were scandalized by the fact that Jesus ATE with tax gatherers and sinners. It is of grace because He urged us to sup with those who could not pay us back – in other words, introduce them to the gift culture of grace-drenched Christianity by inviting them to a meal which is presented as a gift which they need not and cannot repay or reciprocate with. I love this; it actually totally goes along with my ideas about the true church and the kingdom of God operating as a gift culture because we are already so accepted and fulfilled by the grace and favor of God.
2. Bryan Chapell. I did not like this one so much. I’m sorry. According to Mr. Chapell, the gospel is great, but we still need to put our sin to death(Colossians 3:5). However, the nuance of the idea “put to death” turned out to be “try harder to stop sinning”. This point was pressed with some degree of passion but little degree of insight IMHO. Earlier in the same stream of thought Paul says,
20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations–
21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”
22 which all concern things which perish with the using–according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
(Colossians 2:20-23, NKJV).
So, trying harder would seem to be a very bad way to handle these thorny and persistent sin issues. I believe strongly (as spelled out here) that confession is more powerful than “trying hard”, because confession (as in 1 John 1:7,9) applies the blood of Christ to the sin and admits our own powerlessness, leaving the solution in the supernatural hands of God. I think that trying harder to stop sinful habits is similar to doing your own dentistry or doing your own heart surgery. You can’t do it. Dead people (Colossians 3:3) don’t try harder, they stop trying at all. Confession in the way of 1 John 1:9 lets me really die and depend on a resurrection of forgiveness and cleansing from God.
3. Ray Ortlund. I can’t remember anything about this except the funny idea of putting a tombstone in front of your church and starting over from scratch, including renaming it. A lot of people liked it but it seemed tainted with law justification to me. It only takes a drop of pee in your coffee to ruin it. Sorry, not my favorite either. I started to get the feeling, “there is going to be some grace at our grace conference, right?” I am perfectly willing to admit that I judged this wrongly, and that it was fantastic. Someone correct me!
4. David Zahl Stellar! I think he has been pegged as a media and pop culture guy, and these are things which he understands well in a helpful way. However, he really has a profound understanding of the gospel and he did a great job applying this to our facebook and twitter habits. We walk in the dark (1 John 1:6,7) when we pose and pretend and put our best foot forward in social media in order to provoke admiration and envy, while hiding our real mundane and perhaps sinful lives. The gap between our public social media persona and our actual real life is the secret part of us that needs the gospel. He closed very wonderfully by saying, we will not walk out ready to start airing our dirty laundry on FB, but we will walk out under grace knowing that we are nevertheless beloved. Wonderful stuff. I had a lot of fun hanging out a bit with him and he is a genuine and compassionate and intelligent guy. Thanks Dave!
5. Elyse Fitzpatrick. This was pretty good. I’m still not sure of the biblical veracity of the idea of justification being “just-as-if-I’d always obeyed” the way she presses it. I’m not necessarily saying it is wrong, just that it has never really resonated with me. I love her though, and she really is a grace preacher. It was beginning to feel like a real grace conference now!
More to come in part 2…