Ligonier National Conference - Q&A Session III
The panel consisted of D.A. Carson, Derek Thomas, Robert Godfrey, and Thabiti Anyabwile. John Duncan moderated.
1. Why do we de-emphasize general revelation in the Reformed theology tradition?
I’m not sure we do, but we should note both the value of general revelation and its inadequacy. General revelation gives the knowledge of God’s nature but it is insufficient to save.
2. What if we are in a hostile work environment (closed to the gospel)?
Be gracious and winsome and thankful that you are interacting with those who must be won. You have to love these people. If you are afraid of them, you won’t engage them. Remember that you are likewise made in the image of God. We can tend to love ideas more than people.
3. What are the challenges associated with holiness (or the lack of it) in the church today?
We need to expect suffering. Growth in holiness is a matter of the heart but also external forces in the church. There has been a decline in honoring a day for the Lord, and thus a decline in time for the Lord, and thus a lack of personal holiness. Godfrey exhorted churches to have Sunday morning and evening services. Anyabwile noted that our union with Christ gives us motivation for holiness.
Carson: We haven’t concentrated on God and the gospel, that’s why we don’t have enough holiness. Everything is tied to that. Don’t think about it only in terms of “not doing stuff” or “doing stuff,” and that reduces to moralism. The law cannot save, although there is a place for law.
4. If you were the pastor of a new church plant, and all your parishioners were new converts, what would you preach through and why?
Carson: Whatever books of the Bible you choose, go through them quickly.
Anyabwile: Agree, give them a sense of the full counsel of God.
Thomas: It has been liberating for me to have to move through books fairly quickly. If they are young Christians, they need to hear the gospel. I would want to make sure that I was preaching on a gospel and focusing very deliberately on Christ.
Godfrey: I would not only preach through books of the Bible. I would also use the Heidelberg catechism, pick up topics, and then preach on those topics (Lord’s supper, baptism, etc.)
5. What does it mean to grow in the grace of God?
Carson: To grow in the working out of grace in Christ Jesus such that we are increasingly transformed into the likeness of God’s dear son. Speech, behavior, priorities, relationships will be realigned. It is worthwhile working through the latter chapters of the pastoral epistles, but we must remember that it is the working out of God’s grace. The gospel doesn’t just tip us in, it continues to be worked in us.
6. What would make a Calvinistic evangelist even get up in the morning when he knows that nothing he does will impact his work?
Anyabwile: Guarantees success.
Carson: God ordains the ends and the means. It is election that grounds perseverance, otherwise it is just style and mechanics.
7. Are we all equally sinful?
Godfrey: We’re all equally guilty.
Carson: In one sense we’re all guilty. But there are sins committed “with a high hand” and other sins. Jesus referred to “weightier matters” of the law. So not all sins are equally serious on every scale.
Anyabwile: I’d want to explore it with them pastorally, if it was in a counseling situation. Could emphasize our commonality as sinners (even our righteousness contains sin), or our differences.
Carson: David said he “only sinned against God.” But he actually sinned against many others also. The key is that no one is more offended than God himself.
8. Is it possible for someone to truly want to be part of God’s elect but not actually be elect?
9. What do you think of contextualization?
In one sense, we do our theologically “locally.” Being finite, we naturally think in terms of our context. But this doesn’t mean there are different gospels for different people groups.
10. What do you think of a biblical metaphor (e.g., forensic justification) needing to work across cultures?
Carson: There is no culture that perfectly appreciates all the biblical metaphors. I don’t think it is better to start (among biblical illiterates) with law, rather start with idolatry. But ultimately you need both law and idolatry. Show sin as a betrayal of God.
Sometimes where people end (in this contextualization) issue undermines where Christ intends to end (“I will build my church.”) People can strengthen divisions (“a gospel for the poor in China”, or “the rich in New York”, etc.).
But the gospel says: we are a holy nation, one church.
11. Discuss predestination and election as it relates to John 3:16.
Predestination, in Calvin’s Institutes, was seeking to answer the question “where does faith come from?” For Calvin, it came after the discussion of faith…..predestination is to keep us from being proud.
In Ephesians, we see predestination toward the beginning. And in Romans we see it toward the end. Predestination is a “family secret.” It is a discussion for believers — how is it you were saved?
Remembering that it is a family secret helps us to understand where John 3:16 fits in. God ordains the ends and the means.
1. God’s sovereignty never removes man’s responsibility.
2. Men choose, believe, obey, and disobey. But their responsibility never functions to make God fully contingent.
First make sure that people understand that both truths are there in Scripture before you entertain how they can both be true.
12. Did the church fathers before Calvin teach the doctrines of grace?
See Thomas Oden, a church father expert. You can find this in various places in the church fathers, but the fathers were (a) fallible and (b) attacking all sorts of problems. When Augustine taught on predestination, most people said, “Oh yeah, this was there all along.”
13. Are prophets and preachers one and the same?
Anyabwile: Not in the unique sense in which the prophets and the apostles are the foundation of the church.
Carson: Sometimes biblical words are used in different ways by different authors (“calling”). We see that with apostle sometimes. But no, there are not prophets in the sense of Isaiah, but there are a range of meanings to the word prophet in the New Testament.
14. How to balance all responsibilities and still be a good pastor?
Try to carve out 4-5 hours that are directly devoted to study each morning. The more theological/language education you have before you start, the easier it will be (e.g., if you are knowledgeable in Greek and Hebrew). Also, see studying and preaching the primary way that you love the flock. Lastly, watch out for “bottomless pit” parishioners — love them, but don’t let them take over (or the rest of the people will starve).
Prioritize. Plan. Much prayer does not occur for lack of planning. Same for study. There are stages of life. You must be a minister of the Word and prayer.