July 15, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Theology | End times
There is often no lack of interest in—or confusion about—the topic of eschatology. So I was grateful that Jeff Purswell, dean of the Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastors College
, took up the topic for his contribution to our Next 2010 conference in Baltimore.
Jeff brought both clarity and appropriate emphasis to this important topic, helping us avoid two of the dangers associated with the end times: speculation and negligence.
His message was a conference highlight.
What follows is an outline of the message and one excerpt (more excerpts are forthcoming). Let’s be clear—this is none other than my attempt to encourage you to listen to the entire message.
Jeff taught from 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11
and made these five important points:
- Eschatology is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Eschatology is centered on the return of Christ.
- Eschatology looks forward to perfect fellowship in the presence of God.
- Eschatology pronounces the coming justice of God.
- Eschatology provides hope and motivation for our daily lives now.
Jeff introduced us to the importance of the study of eschatology this way:
Here’s how we can sum up the thrust and import of eschatology: Eschatology assures us that God’s purposes will prevail, and it motivates us to live faithfully until those purposes are fulfilled. It changes the way we live. We live in light of those purposes and in light of the destination to which all things are heading.
You can download his message (“The End Times”) from the Next website
A compilation book of the messages delivered at the 2008 Together for the Gospel
conference is now available. Titled Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
(Crossway, 2009), the new book is authored by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and C.J., with contributions by Thabiti Anyabwile, John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul and one additional piece by Greg Gilbert.
What follows is a glimpse at the contents, a link to each original conference message audio recording, and a brief comment on each message/chapter taken from Dever’s introduction to the new book.
Chapter 1: Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry (Duncan). Message audio
. Dever: “Ligon Duncan begins this volume as he began that conference. He entered the lists asserting that systematic theology is a worthwhile task. Indeed, in days when the narrative form of biblical theology is attracting great (and deserved) attention, it is too often being pitted against systematic theology. Ligon defends the usefulness and necessity of systematic theology with clarity and vigor. A pastor must remember the truths in this chapter or risk losing the gospel itself” (pp. 12–13).
Chapter 2: Bearing the Image (Anyabwile). Message audio
. Dever: “In his address at Together for the Gospel, Thabiti challenged us to recognize that the category of ‘race’ is irredeemable. It brings far more confusion than light, more contention than understanding, more prejudice than impartial judgment. As you turn to that chapter—perhaps the most explosive of the conference—open your mind and get ready to think” (p. 13).
Chapter 3: The Sinner Neither Willing nor Able (MacArthur). Message audio
. Dever: “John MacArthur delivered a message on human depravity that was a model of clear thinking. In it, John masterfully assembled the witness of Scripture (in the very way Ligon had encouraged us the previous day) on this vital topic. John showed that a mistake here is a mistake in the foundation of understanding the nature of our problem. He laid out challenges currently facing this doctrine and concluded by calling us to be faithful to this aspect of the message, no matter how hard we may find such faithfulness” (p. 13).
Chapter 4: Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology (or) Questioning Five Common Deceits (Dever). Message audio
. Dever: “The next message was mine. I had been mulling over for some time the confusion about the content of the gospel. The message came together as I reviewed notes I had made some months earlier about various issues that needed ‘addressing.’ I began to notice that each one evidenced a distortion of the gospel. With encouragement from my T4G brothers—and the Capitol Hill Baptist congregation—I worked and reworked the material until I felt I got close to saying what I wanted to say. I wanted to get evangelicals talking about what the gospel is exactly” (pp. 13–14).
Chapter 5: The Curse Motif of the Atonement (Sproul). Message audio
. Dever: “R.C. Sproul brought to the conference what many felt was the most devotionally rich meditation on the sacrifice of Christ. And he did it by meditating upon the curse motif in the Old Testament! In his own inimitable conversational style, with wide learning and profound biblical understanding, R.C. took us on a tour of Old Testament practices, verbally painting scenes before our eyes. Again and again, as we stared into the depth of those practices, we began to see the cross of Christ more and more clearly until, well, let me simply encourage you to read what I heard many call ‘the best I've ever heard R.C.’ And, I promise—it's not R.C. you'll be glorifying when you're done” (p. 14).
Chapter 6: Why They Hate It So: The Denial of Substitutionary Atonement in Recent Theology (Mohler). Message audio
. Dever: “This conference in many ways was birthed out of our concern that the atonement is being misconceived and mistaught in too many evangelical books and churches. It was Al who decided to wade into the sea of literature and explain to us what has happened. With a mastery of the literature that is both exceptional and yet typical of our well-read friend, he led us to see the lines of misunderstanding—of attack—that have been laid down against Christ's death being in the place of sinners. His conference message, now here in print, should serve as a guide to the literature and, even more fundamentally, to thinking carefully about the atoning work of Christ” (p. 14).
Chapter 7: How Does the Supremacy of Christ Create Radical Christian Sacrifice? A Meditation on the Book of Hebrews (Piper). Message audio
. Dever: “The last day of the conference, John Piper brought the cross into our own lives and ministries. He posed the question, ‘How does the supremacy of Christ create radical Christian sacrifice?’ Looking through the last few chapters of Hebrews, John called for us to live radical lives so as to have radical ministries. He called us to be God's men. He called us to be certain that in such a ministry suffering will come” (p. 15).
Chapter 8: Sustaining the Pastor's Soul (Mahaney). Message audio
. Dever: “The final message was once again given by the conference pastor C.J. Mahaney. C.J. preached a wonderful message titled ‘Sustaining the Pastor's Soul.’ He presented Paul as an example of one who suffered without complaint and served with obvious joy, regardless of the circumstances. And he called us to be ‘happy pastors,’ too. What was it he repeatedly said? ‘How striking that the one with the most responsibility was the one with the most joy.’….Even though this message appears as the book's last chapter, if you're a pastor and feeling particularly pressed, let me suggest that you begin there” (pp. 15–16).
Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
is a follow-up to the first volume, Preaching the Cross
(Crossway, 2007), which developed out of the messages delivered at the 2006 T4G conference
I was having a wide-ranging conversation with a friend the other day when we wandered onto the topic of the gospel. I casually observed how frequently the word gospel
was freighted with elements that belong more precisely to the realm of discipleship or ethics—e.g., what we do in response
to the gospel, or how we live in light of
My friend responded with puzzlement: “Aren’t those things part of the gospel? Didn’t Jesus say in the Great Commission, ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’?”
A lively and edifying conversation ensued in which we found ourselves largely in agreement, but also in which a crucial issue surfaced: what precisely is
Perhaps it’s foolish to tackle such a question in a medium that militates against nuance and formulaic clarity. No doubt my comments will be parsed and found wanting by many who discern neglect of this or that biblical theme or emphasis—ah, well, such are the joys of blogging. It is, however, a question that lies at the very heart of our faith, and therefore at the heart of pastoral ministry.
So what does the New Testament present as the gospel?
A good place to begin is Mark’s gospel. At the outset of the book, the author immediately alerts us to the significance of what will follow: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Syntactically, this heading flows directly into the remainder of the prologue (Isaiah’s prophecy, John the Baptist, and Jesus’s baptism/temptations)—indicating that these introductory events are the “beginning of the gospel,” while the balance of Mark’s narrative presents the rest
of the gospel.
What’s the point? For Mark, the gospel is the story about Jesus—the good news of all that Jesus did in his life and ministry and death and resurrection.
We see a similar idea in the early preaching of the church. When Peter is summoned to Cornelius’s home and discovers that God is behind this miraculous chain of events, his presentation of the gospel (“proclaiming the good news of peace”—Acts 10:36b) is an outline of Jesus’s ministry, beginning with John the Baptist on through to his resurrection and commissioning of the apostles to proclaim forgiveness through his name (Acts 10:36-41; cf. 2:22-24; 3:13-15). As far back as C.H. Dodd, commentators have viewed this as a summary of apostolic preaching and noted its basic agreement with the structure of Mark’s gospel. Once again, the gospel is the news of what God was doing through Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.
Paul uses the term gospel
more than any other NT writer. Of course, one of the most familiar renditions of “gospel” in the NT is Paul’s summary statement in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” Again, the gospel consists of what Jesus did
to save us. Paul’s presentation is more narrow, focusing on the pinnacle of Christ’s work—his substitutionary death and resurrection—but that focus is also embedded into the very structures of the canonical gospels themselves, which reserve far more space for, and place the greatest emphasis on, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So what is the gospel?
Although this brief survey is far from complete, it consistently reveals that the gospel is good news concerning Jesus and what he did to accomplish salvation for sinners.
In other words, the gospel is objective
. It tells us what God has done to save his people. It consists of concrete, historical events, rooted in Old Testament promises, types, and institutions that were fulfilled in Jesus. It promises that all who trust in Christ and his work will receive forgiveness and life. Of course, this isn’t merely a catalogue of events of only historical interest; all of this has massive implications for our lives. But we must not confuse the gospel message itself with the outworking of those implications.
So, for example, although the gospel calls me to respond to what Jesus has done, strictly speaking it doesn’t include
my response—repentance is not
the gospel. Although the gospel introduces me to a life lived in glad obedience to God, strictly speaking it doesn’t include that life of obedience. Our existence as Christians involves unspeakable privileges, significant responsibilities, and untold promise. But those things themselves are not
Why is all this important? It’s important because the very nature of the gospel is at stake—and there is no higher priority for the pastor than to guard the gospel from neglect, distortion, or redefinition (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).
If the gospel message expands to include “discipleship in the kingdom,” then the objective nature of Christ’s work is minimized. When the gospel is redefined as a call to a social or political movement, Christ’s work is replaced with ours. When the gospel includes my response, then the ground of my assurance lies in me rather than in Christ. Indeed, anytime we shift the definition of the gospel from God’s objective accomplishment to our subjective appropriation, the rock-solid foundation of our faith is misplaced—and the glory of God in the gospel is obscured.
Of course, we can be clear on the gospel message and make other mistakes. We can neglect the entailments
of the gospel (a life of self-denial and obedience to Christ). We can focus only
on spiritual salvation to the exclusion of any concern for the material or physical well-being of others. We can so focus on a heavenly home that we neglect our responsibilities of loving others in a fallen world, and that our ultimate future lies in a “new heavens and new earth” that have been fully renewed by God’s power.
None of these mistakes, however, minimizes the importance of holding fast to the gospel of our salvation. For it is through the power of the gospel that we are transformed to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. It is through the gospel that we are freed from selfishness to give our lives in service of others. Sure, the scope of Christ’s redemption is the whole cosmos (Colossians 1:20), but at the center
of his redemptive concern are rebellious image-bearers whom he is ransoming to be his children. But all of these entailments, implications, and promises are founded upon the rock-solid, unchanging accomplishment of God through the gospel of his Son. It is this message that is God’s power to save sinners, to comfort the grieving, to motivate the listless, to encourage the downhearted, to assure the guilt-stricken.
This message never changes; this message is always true; and so our hope is always secure.
And it precisely when those erstwhile rebels grasp God’s accomplishment in the gospel—the greatest display of “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love”—that they will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and marvel with wonder at the gospel’s display of God’s glorious grace.
Jeff Purswell serves as the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
October 8, 2009 by Jeff Purswell
A couple of months ago C.J. invited me to begin contributing posts to the Sovereign Grace blog, of which this is the first. Those who don’t know me will surely wonder why; those who do know me will no doubt grasp the irony, given my blustering tirades against the general blog phenomenon (which I’ll spare you, since including them here would be self-defeating). In any event, let me stress the privilege it is to share this space with C.J. and, as of next week, Dave Harvey, and provide a bit of background for future posts.
My main responsibility in Sovereign Grace is overseeing the Pastors College
, which is the primary mechanism by which we train pastors for ministry in our family of churches
. Many components go into this training. We teach our students Greek so that they might have access to the original text of the New Testament. We ground our students in the text of Scripture in both its specifics and scope. We endeavor to provide our students a solid theological framework for grasping God’s revelation in its various parts and proportions. We provide pastoral care and structures for personal growth to encourage and support our students’ progress in godliness and the process of sanctification. We teach ministry skills such as preaching and biblical counseling to help them bring God’s Word to bear upon the lives of the people they will one day serve. And we do all of this in the context of a particular local church—Covenant Life Church
—which provides the students both a church home and a functioning model for the material they are learning in the classroom.
Underlying these facets are certain core convictions we have concerning theological training—convictions derived from Scripture’s profile of a pastor and the local church which he’s called to serve.
For example, with the exception of the gift of teaching, the biblical requirements for eldership (e.g., 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1) all speak to a pastor’s character; there’s nothing about personality types, educational levels, or social standing. Transcending all other considerations, a pastor is to be an illustration of the transforming effects of the gospel he proclaims, and an example of sound Christian living to those he serves. We therefore give much attention to, and invest resources toward, encouraging and cultivating progress in our students’ spiritual lives. In our training, we never want to neglect the very characteristics that qualify a man for ministry in the first place.
The local church context also plays an important role in the Pastors College. Since we are training pastors called to “shepherd the flock of God,” we want to expose them to an actual “shepherding” context—a model of ministry where God’s people are being taught, cared for, and nourished. Therefore, we never want the training of our students to be disconnected from the context for which they are being trained
—the local church.
In addition to character and context, there’s the substance of our training. When asked to describe the nature of our training, I frequently use this description: we’re training men to do theological ministry
—ministry with a self-consciously theological rationale, where every methodology employed flows from and is informed by theological conviction and appropriate biblical warrant. Far from being innovative, this is simply a reflection of the radically Word-centered nature of the pastor’s call that pervades the New Testament. From the apostles’ disciplined devotion “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) to Paul’s insistent pleas that Timothy devote himself to the proclamation of Scripture and its teaching (1 Timothy 4:6, 13, 16; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:2, 15; 4:1-2, et al), God’s Word places a claim on both the content and methodology of pastoral ministry: Scripture and its teaching must be the standard and substance of the pastor’s ministry.
Now, that’s easier said than done, for at least two reasons.
First, perhaps more than ever before, pastors are vulnerable to competing visions for ministry, to measuring ministry “success” by business metrics rather than faithfulness to Scripture, to grasping for some heretofore undiscovered insight that will make the decisive difference in their church. Even for the most earnest pastor, the promise of immediate success is a powerful enticement to pragmatic measures.
Second, it’s a challenge because Scripture doesn’t speak specifically to every facet of church life and ministry. It requires an ever-deepening understanding of the Bible, a grasp of its details and overarching unity, a sensitivity to the “pattern” (2 Timothy 1:13) and proportionality of its truth. More than anything, it requires a firm grasp of the gospel and its entailments for the Christian life
individually, and for the church’s life corporately. Of course, faithful pastoral ministry will look different in different contexts, and no one will execute theological ministry perfectly. Our perception is never perfect, our motives unclouded, or our actions flawless. It is, however, something to which Scripture calls us to aspire.
Well, that’s a glimpse of what we’re endeavoring to instill into our students in the Pastors College, and that’s what I’ll be thinking out loud about in upcoming posts: theological and biblical reflection, particularly as it impinges upon the glorious work of pastoral ministry—proclaiming the gospel, expounding God’s truth, and caring for those for whom our Savior died. The thought of that privilege is staggering.