by Lauren Crane
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s campus came to life over the weekend as 1,400 college students and young adults flooded the grounds to hear from well-known speakers about how to see the gospel come to life.
The February 6-7 conference, which sold out days in advance, was held on Southeastern's campus in Wake Forest, N.C. Students came from around the country to listen to pastors Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney, Southeastern president Daniel Akin and Bill Brown, president of Cedarville University, as part of Southeastern’s annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference. This year’s theme, The Gospel Comes to Life, allowed the men to speak to the students about how to radically transform their own lives by meditating on the gospel message, and allowing that transformation to affect the culture in which they live.
Friday evening, Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., opened the conference by speaking about the differing views of culture, including how it is viewed within the Scriptures, how it has been historically viewed, the church’s response to culture, and the necessary missiological response to culture. The topic is one he said he has studied over much of his life as a believer. His church, which has a regular attendance of thousands, is considered by many to be on the leading edge of connecting the gospel with every facet of culture.
“This has been my whole life since I met Jesus: Applying the gospel with work, life, and various arenas of culture. Younger evangelicals have been having an enormous conversation about how the gospel and culture interface and how to live for Christ and live in the culture,” Driscoll said. Beginning with the first signs of “culture” in Genesis 3, Driscoll said that culture “reflects both the dignity of creation and the depravity of rebellion” after the fall.
Looking initially at the examples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Driscoll said the Pharisees “loved the letter of the law but didn’t love the spirit of the law” so they went so far as to withdraw themselves from the culture, while still being in it. “We want to commend people like them for their zeal and their willingness to fight (the culture),” Driscoll said. “However, theirs were sins of omission. Pharisees don’t do what they ought to do. You’re supposed to make disciples of all nations.”
The Sadducees, on the other hand, became compromised cultural liberals. “They became cultural accommodators. They were very unfaithful, and are still very popular,” Driscoll said. Instead of following either of these examples, or the examples of the zealots or Essenes, Driscoll said modern believers should follow the disciples’ examples in our response to culture. “They followed Jesus.”
When the church follows the example of the disciples, it will not view the church as a bomb shelter or a place to hide from the world’s culture, nor will it view the church as a cultural mirror, reflecting the culture around it.
When church acts as a mirror of the culture, Driscoll said, “This is liberalism. Instead of reflecting God to the culture, they’re reflecting the culture back to the culture. The church should be a city within a city, a city on a hill.
“We do everything differently. We don’t do it in a way that is hidden, but in a way that is public, showing how life can be with Jesus. That is how it’s done: The church is a city within a city where there’s a counter-cultural kingdom community.”
The first night of the conference concluded with Mahaney, former pastor of Covenant Life Church and president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, giving a message on the motivation behind why believers must infuse the culture with the gospel. Teaching out of Mark 14:1-9, Mahaney said it was his goal to make the students and young adults think on a truly profound moment.
“How can I teach you what is truly profound in an age of profound baloney?” Mahaney said. “How can I teach you about a truly historic moment from sacred Scripture when we’ve been conditioned to think of the Super Bowl as a truly historic moment each year?” The profound moment, Mahaney said, was the extravagant devotion shown by a woman named Mary to Christ as she poured the contents of the glass alabaster over his head as he reclined.
“There was no ignoring her. It was impossible to ignore this public demonstration of affection, this public and passionate display of affection for the Savior,” Mahaney said. “It is as fervent as any display of devotion as found in sacred Scripture.”
He said that Mary uniquely embodies the transforming effect of the Gospel, which is extravagant affection for and extravagant devotion to the Savior. “This is the transformation of the Gospel. Suddenly we hear a profound promise made to no other: She would be an example to the church universally.”
Mary’s extravagant devotion should also be evident in the lives of people who have been truly transformed by the Gospel, Mahaney said, as well as in the lives of those who are continually meditating on the transforming power of the Gospel. For modern believers to emulate Mary’s example of extravagant devotion and for it to be restored, Mahaney said we must meditate on the Gospel and listen to the cries of Calvary.
“Those cries were necessary because of our sin, and those cries are sufficient for our salvation,” Mahaney said.
Driscoll, in speaking to the conference-goers again Saturday morning, said it is this centrality of the Gospel in a believer’s life that should cause them to worship God alone. Speaking on the doxological view of culture, Driscoll said that after the fall in Genesis 3, humanity did not cease to be worshipers – as we were created to be – but instead began to worship the wrong things.
“Everyone worships,” Driscoll said. “The question is who or what. All unholy living is the result of believing the lie that it’s OK to worship something else in addition to, or in lieu of, the God of the Bible. The truth is you should worship the creator. The lie is that you can worship the creation.”
Driscoll challenged the conference-goers to look at what things they worship by determining what people or things are held in a position of glory in their lives.
“What is your real Gospel? Who do you look at as your savior? We make functional saviors to move us from our idea of hell to our idea of heaven,” Driscoll said.
He said many people in today’s culture worship comfort, possessions, status, sex and appearance, among other things. Driscoll said, “Christ has come to set us free. Idolatry both dishonors God and destroys us. Worship glorifies God and gives us joy.”
As Brown addressed the 1,400 conference-goers, he spoke on the topic of engaging the culture for Christ through the mission fields of the mind. Exploring some of the differing worldviews students and young people encounter today, Brown urged those in attendance to take advantage of a unique opportunity.
“I am so convinced that too often we don’t think like Christians. I believe God is giving you a great opportunity and an incredible responsibility to create a new generation of Christian thinkers,” Brown said. In addition to changing the scope of our thinking as believers, Brown said the church must carefully examine the attitudes of the heart.
“The most biblical approach is to be distressed by culture so that we get engaged,” Brown said. “It starts with a broken heart. I believe we should be passionate, don’t you? My goal here is that we must have a passion for Jesus Christ that leads us to a life of humility and a broken heart.”
“The time has come for us as believers to live out the gospel,” Brown said. “What a great privilege it is. Can we do it? Yes. Love the Lord with your heart and your mind for his glory.”
Akin closed the conference noting an important quote by Jonathan Edwards, “What is it that makes the church like heaven?” The answer is love, Akin said, and it is love that brings the gospel to life. Exegeting 1 Corinthians 13, Akin said, “If Jesus is right in saying ‘by this all men shall know that you are my disciples,’ then there is nothing more beneficial to having the Gospel come to life as love.
“Love is essential if we’re going to truly bring the gospel to life in the world in which we live,” he said. “Paul says without love it doesn’t matter what we say. Without love, it doesn’t matter what we know. Without love, it doesn’t matter what we do. If love is not a characteristic and component of your life, you’re lost.”
One day, Akin said, faith will give way to sight. Hope one day will give way to reality. “Love, because it is the very nature and character of God, is enduring. How does the gospel come to life? Jesus in me, loving others in a Christ-like, supernatural way.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.