Advance focuses on gospel
Thomas Crane, BSC Communications
May 23, 2011

Advance focuses on gospel

Advance focuses on gospel
Thomas Crane, BSC Communications
May 23, 2011

It all started when Tyler Jones, lead pastor of Vintage 21

Church in Raleigh, had his heart

broken because he knew the truth and the truth was not pretty: the church in

the southern United States

resembled a bone yard. Plenty of big, beautiful church buildings dot the

landscape of the South, yet statistically, the majority of them are either

dying or in numerical decline.

In 2008, Jones began talking with pastors from different

denominations across the South and they decided to host a conference called

“Advance the Church.” This was intended to be a conference focused on how to

revive the church, and bring it back to life, in the context of the “new urban


Jones and other pastors from around Raleigh

began gathering once a month for prayer about the conference and how to advance

the church in North Carolina and

throughout the South. Slowly but surely the line-up of speakers grew to include

Jones, J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Daniel Akin, Bryan Chapell, Mark

Driscoll and John Piper. Interest started pouring in. The first conference was

hosted in 2009 and has been held the last two years.

This year the Advance conference was held at the Raleigh

Convention Center and featured

speakers Alan Hirsch, Daniel Akin, Eric Mason, Darrin Patrick, Tyler Jones,

J.D. Greear and NY Times bestselling author Timothy Keller. The theme of the

conference was: “Gospel: Recovering the power that made Christianity

revolutionary.” Each session featured a sermon or message on topics such as how

the gospel changes ecclesiology, discipleship, church planting, the city and

community, perspectives on current events, the global mission, church

community, and apologetics.

Keller spoke in two sessions and began by asking the

questions, “How does a life shaped by the gospel make a difference in your

life? How does it shape your heart?” He then suggested that when the gospel is

brought to bear on a believer’s heart it will do at least four things.

First, the gospel will bring “a new self image and forms of

humility” to bear on the Christian’s life. “When the gospel comes into your

life you are simultaneously a sinner and adopted and accepted and made right

with God,” Keller said.

The nonbeliever’s self image is in some way always based on

their performance. Yet, “when the gospel comes in we see that we are more

sinful than we dared to believe while at the same time being more loved and

accepted than we ever dreamed we could be,” Keller said. The gospel is quite

counter-intuitive, and thus it should “deconstruct and then reconstruct us.”

Second, Keller said the gospel gives believers a new

motivation and depth of joy. “Jesus took everything that we owe. He suffered

physically. But he suffered emotionally also. When someone loves us like that,

we love in response. Love produces love. Joy displaces fear. If you are happy

enough in the gospel, then nothing people say about you will change your opinion

of yourself or depress you.”

Third, the gospel gives the believer a new set of values by

which to live. The gospel gives the believer what looks like, by the world’s

standards, upside down values. “Jesus came not with a sword in his hand but

with nails in his hands. He won by loosing. He triumphed in defeat. He was made

famous by serving,” Keller said.

Fourth, the gospel gives the believer a general

unpredictability of thought. Keller argued that, “Christianity is the most

pessimistic and the most optimistic way of looking at the world. The Protestant

doctrine of total depravity is the most pessimistic doctrine of humanity that

exists. But the gospel is the most optimistic solution to the human predicament

(sin) that exists.”

Keller’s second session focused on how the gospel drives

apologetics, as people generally want to know what Christians believe and why

they believe it.

The “what” question is answered by the gospel and

apologetics answers the “why” question. “You have to be able to tell people

‘what’ and ‘why’ or else they won’t give you the time of day. Apologetics is a

defense of the gospel, not the gospel itself,” Keller said.

Keller warned against taking pride in doctrine or in one’s

ability and skills. Apologetics is not winning an argument; it’s about sharing

the hope and grace of the gospel.

Keller concluded by saying that at the heart of a skeptic is

really faith, as it takes faith to doubt Christianity. “The only way to judge

the natural world as being bad (evil, suffering) is to have a supernatural view

of it. Where do we get that supernatural view from? If there is no God then

everything is relative and deep down everyone knows that,” Keller said. “The

Christian has to show people that it takes more faith to doubt it than to

believe it. Tell the Biblical narrative in such a way that people wish it was

true; once you get them there, then you can do apologetics.”

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