I just got back yesterday from the annual Desiring God Conference. It was a fantastic weekend, with several insightful speakers discussing the conference theme, “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.” Here are some things I learned and general observations:
- Rick Warren reads more in a year than I do in a decade. In his talk, he said that he reads through the corpus of a single author each year. Last year he read through Jonathan Edwards’ works from Yale U. P., and this year he is reading through Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I would never have pegged Warren as such a bibliophile.
- Warren is way too much of an extrovert for my liking. His talk was good but jumpy and lacking focus. By contrast, Piper is slow and reflective, aiming for the long-term retention of the main points being made. Piper wants to impress the mind and heart; Warren wants to excite and motivate.
- Kevin DeYoung is one funny guy and way too intelligent for his age. In his talk, he criticized the over-extension of the term, “missional.” Among other observations, he warned about the temptation among certain missional advocates to emphasize the church’s mercy ministries, for which the world approves, instead of the church’s Gospel, which offends the world (“a stumbling block”). Everyone will praise you for digging a well in Africa; they will not praise you for the condemnation that is entailed in the Gospel. Of course, DeYoung repeatedly reminded the audience that the former is indeed part of the church’s mission.
- Tullian Tchividgian was a big highlight for me. I’ve been a huge fan of what he’s been doing at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, bringing back the Gospel to a church that has been far too distracted by the culture wars. D. James Kennedy (requiescat in pace), for all his faithfulness to Christ, unfortunately lost his focus in the last several years of his ministry. It was very frustrating to turn on the television Sunday morning and watch Kennedy quoting the Founding Fathers more than the Bible — I’m not exaggerating. Tchividgian gave an excellent talk on the idols that are only revealed when we experience a period of great suffering.
- Another big highlight for me was to see Michael Horton in the flesh. He did a live taping of the White Horse Inn and then gave a lecture on why he chooses the topics he writes about. If you are familiar with Horton, you can pretty well imagine what he talked about, but I am continually impressed by his ability to articulate/define the Gospel from so many different angles. I especially appreciate his obvious joy in the Gospel and lack of anxiety about the church, even when he is attacking the church (as is usually the case).
- Al Mohler did a great job in his discussion of evangelical epistemology (our reason is not neutral because the will has precedence) versus non-evangelical epistemologies. Mohler is far better at philosophy than he is at science, which is why he should stick to theology and cultural issues instead of lame defenses of Creationism. Yes, I had to get that off my chest…again.
- I have mixed feelings about Francis Chan. He is one of the most dynamic speakers that I have ever heard; it’s obvious why he is so well beloved. I readily admit that I was convicted by his sermon on our lack of love for others. Yet, I have strong reactions against any exhortation to love based upon a person’s eternal destiny, and this was Chan’s method at certain moments in his sermon. Frankly, I find it emotionally manipulative. Chan sincerely believes that any person who does not hear the Gospel, before he or she dies, will spend an eternity in hell — a position which I don’t care to attack (though I do reject it). However, I am vehemently opposed by the way this doctrine is used to generate high levels of empathy, which is often enough followed by despair, in order to motivate the spread of the Gospel. Maybe this is just my over-reaction to a fundamentalist upbringing. Thankfully, though, there were not any altar calls during the entire conference!
- The influence of Calvinism has had immense benefits for the evangelical movement within the last several years — including, yes, the lack of altar calls among most Reformed-leaning churches. There’s much to discuss, and a lot of my own impressions have been solidified over the weekend, but I will wait to detail this (in a future post this week).
If you want to see some of the conference presentations, click here.