I just got back today from New Word Alive in Pwllheli. I won’t give a comprehensive report, because I’m sure Adrian Warnock and others have already done that admirably, but I thought I would mention a few highlights and general reflections.
Having three small children and being offsite meant that I didn’t get to quite as many sessions as I would normally manage. I missed most of Terry Virgo’s talk because my youngest son Joel was making too much noise, but fortunately I have heard Terry speak on that passage a few times already so I at least knew roughly what I was missing! I also didn’t get to attend any afternoon sessions. Tim Chester had a very interesting looking seminar series that I might have to see if I can get hold of the recordings for.
Don Carson – 1 John
Don Carson covered 1 John in his four morning Bible teaching sessions. He started off by warning that to omit fact that sin is deeply offensive to God from your presentation of the gospel, whether intentionally or not, will lead to a serious distortion of the gospel, even if the other things you say are true. Whilst he did not mention the "emerging church" directly, it was clear that he was deliberately tackling their way of framing the gospel message.
One very interesting point he made was concerning our attitude as Christians to our own sin. If we consider it trivial, he argued that we are likely to try to attempt to fix it by simply trying a bit harder. Whereas when we see the true horror of its offence to God, we are driven back to the cross. In other words, a low view of the seriousness of sin leads to legalism, whilst a high view leads to grace.
Also on the subject of sin, he made a helpful observation on 1 John 3:9 which literally says that a Christian "cannot sin". He said that we try to wriggle out of it by translating it "cannot keep on sinning", because it is a present continuous verb tense. But he argued for a different understanding of the word "cannot". He gave an example of his school teacher who told him "you cannot chew gum here". In this context it is not meant that it is impossible to chew gum in school, but rather that it is absolutely not permitted. So a Christian cannot sin, in the sense that it is strictly prohibited. It is not OK. And when, tragically, we do, we are sent back to the cross where we find grace and mercy.
John Piper – Suffering
I only got to hear Piper’s second sermon on suffering, and though I have heard and read him on this subject several times before, it was amazing to be there and hear him preach on a topic that most preachers would run a mile from. His answer could really be described as a defence of the seventh point of "7 point Calvinism", or, "the best of all possible worlds".
The argument runs like this. God desires above all things to display his glory. He does so supremely by displaying his grace, which he does supremely through the death of his Son. There will never be a greater display of his glory in all eternity – even the second coming will not compare. Thus if God always planned that his Son would be killed, he must also have planned that there would be killers and even that there be such a thing as killing and death.
From here he argued that even suffering then was part of an eternal plan of God, and finds its purpose in bringing glory to God. He did speak briefly of the way that healing brings glory to God and encouraged praying for healing, but he does believe that in this age, the "normative" way is for Jesus to get the glory as our "sustainer" through suffering. In eternity he will be glorified only as the "healer", as suffering will cease.
Mike Reeves – Trinity
Dave Bish had alerted me to Mike Reeve’s a couple of months ago. I downloaded a bunch of his talks on Augustine and Luther and started listening and was highly impressed and so I was very pleased to hear that he was doing a seminar series at New Word Alive. I missed the first of his three talks on the Trinity, but got to the second two and thought they were outstanding. He has a remarkable gift for making complicated doctrine and archaic church history come alive. Head over to the theology network website, where you can listen to him giving a very similar series of talks on the Trinity.
One of the most profound things he taught was that because God is Triune, he has always been able to love "the other", unlike a monadic God (e.g. Allah), who has no one to love in eternity past except himself (which would be simply selfishness). Luther said that a sinner was "man curved in on himself", and so a monadic view of God leads to a distorted theology, with a "God curved in on himself" – a god made in our own image.
Word and Spirit?
Dare I venture a word or two on the somewhat sensitive subject of how well the charismatic and non-charismatic evangelicals got on worshipping together? I guess you could say that neither side got things quite how they normally like it! The worship bands were from newfrontiers and Soul Survivor, which meant was a more contemporary feel than some non-charismatics would be used to, although the songs were often interspersed with interviews and book reviews, which did sometimes seem to make things a little disjointed.
And interestingly, while I am not a huge fan of "ministry time" which is an obligatory component of a typical charismatic worship service, I found myself thinking in a number of the meetings that people would have benefited from staying to receive prayer rather than simply rushing off to the next thing. We heard some powerful teaching that deserves some time for serious reflection and personal response.
But overall I would say that it was very encouraging to see a genuine desire to stand together for the gospel and not to make our differences become the main thing, while at the same time, not pretending that we don’t have any differences of opinion. It will be very interesting to see how this partnership develops in future New Word Alive events.