On Saturday, April 24, 2010, I had the privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition’s first ever Canadian conference featuring D.A. Carson and Mike Bullmore as the keynote speakers.
Dr. Carson kicked off the conference with the message Christian Faithfulness in the Last Days – The Need for the Gospel Coalition.
He began with by giving us a bit of background on how the Gospel Coalition came together as he and Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian came together and realized they’d been reflecting on something similar: The centrality of the gospel was being lost in evangelicalism. “Today, people do what is right in their own eyes—with the gospel becom[ing] something assumed rather than central,” lamented Carson. The Gospel Coalition came together out of a desire “to be robust about Scripture [and] to hold up the centrality of the gospel.” And this is of the greatest import for those of us living in “the last days.”
While some have indulged in “a feeding frenzy of speculation over the end times,” Carson reminded us that, “The last days refer to the entire period between Christ’s ascension and second coming. Whether it’s three weeks or three thousand years is irrelevant. . . . All authority has been given to Jesus, and while it’s contested, the kingdom has still come. The old is passing away.”
This led to a study of 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8, first asking, “What does Paul see in the last days?”
Paul first shows us 19 vices. Four depict selfishness; “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant.” Several depict a rebellious character. They are “abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good.”
And four describe the character of false teachers. They are “treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
“[False teachers are] treacherous. False teachers aren’t dangerous when they’re outside [the church],” Carson said. The problem is a slide in doctrine; the gradual slip from orthodox belief. It starts small, with one compromise leading to another, leading to another… and they become traitors to the gospel. “It’s when this [treachery] is tolerated that it becomes an issue,” said Carson. “[They have] the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” This is empty, showy religion. “In the pagan world, ethics and beliefs are not tied together, [but] in the Christian faith, they are inextricably linked.” True faith will lead to a transformed life. And a life that lacks transformation indicates that there’s no true belief.
“Avoid such people.” Carson advises using wisdom as we obey this command. We should obey, but we have to remember that if we’re really honest, we all exhibit these characteristics on occasion. And if we followed this unthinkingly, we’d have to excommunicate everyone from the church—starting with ourselves. “It’s when you notice a pattern of these characteristics that you’re seeing a sign of the last days.”
And inevitably, those who are warned about in this passage will make themselves known because they are careless about the truth. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men” (v. 8-9).
“Do not be careless about the truth. Do not be careless about church,” admonished Carson.
We then moved to the question of what counsel does Paul give Timothy in the last days?
1. Hold the right mentors in high regard. (2 Tim 3:10-11) “The assumption in the text is that all of us imitate others. We start with our parents and expand from there,” said Carson. “Do you pick up stuff as you rub up against others or do you consciously choose your mentors? ‘Watch me,’ says Paul to Timothy. ‘You’ve known my teaching, you’ve seen my life. Watch me.’”
“Ministry of the Word includes the ministry of the Word worked out throughout the entire church in all our lives. Hold onto the right mentors.”
Who are your mentors? Who do you watch, remembering Paul’s exhortation to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1)?
2. Hold few illusions about the world. (2 Tim 3:12-13) The last 150 years have seen more Christians martyred for their faith than in all the preceeding centuries combined, Carson reminded us. Don’t be surprised by the evil of the world. “Christians should be appalled by evil—by our own the most.” We must not assume that the right techniques will convince people about Jesus’ death and resurrection. The assumed beliefs of our culture don’t permit it. In a culture that assumes that there are many paths to God, “[these beliefs] cause the exclusivity of Christ to be implausible.”
Do we have illusions about the world that we need to let go of?
3. Hold onto the Bible. (2 Tim 3:14-16) “This is not [about] Bible trivia; this is knowledge that makes you wise for salvation. . . . You can know a lot of Bible, but not know the Gospel. The ‘writing’ is God-breathed. [Scripture's inspiration resides] not just in the men writing, but in the result. Hold onto the Bible.”
Has your knowledge worked out into a pattern of sound doctrine, making you wise for salvation?
4. Hold out the Bible to others. (2 Tim 4:1-8) Preach the Word. “Preaching has a heraldic element. The Gospel is news, informing us about what God has done. What do you do with news? You announce it! The gospel is not the first or the second commandment—it is not the outworkings of the gospel, or social justice. It is the news of what GOD has done! The Gospel is the big category which everything else comes under and that is why we proclaim it.”
When we preach, do we preach the Gospel or do we preach its outworkings? Are we keeping the Gospel central?
Finally, Carson encouraged us all to remember that part of the vision of Christian faithfulness is entrusting this ministry to a new generation. “It’s not being merely faithful in your own circle, it’s passing it along and tapping a new generation.”
Who are we investing in in the next generation? To whom are we entrusting the Gospel?
Dr. Carson’s message provided many challenging questions and much encouragement for me. It’s easy to get discouraged in the face of the pressures of the world to conform, compromise and abandon the Gospel. It’s tempting to limit myself to having head knowledge. And it’s challenging to invest in others and seek someone to invest in me. But if the Gospel is to be central, truly central, then we all must persevere.
Questions to consider:
- Who are your mentors?
- Do we have illusions about the world that we need to let go of?
- Has your knowledge worked out into a pattern of sound doctrine, making you wise for salvation?
- When we preach, do we preach the Gospel or do we preach its outworkings? Are we keeping the Gospel central?
- Who are we investing in in the next generation? To whom are we entrusting the Gospel?