“most of our preachers managed this superbly” ~ Carson on TGC 2009 Preachers

Most.

“The best of expository preaching takes its message and its thrust, and, ideally, even its form, from the biblical text itself. Most of our preachers managed this superbly while remaining, in form and style, exceedingly diverse” (D.A. Carson p. 10). HT: Denny Burk)

I’m grateful that Carson didn’t sacrifice his intellectual honesty by claiming that all of their preachers had superbly managed the task of taking a text’s message, thrust, and form and producing an expository sermon. Indeed, most were very good messages, but Mark Driscoll’s message was a poor example of what expository preaching really is.
For me, it was a chilling reminder of the rambling, self-congratulatory missing-the-point-of-the-text application-centered messages I heard in anti-intellectual fundamentalist Bible conferences. Those kind of messages appeal only to the sycophantic lemmings and anyone who uncritically equates plain speech for the plain truth. It also shows that The Gospel Coalition is vulnerable to the same kind of pop-star culture of dying fundamentalism unless the organizers get the courage to desist from pandering to the whims of evangelical populism. 

I’m interested to see how the written form of Driscoll’s message masks the unimpressive work he did with the text in the sermon delivery. Many may like hearing a young star pontificate about ministry, but some of us want to hear an actual exposition when we pay big money to go to a conference.
Thankfully, the conference delivered. Mostly. That is much more than I can say for the conferences I endured as a younger man in fundamentalism. But history will repeat itself unless the leaders of the T4G/TGC movement put the brakes on the frat-house giddiness that surrounds the popular speakers. Not all ideas are equal just because they are at the same venue. Dever’s ecclesiology, for example,  is better than Driscoll’s even though they banter pleasantly about differences on the same TGC video and everybody’s preaching was better than Driscoll’s TGC message. But to observe the analysis in the blogosphere of the Dever/Driscoll/MacDonald discussion one could see that the lines were neatly drawn between the sycophants and everybody else. And, yes, I include the Dever sycophants. The passionate defense of a man’s character does not equal a good defense of his ideas. An attack on his idea does not constitute an attack on his sincerity or usefulness or character.
But when I go to conferences like T4G (and I did not actually attend the TGC conference although I listened to all the messages), I see a host of beaming boys who adulate the stars on the stage even while they boast about not being in “man-centered” fundamentalism. It irritates me to high heavens that they cannot recognize a lousy job when they hear one simply because they like the guy. The quality of a message, the rightness of a position, and even the truthfulness of a statement are determined in the minds of  sycophantic evangelicals by star power. Critical listening and thoughtful reflection are not possible, I guess, in American evangelicalism. It is hardly any different than the fundamentalism I grew to disdain.
In my opinion Carson is exact when he says, “most.” That comes right up to the edge, but is firmly grounded in the facts. Had he said “all” (or implied as much) he would have lost credibility in my mind. Hopefully, the TGC will be honest self-evaluators and thereby escape the ruin fundamentalism brought on itself by caving to grassroots populism in the Church.
I criticized both The Gospel Coalition and Driscoll shortly after the conference here. An excerpt from that post highlights three points of concern I had about Mark’s message, particularly because of the venue. Excerpt:

Mark’s message was not stellar. It really was not all that good. One thing for sure, it falls short of being a good exposition. Our attorney friend was more on the mark when he put on his Facebook account that if you like a combination of a psychologist, a comedian, and a fundamentalist preacher you’d like what you heard that night. I suppose I would have laughed more if I had been in the room with a whole bunch of pastors who are notoriously like boys going to camp every time they gather for a conference, but I really didn’t think it was sidesplitting hilarious. But that’s beside the point. Without going into an in depth analysis of each of his points, here is a broad critique of Mark’s message and Gospel Coalition for promoting him followed by a few remarks about Mark’s clothes.

1. Mark’s message was an atomistic interpretation and exposition of his assigned text. Some people think that expositional preaching is to draw every point from a word or phrase in the text before them. This is not necessarily expositional preaching. The goal of expositional preaching is to make every point expose the intention of the text.

Mark’s message had 20 points (not to mention the 20 previous points of introduction that took over a half hour to describe the types of people that he encountered in ministry). By the time Mark had worked his way through those twenty points, I had to re-read the passage to remind myself what the actual intention of the text was! Sometimes his points sprang off one word in the text and developing a whole line of thought that wasn’t remotely linked to the text (though it could be imagined as linked to the word or phrase he was commenting on.)

This may seem petty, of course, but remember that he is being touted as a great leader/preacher by the Gospel Guild. It behooves us to think for ourselves on these things.

2. Mark’s message failed to be Gospel-centered at a conference for the Gospel Coalition. Mark had one of the best opportunities of all the men to nail down the two core themes of salvation that are uniquely and expressly articulated in his assigned text, and he missed it. “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:19). Could there have been a better place to proclaim the dual Gospel lodestones that draw the most debate and discussion than at a conference dedicated to the Gospel?

Without opening your Greek New Testaments just think for two seconds on that verse and those two weighty concepts:

a. The Lord knows those who are his. This is God’s sovereignty.

b. Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. This is sanctification.

Sovereignty and sanctification! Can you think of any other two concepts that are more misunderstood in the doctrine of salvation than these? Wow! What an opportunity to show that God’s firm foundation bears that seal! Instead, we got a dose of Mark’s philosophy of ministry in a series of disconnected sound bytes.

3. The Gospel Coalition disappoints me, men, when they promote this kind of preaching. I thought I could have shut my eyes and imagined myself in an old fundamentalist meeting where a personality cult has built up around a person who dishes out what he calls expositional preaching. Too much of this kind of thing and the happy Gospel Guild will become a powerless fellowship. Personality cultism killed huge segments of Fundamentalism, and the Gospel Guild, being human, is not above the same pitfall.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for your insight, Bob. I think you are certainly on to something here. When I was at T4G 2006 I noticed a subtle factionalism among the attendees – the Sovereign Grace guys, MacArthur guys, Piper guys, etc. – which included the adulation of the celebrities they follow. A segment of the crowd roared with applause when Driscoll appeared in a video promoting a conference where he would be speaking. I wonder if at times these meetings become for some the next event of “Evangelical Idol.”

    Driscoll may be cool, funny, and willing to tell it as it is. But a running commentary on a text that serves to launch him off into any application he feels like giving makes him somewhat similar to those fundamentalists of whom we grew weary, who used any verse as a platform to preach their pet peeves.

    I hope the cult following will be trumped by a willingness to discern a man’s weaknesses while profiting from his strengths.

  2. I attended the Gospel Coalition Conference in Schaumburg and I remember watching with great curiosity the rock-star status that Driscoll had as many seemed to be clamoring to talk to him after a session while Carson had a just a couple of older guys talking to him. Here were these two men standing in front of the platform on opposite sides and you would have thought it was just some ordinary guy on one side and some great celebrity on the other. It made me wonder what people are choosing to identify with.

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