Friday, October 15, 2010

Piper2 Pastors Conference

"And I, when I came to you, brothers,  did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Yesterday, I joined John Piper and Stuart Townend at the Piper2Pastors Conference in Pretoria, South Africa. Below is a brief report on how the conference went.

Stuart Townend led the worship. I have waited eagerly for the day that I would meet this modern Charles Wesley, whose songs have refreshed my soul because of their theologically rich lyrics. Stuart led us in singing a number of his songs. I am not an emotional person and rarely breakdown in tears in worship, but as we sang “How deep the Father’s love for us”, I could not help but weep, especially as we sang...

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Stuart Townend leading in worship
John Piper came on. He began by a quick exposition of the mission statement of his church: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” This was a statement he constructed after the most difficult time they ever had a church.

Piper then shared from his morning devotional reading. He took us to Jeremiah 24:5-7. God regarded the Jews returning from exile as good…then after that he gave them a heart to know him. He made the point that God in election chooses to regard us as good in Christ, and then pursues us to make us truly good.

John Piper proceeded to introduce his sermon. He wanted to argue for the priority of emotions, affections, and passion. He gave four qualifying statements. (a) The emotions and affections being talked about are not physical phenomenon, but rather primarily spiritual. God has affections without a body, and we will have affections in heaven without bodies. (b) These affections are above thinking because Jesus says when you know the truth you will have right feeling (c) Right feeling is above right doing because of Matthew 15:8. Doing good deeds without a heart for God is blasphemy. It is hypocrisy. (d) Feelings must be prioritised above doing as related to God because “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”
John took as his biblical evidence Philippians 1:20 and from this passage he made the point that “Christ is most magnified when at the point of death I am most satisfied in him.”

John Piper preaching
John ended his sermon with four implications for our people, pastoral work, preaching and wider work.(a) We should tell and model for our people that this is their vocation—to pursue all their joy in God. The Bible commands that we rejoice in God, the Bible threatens terrible things if we do not do so, etc. (b) If you are indifferent to your pursuit of joy in ministry then you are indifferent to your people’s benefit from your ministry (Hebrews 13:17). We must be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor 6:10). (c) We must work for the joy of our people (2 Cor 1:24). (d) The error of intellectualism, dead orthodoxy, and anti-intellectualism are due to a failure of getting emotions and affections in the right place. When right doing is not invested with right affections it results in legalism and antinomianism results when we want joy without right doing.

I preached my one sermon for this conference. I preached on a Christ-centred ministry, based on the Apostle Paul’s assertion to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that when he went there to plant the Christian church he did so with a resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.

Conrad preaching at the conference
After lunch, we had a question and answer. Tim Cantrell moderated this session while John and I answered the questions. Almost all the questions were really on John Piper’s sermon because his message was more controversial than mine. Those who have listened to John will realise that he tends to state Reformed truth but in a way that makes people sit at the edge of their seats. He did the same on this occasion. You may not always totally agree with him but he gives you food for thought.

After the Q&A, John Piper came on with his second message. In this sermon, he argued that right thinking about God is what produces right feelings for God. The devil knows more doctrine than all of us, but his feelings are all wrong. He hates God!

John Piper and Conrad Mbewe during the Q&A session
John proceeded to give ten Bible arguments as to why right thinking about God is so important. In illustrating the importance of knowledge, he gave an illustration about giving $10,000 to someone you do not know to deposit for you in a bank. To say that you did so simply because you felt you could trust him does not honour him. However, if you know him and tell him what you know about him that makes you trust him then he will feel honoured. John proceeded with the biblical arguments:

  1. Rom 10:1-2 talks about Jews who have passion and zeal for God but it is not according to knowledge.
  2. 2 Tim 2:7 has two parts which are complementary. The ground that our thinking will get anywhere is because the Lord gives understanding. He has ordained that understanding will follow hard thinking.
  3. Acts 17:2-3 Paul reasoned, explained and proved the gospel; we must do the same.
  4. Jesus assumed that we would use logic in natural circumstances and urges us to do the same in the spiritual world (Luke 12:54-57).
  5. Matthew 21:23-27 Jesus loves the open statement of the truth and not weaselling around the truth (2 Corinthians 4:2-4).
  6. “Do you not know?” is a popular question of Paul. This is often in a context of obvious logical deduction. This is because knowing things will make you behave in a particular way.
  7. The Bible tells us that Christ has given pastor-teachers to the church (Eph 4:11ff) because God has ordained that sheep get understanding from shepherds.
  8. The Bible tells us in Acts 20:27 to declare the whole counsel of God. This is the deposit of truth that was left by Paul and the church elders must take it and pass it on to their people.
  9. The Bible is a book. Wherever the church has sprung up, schools and hospitals. Schools are there because God almighty has ordained that his Son, the Word, became flesh should be preserved in a book. So, thinking is required to read (see Eph 3:4).
  10. Examples of reading and thinking that yield joy and love. Psalm 100 clearly shows that in order to be joyful in God you need to “know” certain things about God. You need theological underpinnings if you are going to have God-glorifying joy. Matt 7:7-12 shows that although God will not always give us what we want he will always give us what is best for us. You need to THINK in order to appreciate the “therefore” or “so” in verse 12. The answer is that you are inspired to do to others what you would have them do for you because you know that your Father in heaven will take good care of you.
Part of the 700-plus conference attendance
The whole conference ended with Stuart Townend leading us in singing the modern classic “In Christ Alone”, which he also composed. There could not have been a better way to end the day’s conference!


  1. Thanks for keeping your " distant" African brethren informed . We thank God for this conference and pray that plenty of good fruit would emerge from this . Oh that our thoughts of God may be translated into worshipful works. With thanks to God that you are there! Joachim from Namibia

  2. Thank you very much for your fresh insights to the Word of God. For the students at Christ Seminary, there could have been no better way to get fed God's Word after hard work in session. We have been greatly challenged, and we will surely put to practice what we learned at the conference. Once again we thank God for your encouragement. We will continue to hold to a high view of God and Scripture.