Bags of Bran

Three Days Among the Evangelicals Part Three: Hope
February 18, 2014, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

The reader may have noted that I had a rather bad taste from the Desiring God conference. Well spotted: that’s precisely what I was hoping to communicate, because that was exactly my experience. The excursus on J. C. Ryle was intentional because not only is J. C. Ryle a fashionable source of quote material among the New Calvinists (which may raise my stock several pennies a share), he’s ironically dead-set against them ethically and aesthetically.

I’ve seen Augustine come up a few times of late: he’s popular to cherry-pick from as well, but it seems like nobody gets brave enough to quote the really good parts of his books. They want, if the reader will excuse the metaphor, to hang out in the Hallelujah Chorus without having the nations broken and dashed into pieces with a rod of iron. Augustine’s high praises to Christ the glorious savior are just so much froth and bluster unless set against the bleak backdrop of his brooding past. Anyone can string together superlatives. Only when you’ve been through the tunnel can you appreciate the light that Augustine is shining. If you only read one page out of Augustine, and it’s a page where he’s gushing, you’ll miss Augustine entirely.

I suppose someone will want a summary of the worship experience. I don’t know why they have worship experiences at these things: it’s not a church. I felt no compulsion to participate. But the singing and waving time was… interesting. I felt like I was overlooking the Eighth Circle, First Bolgia. To summarize:

Were they there???

Were they there??!!

But they stopped after a time and everyone sat down. Sinclair Ferguson walked out bearing a demeanor of restraint, orderliness, and a distinct contrast in deportment from the preceding display. He spoke on union with Christ from Romans 6:1-14, and yes, he dealt with the part about baptism.

As a Baptist by conviction, I was prepared to hear Ferguson speak about baptism as a Presbyterian by conviction–but he didn’t. This is not to say that he took off his Presbyterian miter and put on an evangelical tiara so everyone could get along: I don’t get the impression that Sinclair Ferguson is a company man that way. He merely said Christian things about baptism, and those things that he did say were plenty controversial enough, I’m sure. To think–church ordinances that actually mean something regarding one’s relationship to the church? You mean baptism is not a devotional act designed to bring me closer to myself and my savior and myself?! </sarcasm> Let truth be told: it was soberingly good.

How was it received, you may ask? I’m not sure. The MC fellow who invited the conference attenders–at the end of a session particularly oriented to the idea of local church–to go out into the sacred spaces of the convention center to “be the body of Christ” probably could have listened a little closer. The pastors pretty much filed out: they evidently get to hear teaching of this caliber–or teaching that they think is of this caliber–often. One could hope to see, after an hour of dense reasoning on a glorious theme (evangelicals like the gospel, don’t they?), there would have been more people sitting and ruminating on good matter, or praying, or meditating, or even raising hands with scrunchy-face: whatever “the Lord is at work in my innermost man” looks like to one’s particular idiom. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that the call to lunch was stronger. I’ve often lamented the meditation allergy that is pandemic in the churches where I fellowship, and it became clear that the problem is of wider distribution than my particular ghetto.

Ah, what to do? Ferguson’s sermon, for sermon it was, was full of truth and doctrine. He believed and meant what he said. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” said Cicero, a man of boundless optimism in his own right. It’s interesting, though, that Sinclair Ferguson simply couldn’t do with truth what the band could do with a subwoofer.


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