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‘Foolishness’ of biblical preaching urged at Founders Conference

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Reformation and revival in Southern Baptist churches will come not through savvy political maneuvering or slick advertising campaigns, but through the “foolishness” of the faithful, exuberant and unrelenting preaching of the Bible, speakers said during the 16th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference, July 21-24, on the campus of Samford University, Birmingham, Ala.
The Founders Conference is a national meeting of Southern Baptist pastors and church leaders who embrace the Reformed doctrinal heritage, historically known as “Calvinism” or “the doctrines of grace,” which was held by those who founded the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-19th century.
“Someone may happily accept the authority of God’s Word, and even profess belief in the inerrancy of the Bible,” Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, warned preachers. “Yet if that person in practice, whether intending to or not, does not preach expositionally, he will never preach more than he already knows.”
Preaching which does not lash itself to the content and message of the text itself will conform the congregation to the mind of the pastor rather than to the revelation of God, Dever said.
“The Roman Catholic preacher too often gives us the church. The liberal preacher too often gives us essays. The evangelical preacher too often gives us stories. The Calvinist preacher too often gives us doctrines,” Dever said. “But what our people really need, and what we need, is the Word of God, and it is our great privilege by God’s call and strength to give it.”
Examining Ezekiel 37 on the prophet’s command by God to preach to a valley of dry bones, Dever compared the “virtual resurrection” of the bones in Ezekiel’s vision to the call of the preacher to proclaim God’s words in calling the spiritual dead in his congregation to new life in Christ. The preacher must deliver to their congregations the same biblical word by which the preacher himself was resurrected from his own spiritual death, Dever said.
“The place to begin is the place that God has begun with us: his speaking to us,” Dever said. “Friend, you would not be here tonight as a pastor if God had not first spoken to you. And I’m not just talking about your sense of calling to be a minister. No, I mean to stop you from going to hell where you wanted to go.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., lamented the fact that much contemporary preaching could hardly be labeled, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “foolishness to the world,” but instead could be described as “prudential wisdom, good advice, sound counsel, maybe even a therapeutic word or two.”
Preaching of biblical truth proves especially scandalous, Mohler explained, with the onset of a postmodern mind-set which heralds the deconstruction of truth claims, the jettisoning of authority and the rejection of any overarching “metanarrative” which seeks to explain the flow of history and the purpose of the universe.
Tracing the march of postmodern influence in the spheres of architecture, art, literature, philosophy, politics and theology, Mohler defined postmodernism as an attempt by contemporary humanity to claim the “bones” of the classical tradition’s superficial ornamentation while discarding the “marrow” of the worldview which stood behind it.
The postmodern assault on universal objective truth is not confined to university English departments, Mohler said, but rears its head in the aisles of Christian bookstores and even in the parish pew. Mohler pointed to the phrase “what this text means to me is …” as a particularly common example of a dangerous postmodern outlook which sees the truths of the Bible as hinging upon personal interpretation rather than upon the meaning intended by the biblical authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The influence of postmodernism could also be heard, Mohler contended, in the recent arguments of professing evangelicals who, in response to the decision of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City to add a statement on the family to the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement, denounced the words of Paul on family relationships in Ephesians 5 as “oppressive.”
“They are right,” Mohler said. “It oppresses our fallen human instinct even as it liberates by the transforming power of the gospel.”
Nonetheless, Mohler said, postmodern chaos cannot hold back the tide of the gospel of Jesus Christ through biblical preaching.
Expounding upon the Bible’s testimony of its own threatening “two-edged” self-designation in Hebrews 4, Mohler diagnosed the anemic state of many contemporary churches as resulting not from a dearth of creative programs, but from the absence of unhesitatingly biblical preaching. Preachers must not seek to “reach people where they are” by building a “bridge” between them and the biblical text, but must realize that no one is beyond the “reach” of a Scripture which promises to perform “sovereign surgery” on its hearers.
Mohler added preachers must not recoil from the sufficiency of God’s Word by co-opting the world’s obsessions with therapeutic “authenticity,” self-esteem modification and trendy cause movements, but should follow the apostolic model of preaching the Word and getting out of the way.
“Brothers and sisters, we pray for reformation in our churches,” Mohler said. “But it is not going to come by any program and it is not going to be the result of any meeting and it is not going to come by the wholesale adoption of any theological system. It’s going to come by the preaching of the Word … the Word must do this thing.”
Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary, contended that gospel preaching is relevant for all people in all cultures because of the image of God and the intrinsic moral nature within all human beings. Such a realization, he argued, provides an impetus for Christians to cross racial, ethnic and geographical barriers with the gospel.
Preachers must not create “false issues of conscience” by which hearers follow the preacher’s instructions in performing some physical action which makes “overcoming timidity tantamount to repentance and faith,” he said. Instead, preachers must persuasively articulate to those indicted by their own consciences that there is no other sacrifice except for the atonement accomplished by Christ which can rescue them from their wrath-deserving condition.
“We can move from our own culture into a group with which we may be completely unacquainted,” he said. “And while we may make many mistakes, while some cultural things we may not understand, if we come to the heart of the biblical revelation we will find that there is something that is transcendent about his truth. There is something internally present in all of those that he has created, that have grown from Adam’s vine that will witness and that will indeed pierce the conscience.”
Tom Ascol, conference planning committee member and editor of The Founders Journal, told Baptist Press the theme of preaching was selected because “we are witnessing a crisis of confidence in preaching today.”
“Churches are giving up on it in favor of drama, movies, therapeutic talks and a myriad of other substitutes because they have wrongly concluded that it simply won’t ‘work’ in our modern age,” said Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Fla. “But the Bible clearly teaches that God has ordained to use the foolishness of preaching to save people, and the Apostle Paul’s command to ‘preach the word’ will never become outdated.”
Ascol and other committee members expressed a surprised delight at the record-breaking registration of more than 400 pastors, laypeople and ministerial students who registered for the conference in addition to hundreds of others who will attend the four different regional conferences in the coming year. Approximately half of this year’s total are first-time attendees, Ascol said, which, along with increasing journal subscriptions and more than 1.2 million visits to the group’s Internet site (www. founders.org), “indicates that interest in biblical reformation is spreading.”
The conference saw the announcement of three new titles from Founders Press, the ministry’s new publishing arm. These include Fred Malone’s “A String of Pearls Unstrung,” which defends the Baptist doctrine of believers’ baptism, a hymn booklet and a CD-ROM which packs an array of Southern Baptist books, sermons and back issues of the Founders Journal in an electronic format.
The committee also announced that next year’s conference, centering on the theme of world missions, would meet July 20-23, 1999, on the Samford campus. John Piper, pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and a widely known evangelical author, will be the keynote speaker.

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  • Russell D. Moore