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Gospel ‘comes to life’ on seminary campus

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary sprang to life Feb. 6-7 as 1,400 college students and young adults swarmed the grounds to hear well-known speakers address the power of the Gospel to radically transform their lives and the culture in which they live.

The conference, which sold out days in advance, drew students from around the country to listen to pastors Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney, Southeastern president Daniel Akin and Bill Brown, president of Cedarville University, as part of Southeastern’s annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference, held under the theme, “The Gospel Comes to Life.”

Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., opened the conference Friday evening by speaking about the differing views of culture, the church’s response to culture and the necessary missiological response to culture. Driscoll told the audience he has studied the topic over much of his life as a believer. His church, which has a regular attendance of more than 7,000, tries to be on the leading edge of connecting the Gospel with every facet of culture.

“This has been my whole life since I met Jesus: applying the gospel with work, life, and various arenas of culture. Younger evangelicals have been having an enormous conversation about how the Gospel and culture interface and how to live for Christ and live in the culture,” Driscoll said. Beginning with the first signs of “culture” in Genesis 3, Driscoll said culture “reflects both the dignity of creation and the depravity of rebellion” after the fall.

Looking initially at the examples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Driscoll said the Pharisees “loved the letter of the law but didn’t love the spirit of the law” so they went so far as to withdraw themselves from the culture, while still being in it. “We want to commend people like them for their zeal and their willingness to fight (the culture),” Driscoll said. “However, theirs were sins of omission. Pharisees don’t do what they ought to do. You’re supposed to make disciples of all nations.”

The Sadducees, on the other hand, became compromised cultural liberals. “They became cultural accommodators. They were very unfaithful and are still very popular,” Driscoll said. Instead of following either of these examples, Driscoll said modern believers should follow the disciples’ examples in our response to culture: “They followed Jesus.”

When believers follow the example of the disciples, they will not view the church as a bomb shelter or a place to hide from the world’s culture, nor will they view the church as a cultural mirror, reflecting the culture around them.

When church acts as a mirror of the culture, Driscoll said, “This is liberalism. Instead of reflecting God to the culture, they’re reflecting the culture back to the culture. The church should be a city within a city, a city on a hill.

“We do everything differently. We don’t do it in a way that is hidden, but in a way that is public, showing how life can be with Jesus,” Driscoll added. “That is how it’s done: The church is a city within a city where there’s a counter-cultural kingdom community.”


The first night of the conference concluded with Mahaney, former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, giving a message on the believer’s motivation to infuse the culture with the Gospel. Teaching out of Mark 14:1-9, Mahaney said it was his goal to confront the students and young adults with a moment far more profound than anything their culture values.

“How can I teach you what is truly profound in an age of profound baloney?” Mahaney asked. “How can I teach you about a truly historic moment from sacred Scripture when we’ve been conditioned to think of the Super Bowl as a truly historic moment each year?” The profound moment Mahaney wanted to focus on was the extravagant devotion shown Christ by Mary, a woman who anointed his head with expensive perfume.

“There was no ignoring her. It was impossible to ignore this public demonstration of affection, this public and passionate display of affection for the Savior,” Mahaney said. “It is as fervent as any display of devotion as found in sacred Scripture.”

Mahaney said Mary uniquely embodies the transforming effect of the Gospel, which is extravagant affection for and devotion to the Savior. “This is the transformation of the Gospel,” he said. “Suddenly we hear a profound promise made to no other: She would be an example to the church universally.”

Such extravagant devotion should be evident in the lives of people who have truly been transformed by the Gospel, Mahaney said, as well as in the lives of people who are continually meditating on the transforming power of the Gospel. For modern believers to emulate Mary’s example of extravagant devotion and for it to be restored, Mahaney said we must meditate on the Gospel and listen to the cries of Calvary.

“Those cries were necessary because of our sin, and those cries are sufficient for our salvation,” Mahaney said.


Driscoll, in speaking to conference-goers again Saturday morning, said the centrality of the Gospel in a believer’s life should cause them to worship God alone. Speaking on the doxological view of culture, Driscoll said that after the fall in Genesis 3, humanity did not cease to be worshipers but instead began to worship the wrong things.

“Everyone worships,” Driscoll said. “The question is who or what. All unholy living is the result of believing the lie that it’s OK to worship something else in addition to, or in lieu of, the God of the Bible. The truth is you should worship the creator. The lie is that you can worship the creation.”

Driscoll challenged conference-goers to identify what they worship by looking at the people or things held in a position of glory in their lives.

“What is your real Gospel? Who do you look at as your Savior? We make functional saviors to move us from our idea of hell to our idea of heaven,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said many people in today’s culture worship comfort, possessions, status, sex and appearance, among other things. “Christ has come to set us free,” he said. “Idolatry both dishonors God and destroys us. Worship glorifies God and gives us joy.”


Brown spoke about engaging the culture for Christ through the mission fields of the mind. Exploring some of the differing worldviews students and young people encounter today, Brown urged conference participants to take advantage of a unique opportunity.

“I am so convinced that too often we don’t think like Christians. I believe God is giving you a great opportunity and an incredible responsibility to create a new generation of Christian thinkers,” Brown said. In addition to changing the scope of our thinking as believers, Brown said the church must carefully examine the attitudes of the heart.

“The most biblical approach is to be distressed by culture so that we get engaged,” Brown said. “It starts with a broken heart. I believe we should be passionate, don’t you? My goal here is that we must have a passion for Jesus Christ that leads us to a life of humility and a broken heart.”

“The time has come for us as believers to live out the gospel,” Brown said. “What a great privilege it is. Can we do it? Yes. Love the Lord with your heart and your mind for his glory.”


Akin closed the conference noting an important quote by Jonathan Edwards: “What is it that makes the church like heaven?” The answer is love, Akin said, and it is love that brings the Gospel to life. “If Jesus is right in saying ‘by this all men shall know that you are my disciples,’ then there is nothing more beneficial to having the Gospel come to life as love,” he added.

“Love is essential if we’re going to truly bring the Gospel to life in the world in which we live,” Akin said. “Paul says without love it doesn’t matter what we say. Without love, it doesn’t matter what we know. Without love, it doesn’t matter what we do. If love is not a characteristic and component of your life, you’re lost.”

One day, Akin said, faith will give way to sight. Hope one day will give way to reality. “Love, because it is the very nature and character of God, is enduring,” he said. “How does the Gospel come to life? Jesus in me, loving others in a Christ-like, supernatural way.”
Lauren Crane is a writer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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