This year’s Together for the Gospel conference marked a first for me in many ways. It was the first time I was able to spend time in Louisville, KY which was a beautiful place. It was the first time I was able to attend T4G. It was my first time to spend the weekend with one of my fellow-elders, Mark Ritchie, and his son Eric Ritchie. I had a great time with these two men.
This conference also marked the first time i had the privilege of hearing Thabiti Anyabwile speak, and man was I blessed by this. Thabiti is the pastor of First Baptist Grand Cayman, which ain’t a bad gig. But make no mistake, the man is a wonderful gift toe the church at large and I learned this first hand as he took up his theme.
The title for his talk was, Fine Sounding Arguments – How wrongly engaging the culture adjusts the gospel and for his text he selected Colossians 1:24-3:4. He opened his address by letting us know what his name Anyabwile means, which changes from conference to conference. This year he let us know that Anyabwile means, “Who did I tick-off to get the 8 AM slot?”
Now that he had the attention of his audience, he didn’t lose it for the rest of his talk which was directed at pastors, from the heart of Paul’s pastoral exhortation. His first step was to clear the table and show us what is the purpose of the pastor by pointing to Paul’s Pastoral Purpose.
1. Paul’s Pastoral Purpose (Col 1:24-2:5) is to make the Word of God fully known and to be able to present the believers under his care to Christ as mature. He then pointed out from the text that it was Paul’s pastoral passion to suffer in order to accomplish this purpose.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.
Thabiti rounded out this first point by asking the following questions with regard to our pastoral labors. Is this my burden? Am I striving to make the Word of God fully known? Is this happening in such a way that the church is seen as pure and strong in the Lord?
All good questions that should inform our pastoral purpose. All the more because it is possible to sound right, when it comes to our pastoral purpose, and still be wrong in the end. So there must be a balance of intention and reality.
2. Paul’s Cultural Philosophy (Col 2:6-7) was the next stage. This transitioned directly into the overall theme and dovetailed perfectly with Dr. Mohler’s talk which outlined certain philosophical trajectories which take us away from the gospel. Here is what Thabiti had to say on this.
Our philosophy flows from the gospel it does not simply inform our gospel; we live and act on the rule of the gospel. Human tradition seeks to make the Word of God void, but the world and it’s philosophy is not safe. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4)?
3. Paul’s Pastoral Practice (Col 2:8-15). Now that the Word has set our pastoral purpose and philosophy, we must address the practice that flows from this and Thabiti moved from explaining the text to an illustration of how these underlying truths produce in the believer a cultural identity which flows from the gospel.
He was careful at this point to show that it is the gospel which defines and sets this cultural identity, rather than the gospel simply informing or adjusting parts of the culture within the life of believers. He went on to say…
There is a unique threat to the gospel community and that is complacency. Every people group has a specific cultural identity, so shouldn’t God’s people have a particular cultural identity?
The picture that he painted was a view of the people of Christ living in identifiable communities. These communities of God’s people would be made up of blacks, whites, Asians, hispanics…of all the people who will surround the throne of God to worship on account of the blood of the lamb. Though they all come from different cultural identities, now that they have come to know Christ they are united and become part of the gospel community and culture.
4. Paul’s Pastoral Perspective (Col 3:1-4) is the view of this gospel culture in action. It is a culture that displays a pursuit of heavenly things. It is a culture that is focused upon the Son of God who laid down his life for our forgiveness and was raised for our justification.
It is a cultural identity that displays a longing for the appearance of Christ at the consummation of all things. The charge was for us to be a people whose identity flows directly from the Biblical gospel, rather than to try and hold onto our individual worldly cultural identity with a little of the gospel sprinkled in.
He ended his talk with this statement,
The church is multi-ethnic, but it is not multi-cultural.
My first experience of hearing Thabiti Anyabwile left me strongly encouraged, soundly directed and sincerely grateful. I hope that you too can say the same having read this synopsis.