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Tough, challenging and hard-hitting? Really?

London Men's Convention ended a few hours ago.  The subject was "Faithful".  And, apparently, the Faithful One is me.  Or at least that's how so much of it came across (the opening of Rico's talk excepted).

Men leaving the Albert Hall could be divided into those saying "Grrrrr"  and those saying "Grrrrr".

The vast majority of Grrrrrs were resolutions towards godliness.  And this time they really, really, really mean it.  My Grrrr was frustration.  A day spent together with men who want to hear the word of Christ.  What glories we could have been singing about on the train home.

Instead, all the conversation was about ourselves - "Gosh, that was convicting."  And all the tweets I've read have said "Tough", "Hard-hitting", "Challenging", even "Super-challenging."  I found it none of those things.  It is not tough to tell conservative evangelicals they need to repent more.  It's really not.  To tell bible guys who have paid good money to attend a conference called "Faithful" that they need to smarten up and get serious for Jesus is not challenging.  It is boring.  It is predictable.  And it is the safest preaching imaginable. It is 100% guaranteed to be lapped up by all.

Preaching the free grace of Jesus for sinners - that would be challenging.  Mega-challenging I'd say.  That would get the tweets in a flutter.  That would produce resistance and angry opposition.  But it'd also get people talking about Jesus.

If you were there, you might disagree with my assessment of the day.  You might disagree with my theology.  But my one plea is this - even if you want to argue that men need pep rallies like this in order to be "faithful" - don't pretend that it's brave to preach like that.  It is not brave to preach law.  It's brave to preach gospel.

37 thoughts on “Tough, challenging and hard-hitting? Really?

  1. David Baker

    Interesting. I wasn't there, but I trust what you say.

    "People are not changed by moral exhortation but by transformed imagination." - Walter Brueggemann.

  2. Hugh

    I constantly need the reminder to repent.

    Practical is helpful, is that the same as law?
    A covenant of Grace leads to obedience, no?

    I thought Driscoll especially kept on taking us back to Jesus, kept reminding us of the gospel as our motivation.

    Question is... were the speakers faithful to the texts they were given?

  3. Glen

    Hi Hugh,

    Totally agree that a covenant of grace leads to obedience. To preach for obedience therefore means to preach Christ's free grace.

    Also the gospel as "motivation" for faithfulness... not sure I like that way of phrasing it. It sounds quite different from faithfulness as the "fruit" of gospel grace. And the flavour of preaching which that conviction produces will be markedly different from a "motivation" model.

    Faithfulness to the texts is a good point. Interesting that Driscoll made a 20 minute detour from 2 Cor 4 to talk about "repentance." In our circles we won't even notice what a huge departure from Paul's concerns this is - which is my point in the post, we lap up repentance-talk. It's not tough to preach it, we beg for more. And we don't mind a preacher taking a mega-detour to give it to us. And then Driscoll finished the detour saying "And that's what Paul's saying here." No it's not. Not even close. But no-one really cares that much because "At least he's being *challenging*" Our tribe of evangelicalism is in danger of loving "tough talk" even more than we love "bible-talk"! Which just goes to show that "tough-talk" aint that tough when it's directed at a conservative evangelical :)

    On a related point, I wonder whether we should mainly judge the speakers on whether they were faithful to the good news of Jesus as proclaimed in Scripture - but that's another post.

  4. David Baker

    "On a related point, I wonder whether we should mainly judge the speakers on whether they were faithful to the good news of Jesus as proclaimed in Scripture – but that’s another post."

    I think I'd like to read that post!

    (I realise that can be read in two ways - either as "I think I'd like to read that post because it sounds A BIT DUBIOUS and I'd like to CHECK OUT THAT IT IS SOUND" or "I think I'd like to read that post because Glen generally has some interesting, godly things to say that make me think and grow in my faith." And it's the latter, just to reassure you!)

  5. Hugh

    Not really sure why the repentance detour... like I say, it's a good reminder... but not really Paul's point, or on the theme of mission.

    I guess Men's conventions tend to be more "pep talky"... perhaps it's the militarist nature of those who lead UK conservative evangelicalism??

  6. theoldadam

    One need not be REMINDED that the gospel is your motivation.

    The gospel is motivation...period. If it isn't, then maybe they are still hanging onto the law and have yet to hear the gospel. (I mean REALLY hear it).

    The poor souls that want you to tell them what to do, are still into the law.

    Well, use that law...not to make better...but to expose them. To expose their selfishness (sinfulness). To expose their misdirected motivation (to God, rather than towards the neighbor).

    And then lat them have the gospel, free for nothin', purely, sweetly, no strings attached.

    Even then, don't expect too much. People just love their little Christian self-improvement projects, and when you deny them of it you will hear 'Grrrrrr'.

  7. Paul Huxley

    Should have gone to Doug Wilson.

    Did Driscoll shout lots? I can't really comment beyond that.

  8. James

    Thank you for saying so articulately what I have often thought in my mind, but been unable to put into words.



  9. Stuart Field

    Surely if the men of London and beyond regularly repent, treat their wives and children as Jesus loved the church and pray for gospel opportunities in work then more and more evangelism will take place. How can we proclaim the free grace and love of God of we do not practise it ourselves at home and at work?
    I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and yes it was challenging because it reminded me of my mission, my obligations as a husband and that I need to practise repentance more.

  10. Hugh

    Ah yes...
    Some folk from Worthing who run a newspaper...
    Catching the bus was more pressing than highlighting their folly, so I dont really know what they were saying, other than some big verses from Ezekiel about bad language

  11. Paul Huxley

    Wilson was good - if you've read him on family before or spent too much time reading his blog (like me) then it'll be fairly familiar, but encouraging reminder. Apart from anything else, it's lovely to be with Christians who talk to you when you're looking lost.

    Lots on Ephesians 5 (respect husbands, love wives), understood as the particular things men/women are hard-wired to desire, as made to signify Christ/the church. Practical applications given. This is not some hyper-law thing, trying to climb up a greasy pole (although is sometimes pursued as such). It's about dying and God raising you up. Love (particularly from husband to wife) leads to loveliness, respect to respectfulness (Rom 5:8, 1 John 4:19). Then some stuff on children and culture/worldview.

    There are usually mp3s afterwards.

  12. James S

    The reasons you didn't care for it are the same reasons I wouldn't have went in the first place. What else were you expecting to find?
    I don't mean for it to sound like I'm saying I told you so, I really wonder what else one might find at something like this?

    While helpful for those who AREN'T immersed in scripture daily and who don't listen to mp3 sermons every single day from the vast library of great reformed sermons available freely on the internet, (like for myself the st helens & Proclamation Trust's library of Dick Lucas material or Alistair Begg's free audio at his site, or The Gospel Coalition website's vast library of audio), it wouldnt be much use to those of us who do.

    This was a conference for the lukewarm, not for the hot. It probably won't even be a longterm help for the lukewarm either, after a week or 10 days.

  13. Glen

    Hi Stuart,
    I'm all for men being faithful. The question is "What produces it?" We must never fall into the trap of thinking the gospel is for non-Christians and the law is for Christians.

    Hi James S,
    I can still imagine a day conference in which the buzz afterwards is about Christ and His self-giving love. I think that's the best antidote to lukewarmness.

  14. theologymnast

    I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking the gospel isn't for non-Christians and the law isn't for Christians either, of course. All of God's Word for everyone, say I (applied appropriately).

    It's a bit like evangelism. Tell everyone to evangelise lots and you'll get lots of people feeling guilty about not evangelising lots, who then don't evangelise at all. But show them God as He is and it comes naturally.

    'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God...'

  15. James S

    I typed my original reply quickly before bed and upon looking at it this morning (i don't get a lot of sleep), it looks bad.
    First, I don't mean to say those who went are lukewarm, just that the teaching and talks at these "men's" conventions always seem to be aimed at the the lukewarm. Those who went may have gone for the fellowship or to listen live to a favorite speaker and there's nothing wrong with that. But you don't typically get any "deep or profound" teaching at these things.

    (I also live in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, USA, so I definitely wouldn't have went anyway since I hate to travel).

    It made me think about how a conference would need to be promoted if it WERE to feature talks about Christ and His Self-giving love, and I really can't answer that.
    I guess you really couldn't be sure of what you were going to get no matter how a conference was promoted.

    I realize that it was promoted as being about "faithful", whatever that means... I am guessing I would have taken it to mean either that God is faithful in His attributes, or to keep His promises (and warnings), or that we would have been exhorted to remain faithful.

    I find that the best conferences for deep and heavy scriptural teaching are the ones aimed at fellow ministers, such as the proclamation trust conferences. Even though I'm not a minister, these are the gatherings that seem to have the most 'meat' scripturally.

    This past Gospel Coalition conference which was themed 'Christ in the Old Testament' was very promising in it's promotion. I haven't had time time yet to hear all of the talks other than Don Carson's talk about the Rob Bell heresies. I am anxious to hear them all and see if that is really what they stuck with.

    At least with the new emphasis on Christ in the Old Testament going around these days, it is nice to see & hear some talks about the Angel of the Lord in the OT, an important topic that drew me into reading your blog regularly in the first place.
    (I have just heard a recent talk by David P Murray about that same subject). Way back when Paul Blackham was first bringing it to light, nobody seemed to give him the respect he deserved for doing so, now it seems everybody wants to discuss it. Paul even had a talk about it on one of the Proclamation trust ema conferences, I think 2002, and the audience seemed to me to be very reserved about it. For some reason, Proc trust doesnt even mention Paul's talk, which is the last one in the set, in their list of talks for that conference. You only find it by listening to the whole conference. I wrote to them about that but they still haven't rectified their omission.

  16. Michael

    I didn't go to the conference but if I did I definitely would not have picked up on any of that!
    I've never really thought about it like that really...but what about all those times Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, not to lust, not have unctronllable anger, not to judge w/o first examining ourselves etc? Was Jesus wrong to preach those things seeing as he didn't specifically outline God's grace in the middle of it?

    And all the time Paul teaches godliness... I'm pretty sure that he doesn't instead intalk about gra every single line as if talking about godliness is a baad thing, right?

    I dunno...I guess what I think is that you're reacting against a good thing but you do seem to have gone to an extreme, where someone can't even teach repentance, for example, without you claiming that they're wrong to do so and should only preach grace alone without application?

    I might have misinterpreted you and anyway I'm sure I'm very much mistaken, but please do correct me cos I am a newb at this stuff! ;P
    Sorry in advance if I have misrepresented you!

  17. Phil The Vic

    Putting the Men's Convention to the side for a moment...

    I'm trying to get my head around what 'grace' preaching sounds like.

    Is John 'grace' preaching or 'law' preaching in Rev.2:1-3:22?

  18. Glen

    Hi James S - yes I too have noticed that about Paul's Proc Trust talk. Interestingly, on Saturday I thought Mark Driscoll made a correct observation aobut the "tribalism" of UK evangelicalism. Challenging! ;-)

    Have you come across Mike Reeves at all? I think his teaching puts across biblical "meat" in a particularly sweet fashion.

    His talks on justification for instance were delivered as seminars at "New Word Alive" - not simply for pastors but for all. Accessible, biblical and grace-filled.

    Hi Michael,

    We must teach all of those things, but remember that Roman Catholics also teach them. And claim to be teaching them "biblically". What is the difference between us?

    I'm not at all saying that anyone was teaching Roman Catholicism on Saturday - I am saying that the word "evangelical" needs to mean something. Remember that the Papist also speaks of "grace" and can happily sprinkle their homilies with phrases like "...and of course the Spirit helps us..." or "...and we must understand that our motivation is the gospel...." It's a bigger subject than I can deal with in comments here - but what I'm suggesting is a thorough-going Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone hermeneutic.

    Hi Phil,

    The letters to the churches have a brilliant format for "grace preaching." Each letter begins with the indicatives of who Christ is. This is the primary issue! This is what makes John fall flat on his face in chapter 1. And this is what we aim for as we proclaim His Person. In the middle portion we see His assessment of the churches - and again, the point is not simply to be "challenging" or "step on a few toes" the idea is again to have people on their faces. The law is not given to improve us but kill us off and make us cry for mercy. Thank God He finishes with promise. All the letters hold out His grace at the end. That, to me, is a brilliant format for "grace preaching."

  19. Phil The Vic

    And so, daring to returning to the Men’s Convention….

    was this not what Rico was doing?

  20. dave

    Our annual regional student mission conference in exeter for students and anyone who is a friend of cu's, will have mike reeves on Christ. Transformission 2011.

  21. JamC


    I've been to many London Men's Conventions, and I thought this was one of the better ones - possibly the best.

    People have focussed a lot on Driscoll. He was a blessing to many, I thought. He applied what it means for husbands to love their wives in ways that I rarely hear in British preachers, who often pull back. In this, I felt he was bibilcal and robust. This style is highly effective for some and exactly what they need - and infuriating for others. That's okay. I have no doubt that some are enthralled by Piper or Keller, and others are unimpressed or bored by them. We pray that God, by his Spirit, does his work in our hearts all the same. Friends, let us not rate preachers like Olympic ice-skaters.

    Everyone has glossed over Marcus Nodder's talk which was, I felt, outstanding. It was a talked I wish I'd heard 15 years ago, and that had been given to many conservative evangelicals (like me) who are guilty of a dysfunctional and unbiblical view of work.

    The music was excellent too - and if you use the event as part of a year-round men's work in your church, I find I difficult to believe that the event was not a great blessing.

    Hope that helps.

  22. Glen

    Hi Phil,

    :) Yes, as I said, Rico was an exception. I won't say more than that because I'm not wanting to highlight individual preachers - more a conservative evangelical culture. I'll still stand by my comment that "tough talk" in such an environment is not hard - and should not be set forward as hard. It's very easy in that environment to say "hard things" - much harder to preach the "easy" yoke of Jesus. :)

    Hi Dave,

    I must give that a plug and see if I can come. What are the dates again?

    Hi JamC,

    I wish I'd known to look out for you up there. I'm sure our paths will cross again one day.

    I've got no problem with Driscoll's "style" - I'll be the first to defend that.

    Several of our men have commented how helpful Marcus's talk has been to the way they view work, so that is a great bonus.

    I'm certainly not wanting to rate *preachers*, rather I'm uneasy about the communication of a whole culture. I'm not seeking to dissect talks and set myself up as the grace police (how ironic). I just want to give voice to a concern that our sanctification always be by grace and that such a conviction (which I'm sure all the speakers would sign up to) requires a radically *evangelical* approach.

    But I should probably just post positive things about radically evangelical approaches and keep my mouth shut about conferences that have blessed others. I will certainly think twice before blogging like this again.

  23. Michael

    Glenn, thanks very much for your gracious reply, and I'm sorry if I was a bit combative in my last comment. Thanks for the links I will check them out. From what you're saying, I get the picture that it is good to teach the high standards of godliness that Jesus and Paul so often called for, with regards to lust, sexual immorality, drunkenness, anger etc, as long as it is preach within the context of Gospel/grace preaching throughout? Is that right?

    I think I would definitely agree with that and I see that you are making an excellent point there. As long as there is the emphasis on santification and adoption alongside the justifcation stuff then I am comfortable with it I think!

    Also, I have a question. I heard someone say this once, "Justification is not Go's ultimate goal. Adoption is."
    Is that right? I kind of agree but still feel slightly uncomfortable with it?

  24. Michael

    Also, Mike Reeves spoke at our CU Reps conference a few weeks ago and it was absolutely fantastic!
    It was a leadership conference for three days and he spoke on the love of God in Trinity, going through 1 John.
    I have to say I've had all these threads running through my mind but I guess I haven't connected the just struck me that at a leadership conference he decided to speak about the most fundamental doctrines: God as love, and God as trinity. It was risky but it was still so, so challenging and profound!

    I'm starting to see where you're coming from :)
    Piper seems to be essentially saying the same thing in this video

    Btw my parents have also always said EMA has fantastic teaching, so I guess there seems to be a consensus on that!

  25. Glen

    Hey Michael, didn't find you combative at all :)

    For an example of how I preach about loathing, lusting and lying - here's an excerpt from a sermon I preached recently on Colossians 3:

    The article I linked to above is great on the issue of where sanctification should fit:

    I think we often preach about committed sin and sactification, whereas the depths and heights of gospel preaching is about original sin and justification. We need much more of that latter kind of preaching.

    The adoption quote sounds like JI Packer who made an excellent plea for teaching on adoption and not simply justification. So often our preaching speaks of the Judge who lets us off and that's about it. What an anaemic gospel! What about union with Christ, participation in Him in His relationship with the Father! Isn't that the goal of the gospel - that there be many sons *in* the Son!

    What makes you uncomfortable particularly?

  26. James S

    Thanks Glen, and on the Mike Reeves note, I am a Mike Reeves freak already. I have about every available audio of him as well as many text files. In fact just last night I enjoyed the Adam & Eve article he wrote for Reformation 21, a site I spent the better part of last evening reading and saving Carl Trueman articles from. (I love Trueman's wit). (I have 2 terabytes of hard drive space devoted to saving the best in reformed audio talks (you're on there too), and on a lesser note, text articles). I love listening to good preaching, and keep a running folder of Reeves material on my mp3 portable.

    I think one reason I save so much material is that I live from paycheck to paycheck and I'm never sure I will be able to pay my internet bill each month, so I want to have everything available just in case. That, and probably also because I'm kind of weird... :-)

  27. John B

    Hi Glen,

    Glad to hear that you're rethinking criticism "about conferences that have blessed others", and leaning towards positive statements "about radically evangelical approaches".

    I fear that blanket criticisms of a specific conference leads toward an "us vs. them" perspective and more divisions between evangelicals. OTOH, criticism of a specific teacher's particular position is often tantamount to "iron sharpening iron", and can be of great benefit as a means in bringing about reformation in the church.

    As you've cited above, Packer and Tchividjian provide fine examples of a balanced approach.

  28. JamC

    Hey Glen,
    Hope I didn't sound too sanctimonious. I'm not sure one needs to be too selective and only talk about the positives. Jesus didn't. A word in season is a good thing. And I guess once people start leaving comments, it's hard to stay on top and set the tone. It's a fab blog you have - so I don't mean to moan!

  29. Glen

    Thanks John - yes an actual engagement of specifics would be a lot fairer than relating "the vibe which I picked up", which is what the post was leaning towards. Lazy blogging really and not very fair.

    Jam - no not sanctimonious. *Yours* was definitely a word in season. Thank you.

  30. Michael

    Hi Glenn, thanks a lot for your reply. Sorry for being late in coming back to this, I think the primary reason I was uncomfortable with that quote was more the context in which it was said. The person who said that had not mentioned the cross or justification once and by that time I was already quite edgy, so I guess it was just a reaction against that. In hindsight I see that the quote itself is good, but it was the context that was bad. :)

    We've been doing 1 john in OICCU recently and I was wondering what your take on preaching 1 john 3:1-10 would be from a gospel perspective? Esp the bits like, "no-one who abides in him keeps on sinning" which are repeated throughout the passage? I realise that he is clearly not saying we have to be sinless if we are Christians, because of the context from all of chapter 1, esp 1:8.
    But clearly John IS saying something...the ESV uses the term 'practice of sinning' quite a bit, so would that mean that someone who constantly 'repented' after each sin but was engaged in repeated sin in one area, say drunkenness or sexual immorality, that they are actually of the devil (2:8)?

    Would appreciate your help on this one!

    Thanks a lot!

  31. Si Hollett

    Is the problem that we as a conservative evangelical culture always on the cusp of just assuming the gospel and at conferences like this it is assumed that the gospel is taken as given and we get the 'man up' stuff?

    I'm not sure it's an exclusively conservative evangelical thing - I think the whole of UK evangelicalism suffers, just that the more other tribes will assume the gospel and talk about 'living the gospel', 'loving neighbours', 'being authentic', 'being nice', and say it with a different tone so you don't notice the challenge as much.

  32. Glen

    Hi Michael,

    I preach on 1 John 5:18 (which says the same thing) here:

    If we say "does not (continue to) sin" is about your practice of sinning it sets things on a slippery slope. I think John just takes seriously his own language about being born again. And if we're born again there really *is* something birthed in me. I really do have Christ in me by the Spirit. In fact this is my real identity - not this body of flesh with its constant sinning. I really don't continue to sin because the life I live in the body I live by the faithfulness of *Jesus* (Gal 2:20). Of course I still sin (1 John 1:8) but it's not really me - I was crucified with Christ.

    Anyway - I say more in that sermon.

    If you search for "1 John" you'll see I've preached a few sermons on the letter.

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