WRAP-UP: ERLC event addresses culture, Gospel

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Speakers and panelists sought to help Christians understand how they can engage the culture in a Gospel-focused manner during the second day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored conference Aug. 26.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's 2016 National Conference featured pastors, academics and authors providing guidance to the audience -- which consisted of more than 900 registrants -- regarding not only what biblically based cultural engagement is but how to avoid being a captive of cultural Christianity.

Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler said the Bible Belt has "churches that are filled with unregenerate [people] in a culture where any type of conservatism is just lumped in to being a Christian."

In the Bible Belt, pastors will often have to help "really moral church folk understand that they're non-Christians," he told attendees.

"[W]e have to in the Bible Belt deconstruct the idea that Jesus is about good people." -- Matt Chandler
Many of those who grew up in a church but were converted to Christ as adults in The Village Church, where Chandler is lead teaching pastor, say they have a "long list of behaviors" but "never heard the Gospel," he said. "So we have to in the Bible Belt deconstruct the idea that Jesus is about good people."

Speaking on the parable of the lost sheep, coin and son in Luke 15, Chandler said, "The mission of God is to seek and save the lost -- not moral betterment. That's what happens when we are saved, right? We are going to be transformed from the inside out.

"Well, the Bible Belt is so twisted around this idea," he said, adding he has been overwhelmed that "the basic Gospel message has been completely lost on a full generation."

The reality for a Christian that "all of life is repentance" needs to be understood in the church, Chandler said.

"If people in the Bible Belt don't know that what it means to be a Christian is for the rest of their life they're to be repentant in their life, then every little struggle they have will be hidden in the darkness because they will believe that they did that when they got saved," he said. "I just can't tell you the sheer volume of people I know who are enslaved to sin and feel like they can't tell anyone about it, because they got saved 15 years ago."

Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, challenged audience members to consider whether they -- and the American church -- are "on a quest for control," particularly of culture, freelance writer Kara Bettis wrote in a report for the ERLC.

Human beings are uniquely given authority -- the capacity for meaningful action -- and vulnerability -- exposure to meaningful risk, but control itself is a testament to true motivations, he said.

"You know someone is addicted to control [if] when their control begins to slip they become violent," Crouch said, Bettis reported. "What our culture has perceived of us Christians is they see us losing control of culture and they see the rage with which we react to that loss of control."

Crouch proposed an alternative approach -- true leadership and leaders who "just show up and are honest about their limits, honest about our limits and call us to live a life of risk."

Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist church in Hendersonville, Tenn., pointed attendees to a two-fold strategy Jesus gave the church to engage the culture -- an invitation to follow Him and an investment in others.

"We're going to change the culture the same way Jesus changed the culture, and that's with an invitation to follow Him," Gallaty said. "We will never affect the culture publicly until we have been transformed by the Gospel privately.

"Intimacy with God always precedes ministry," he said. "Who we are in Christ trumps what we will ever do for Christ."

Greg Thornbury, president of The King's College in New York City, said he is worried as someone who leads an institution preparing young adults for the world.

"I am concerned that the rightful teaching of grace in our churches may be producing a slacker generation that will damage our witness in culture in coming generations," he said, acknowledging his comment would be controversial. "We need to recover the work ethic that made the people of God who they were in every cultural situation."

Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources, said in a panel discussion cultural engagement should be connected to the Great Commission.

If cultural engagement is simply a way for Christians to seek "to show that we're culturally savvy ... then that is the way to disaster," he said, adding it should be about having a "Great Commission understanding of people around us so we can effectively present the Gospel."

On the same panel, Jackie Hill Perry, a poet and artist with Humble Beast Records, encouraged young Christians to demonstrate "an intentionality about our lives."

They should use their "online presence for the Gospel, for the glory of God," she said

Hill Perry also urged young Christian couples, "Don't be afraid to have children. If we are not raising disciples now, who will be the ones to carry the torch later?"

The Aug. 26 proceedings included breakout sessions on race, religious liberty, parenting, millennials and sports. An all-female panel also discussed women and cultural engagement.

During the meeting, the ERLC announced its 2017 National Conference, which is scheduled Aug. 24-25 and will again be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

Christ-centered parenting will be the theme, and the speakers will include ERLC President Russell Moore, who also spoke Aug. 26 at this year's conference; Focus on the Family President Jim Daly; and authors Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jen Wilkin.

The ERLC and Southern Baptist Executive Committee cosponsored a Next Generation luncheon Aug. 26 for young SBC pastors and leaders. The gathering with more than 100 registrants included a question-and-answer session with SBC President Steve Gaines, Executive Committee President Frank S. Page, Chandler and Moore.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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