Thabiti Anyabwile stepped up to the plate on Wednesday at Together for the Gospel. Thabiti’s life and message prove that God is in the business of drawing Muslims to himself! This converted Muslim delivered a powerful message that addressed the ever-popular evangelical manta that calls Christ-followers to engage the culture.
Thabiti was clear from the beginning: “If we set out to engage the culture, the gospel may be adjusted if we’re not careful.” This really was a truly vital message, especially in a day when evangelicals are pursuing cultural transformation at a feverish pace. Indeed, a cultural mandate emerges for God’s people in the Genesis account. Thabiti acknowledges this at the outset. Yet he is rightly concerned that many of those who seek to “transform the culture” often times do it in a compromising way and miss the point of Paul’s purpose, philosophy, practices, and perspective.
Paul’s purpose is set forth in Colossians 1:24-2:5, namely, that he might make God’s Word known so people would be mature. The goal is conformity to Christ. We too, must be ruthless as we pursue this purpose of Christ-likeness. Therefore, Thabiti urges, we must “engage culture by engaging the church.”
Second, note Paul’s cultural philosophy (Col. 2:6-7). Here the apostle urges people to live according to the gospel. They must embrace a high Christology. The danger according to Col. 2:8 is to underestimate the power of the world’s philosophy and become captured by her man-centered principles. Thabiti urges in classic Van Tillian tone, “Don’t soft-peddle antithesis.”
Third, pay close attention to Paul’s practices (Col. 2:16-23). He warns against self-made religion and restrictions concerning food, etc. Rather, our focus my center exclusively on Christ.
Finally, note Paul’s perspective. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4, ESV).
Thabiti concludes with a strong admonition. Cultural engagement must focus on Christ and the gospel exclusively. Our purpose is rooted in Christ. Our philosophy is centered in Christ. Our practices and perspective must revolve around Christ. Therefore, when one wrongly engages culture, the gospel is inevitably adjusted. May this never be!
John MacArthur delivered the next pitch. His careful exposition of Mark 4:26-29 was unpacked like a gift from a shepherd who has been carefully unwrapping God’s Word for over forty years.
He began by noting the Neo-Finney and Pelagian tendencies in American evangelistic strategy. MacArthur points to another strategy for evangelism, the strategy that emerges in Mark 4. In this passage, readers are called to sow the seed and wait for God to work a sovereign miracle. “We are secondary agents but not the primary cause. We are the means, not the power [behind salvation].” Regeneration is the sovereign work of God.
MacArthur points to four key principles of evangelism. First, we must be humble. Our message is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation is his doing (1 Cor. 1:30). Our responsibility is not to change the heart. Our responsibility is to faithfully and persistently sow the seed and wait for God’s sovereign hand. Jonathan Edwards remarks, “True conversion is marked by broken-hearted love for God.”
Second, we must be obedient because we know that we are the light that God uses in evangelistic ways.
Third, we must be diligent in our evangelistic endeavors. Our usefulness in evangelism is linked to eternal reward.
Finally, we must be confident for God has determined and exponential outcome.
Once again, MacArthur delivers a Christ-centered message with strong admonition to the people of God, especially shepherds of Christ’s bride.