Reflections on ETS, Part 2 (or, “Avoiding Massive Face Plants”)

faceplant.jpgMy run-in with Greg Boyd was not the most interesting part of my ETS experience.

Not by a long shot.

On the Wednesday night of ETS, I was invited to attend a gathering with friends of The Bethlehem Institute. “TBI” is essentially Bethlehem Baptist Church‘s elder and leadership training program, mainly designed for seminary-bound post-grads, and is mainly taught by John Piper.

I was excited about the guest list, which included Bruce Ware, Doug Moo, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Ligon Duncan, Sam Storms and a few other heavy hitters, and I thought it would be a great chance to make some connections. But more than that, I was just looking forward to having a cup of punch and catching up with my friends David Mathis (Piper’s assistant), Tom Steller (Dean of TBI), David Livingston (Pastor at Bethlehem who married Leslie and me) and Pipes himself.

To my surprise, it wasn’t a social gathering at all. It was a colloquium. And to my utter terror, I was on the speaker panel. Here’s how it went down:

When I came into the room, I saw that there were three concentric circles of chairs. As people began taking seats, Tom Steller, who served as moderator for the evening, requested that everyone who had completed their formal education please take a seat in the center circle. All students (there were about 40 of them from 6-7 different seminaries) were asked to sit in the outer rings.

Naturally, since I’m (technically) still in school, I made my way to a seat in the outer ring. Before I could be seated, however, Steller asked me to come up and sit in the middle circle along with Ware, Piper, Storms, Preston Sprinkle and Denny Burk (a couple up-and-coming heavy hitters), and a few other guys who almost always know what they’re talking about.

I protested: “No, I’m still in school, Tom!”

Tom rebutted: “Yeah, but you’re in ministry. Come sit up here.”

Thus I found myself on a panel of speakers, the lone Ph.D.-less representative, armed with my meager 11 months of pastoral experience, awaiting a barrage of questions from three dozen seminary students, some of which Tom was sure to direct my way, being absolutely terrified that I was about to perform the biggest face plant of my life, say something utterly and thoroughly stupid, and as a result be officially shunned and declared to be anathema by some of my theological and ministerial heroes.

But, to my utterly dumbstruck surprise, I did not end up getting voted off the island, and actually made some (I’d like to think) useful contributions to the conversation.

Afterwards, I promptly had myself a pint, fittingly enough called “Idiot Pale Ale,” and changed into a fresh pair of underwear.

Two of the more interesting and substantial conversation topics of the evening centered, first, on Piper and Ware’s views on Limited Atonement/Definite Redemption. The conversation focused on the very difficult question: How is it that God’s wrath can genuinely be said to rest on his elect, before they have been granted repentance and faith, if his wrath has already been propitiated through the sacrifice of his Son on their behalf?

The other centered on Piper’s remarks on the I-35W bridge collapse disaster. In his remarks, he seems to imply that he deserved to be on the bridge; that he deserves to receive God’s wrath for his sin, and that what is astounding is not that some people were on the bridge and were victims of such a tragedy, but that he wasn’t on the bridge, suffering the penalty for his own sin.

Sam Storms asked Piper whether he would have put things a bit differently in his reflections on the tragedy, in retrospect. After all, did the cross not remove God’s wrath from us? I pressed the question by asking John, “If you were on the bridge moments before it collapsed and God spoke to you and said, ‘John, I am about to destroy this bridge with you on it, and you deserve it because of your sin,’ would you say to God, ‘You’re right. I deserve it,’ or would you not ask, ‘Didn’t Christ already bear your wrath for my sin and remove my guilt forever?'”

It was fascinating to hear how some of these great minds (I do not include myself in that category, of course) approach perplexing issues, break them down, analyze the parts, and then try to put them back together. I feel both smarter and (much) dumber having been part of a lengthy theological discussion with them.

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23 thoughts on “Reflections on ETS, Part 2 (or, “Avoiding Massive Face Plants”)”

  1. Leave Bryan alone, he’s in mourning after his dear ol’ Packers got run out of Dallas tonight. On the bright side, the Cowboys did them a favor knocking Favre out of the game, Brett was on a mission tonight to throw 6 ints.

  2. Darius,

    The fun part of this loss for me is just knowing how jealous you are that the Pack is still 10-2 and headed for a bye, that the Vikes (whose starting QB is way worse than our backup) are 5-6 and will miss the playoffs, and therefore knowing that in your jealousy, you’ve been thinking of things to say all day long if the Packers lost, and that THAT was the best you could come up with.

    If you need some better ideas for your trash talk, I can work with you on that. It must be humiliating. Give me a ring, pal, and we’ll set up an appointment.

  3. Everyone else,

    While the discussion was fascinating, the end result really was that no one knew how to answer either of those questions.

    Anybody want to take a crack at them here? Maybe I’ll have to write a post or two on those.

  4. Jesse,

    That’s exactly what I thought someone was going to say to me. It came as an utter shock to me that I found myself speaking second in response to the first question (after Pipes), and I was awaiting this exact criticism. Evidently God is merciful.

  5. Did you watch that game last night? The only chance the Packers had was with Rodgers in the game. The Cowboys would have had 50 points had Favre remained in there.

  6. I’m not sure there’s really a problem with the answer: “Christ bore your wrath AND removed my guilt AND I deserve [being on the bridge].”

    In any case, I know how the conversation would go for me: “Brett, I’m going to destroy this bridge with you on it, and you deserve it.” “Who is that?” “It’s the Lord, Brett.” “Riggggght.”

    Darius: You have to let the Packer thing go. It’s been sci-en-tifically proven that the cerebrum in Packer fans shuts down completely when watching or discussing Brett Favre.

    Bryan: I was going to explain to you why Darius is right, but I can’t find words short enough for a Packer fan to understand. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder.

  7. So, of course, the summary of all this is that when asked, Pipe Diddy responds to the question of Bret Favre’s deserving to be on a bridge which collapses because his fans are stupid, “I award you no points…and Greg Boyd is a heretic.” To which everyone in the crowd erupts in applause and hoots because jpipizzle has perfectly captured what everyone wishes they had had the presence to think and say (all for the glory of God)…that is everyone except Ben Witherington III and Bret Favre…and Bryan is just happy to be there.

    Is that about it?

  8. “…and Bryan is just happy to be there, because he is living Rob’s dream (and his nightmare).” I think that’s how you meant to finish, Rob.

    To the rest:

    Brett Favre is the greatest quarterback of all time. He holds (or will hold) all the important records (yes, including INT’s – let me just preempt that dumb comment), he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and at thirty-whatever years old, he’s one of the best QBs in the league this year, and everyone outside of Minnesota would agree with me.

    Just deal with it. Stop venting your jealous little hearts here.

  9. So I thought I’d drop in for a bit of firm theological reflection and walked into this “Who can belch the loudest” slumber party. I’ll show myself out.

    Go Lions

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