Kendra and I went to Ft. Lauderdale, FL for a few days in February. We went for the Liberate 2014 conference, hosted by Tullian Tchividjian and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. (We maybe also went to escape winter.)
I'm always a little too critical so I'll start with good things. I think the main thing I took away from it is to relax a little. God really does love me. He isn't disappointed with me. I don't need to be so uptight. I don't know if it's actually from the conference or just getting away from life for a while, but so far this has actually taken root. Kendra and I are laughing more. We have freedom to laugh at ourselves and each other without being so uptight. You might say it's been liberating.
This perspective came from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Steve Brown. Elyse Fitzpatrick said that three fruit of knowing God's unconditional love are transparency, laughter, and rest, which is what we're experiencing. I had never heard of Steve Brown before. He's got a crazy low made-for-radio voice. He reiterated a memorable Latin phrase for dealing with stress: quid inferorum. "God is in control. God is good. Quid inferorum." Google can tell you what it means. It reminds me of Seinfeld's "Serenity Now."
I really appreciated some statements by David Zahl. He spoke about loneliness. He clarified that his (and Liberate's) challenge against transformation (essentially one's growth in holiness) is not against the hope of transformation, but the guarantee of it. He pointed out that people's observed gap between the "new creation" they think they are supposed to be and how sinful they actually are has in some cases led not only to depression but suicide. I couldn't agree more with calling out this problem.
Paul Tripp emphasized the "my" in Psalm 27:1 (The LORD is my light and my salvation), saying that theology needs to be understood as personal. Reflecting on this, I see my need for theology to lead to doxology. In practice I'm starting to ask myself after my Bible reading/study how it leads me to worship. Tripp said something about guys who carry themselves as theology-know-it-alls and are so quick to criticize everyone, and how no one wants to be around such people. I don't know anyone like that...
There was some good poking between Baptists and Presbyterians. Tullian (or what I call him, T Squared, since it's such a bother to pronounce/spell his name) recalled a conversation with a Baptist who called him "brother." Paraphrase: "You know you are talking to a Baptist when he calls you 'brother.' Presbyterians don't talk like that, because we aren't sure if you're elect. Brother? Yeah, we'll see." It was funny.
I also appreciated the worship music throughout the conference by Zac Hicks and Coral Ridge Worship. My favorite is probably the song Once For All. I've got baggage with worship music (worthy of another post some day) and although I wasn't sure how I felt about everything, it was refreshing. To start my criticism, the vocals were drowned out by the guitars and drums and made it hard to sing along. And I could do without the colored light show.
One observation is that the talks weren't all that expository or from the Bible. I think each speaker had a text of scripture, but they more talked around the concept rather than explained the text. It turns out this goes both ways for me. It's bad because a speaker can too easily deliver his own message rather than God's. I'm not easily convinced of what a speaker says if I don't see it coming from the text. On the other hand, it's good to make for a more relaxing weekend--I wasn't spinning my wheels the whole time figuring out if the speakers were properly handling the text.
I went to a lunch session where Paul Zahl talked about preaching grace from the pulpit. It was basically his pointers for preaching. He's Episcopalian so I'm not even sure what preaching means to him. The tips were basically, from my recollection, to use some humor to reduce resistance with the audience; to dwell in the text personally for the prior week so that you can talk about its impact in your own experience, because an audience will resonate with you that way; and to use illustrations because people understand better that way and they are more memorable (Jesus modeled this with parables). In the end I keep wondering how any of that fits with the Apostle Paul's "foolishness of preaching" (1 Cor 1:21). Those pointers are useful in any sort of speech or writing, secular or otherwise, which suggests to me that it doesn't align with the Apostle's at-odds-with-the-world mentality (1 Cor 1:20, 27). I can't conceive of the Apostle considering whether he's got the proper amount of humor in his preaching. Or maybe I'm just too uptight.
Another thing that stood out to me was the demeanor of some speakers. I first observed T Squared at a Desiring God conference a few years ago, and he struck me as arrogant and impatient. I hadn't previously listened to him speak or read any of his books, just some blog posts. So I've got a really small sample size. But again this time he came off to me as angry. His speaking/preaching was often angry or cynical. I also found Elyse to be cynical/grumpy. While I find this very unbecoming of those proclaiming freedom in the gospel, Kendra pointed out that people at this conference probably tend to appreciate this kind of transparency. They aren't putting on a fake smile. It gets back to what David Zahl said about the guarantee of transformation. If speakers are always so happy and appear so awesome in their holiness, the effect it has on me is not to draw me in to the same joy but rather to make me feel despair over the perceived gap between them and me. I need to try harder to have joy like them. No, instead they show what they're really like--they are still sinful like me. And we meet together at the cross. That's liberating.
There's probably more to say but that's all I've got right now.