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Who is the Celebrity of your Conference?

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Tim Challies is thinking what has been on my mind for a while …. and I’ll go further.

The conference culture is promoted by the Christian book publishing industry in that it’s necessary for every speaker to make sure he/she has a new book out in time for the next conference.

 

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Christian Celebrity and the Conference Culture

by Tim Challies

Like so many others, I will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky next week, to take in the Together for the Gospel conference. What catnip is to your cat,T4G is for a New Calvinist, and, like so many others, I am looking forward not only to the conference, but to meeting people, spending time with friends, and taking in the wider conference atmosphere. I’ll be honest: My favorite part of the conference is spending time with people. For me, this ranks at least as high as taking in the sessions and the singing.

What I am about to say should not be taken as a rebuke of Together for the Gospel or any other conference. Rather, it is something I have been considering lately as I’ve thought about the conference culture that pervades the church today. (Or, at least, the conference culture that pervades the New Calvinism today.) I think it is clear that this conference culture is directly related to the celebrity culture we have fostered.

 

Read more of Challies’ post here but don’t miss this point in particular:

 

Could we consider it a sign of health and growth in the New Calvinism if we had the same level of excitement to learn a book of the Bible from a no-name authority on that book, or to learn about a topic of great theological importance from a no-name authority on that topic? Wouldn’t it be interesting if the situation was reversed? “I don’t know who is speaking, but I am excited to learn about this book or this theme!” This would show that our foremost desire is not to see and hear celebrity preachers, but to have the best opportunity to see and hear God speak to us through his Word.

I agree with Tim that, for the most part, there are great things to learn and ideas to ponder which we can glean from the speakers at good biblical conferences, and the fellowship is grand indeed. My favorite conference — the one that serves as my family’s annual vacation — is the Reformed Baptist Family Conference, hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle, PA, where Baptists and Presbyterians and others of Reformed leanings gather along the Delaware River in the Poconos. The folks there are like extended family for us, and we look forward to seeing them every year. My kids call this time, “The BEST week of the year!!!!!” (exclamation points unedited). It’s an opportunity to relax — I don’t have to cook! now that’s a vacation! — and indulge in spiritual and intellectual exercise at the same time.

But, what I appreciate most is the dedication to the teaching first, and it goes without saying that it is teaching based solely on the word of God. Crowd draw falls pretty low on the list of priorities when the planners are putting together the details for each year’s gathering, so most of the speakers are unknown outside their own geographical regions and only a few have written any books. They do have a book room, but the majority of titles are by dead authors — looonnnnggg dead, as in a few centuries in the grave — who will never see the proceeds from the sales. We talk around the family-style dining room about “that series on Ruth” from a few years ago or the exposition on John 3 that provoked such conviction and changes in personal Christian practice. We live for a few days alongside speakers and their families and there are no epiphanies; we’ve known it all along: they’re normal everyday Joes like us. It’s the message that is supernatural, that reaches to the stars, that becomes the Celebrity of the Conference.

If you are planning to attend a (or some) conference(s) this year, consider the questions Tim Challies posits in his article. Go a step further, and ask yourself about the complicity of the Christian publishing industry. Do we really need one more book on the Radical Nature of the True Evangelical (not a real title…. I think)? Haven’t plenty of words been spilt on just about every aspect of Christian doctrine, life and thought?

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of scrounging blogs and social media for the latest title from our favorite new author (with all the right denominational, organizational and seminary credentials) and reading the 7th book of the year on How To Bar the Door To Keep the Youth from Leaving the Church (again, I don’t think that’s a real title), we spent that time in the Word of God?  The Bible is timeless. Its lessons on human nature and church governing and true preaching and guilt and sin and gender issues and human differences and worldliness and temptation, when established as the foundation that they are, instruct in every particular and unique situation of life that God’s people encounter in this world.

Should we read nothing else at all? Heaven forbid! My shelves are packed full of books, with both a Kindle and a bookcase loaded with doctrinal and theological books — some of them by speakers at RBFC. I’ve got a lot of friends on those shelves! I admit, though, I have not read them all. Here’s what’s happened way too often:  The name and the endorsements were the draw when I doled out the purchase price, but when I delved in, it hit me that the same has been said before. Dang. And I’d go find that other book and start rereading it and it teaches me all over again in ways that I missed the first time. I spent money, and in particular time and mental energy, unnecessarily. And more often than not, that other book was written by someone who was never well known and remains so, or whose star has faded in the Christian marketing sky. To the chagrin of the publishing houses.

 

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Written by mrsdkmiller

April 4, 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books

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