WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders grappled Monday with the basic but difficult to answer question of how to stay plugged in to the culture to gain access and share the Gospel with a younger generation that is "fundamentally atheistic."
Attendees – who range from small-town preachers to world-renown Christian leaders – converged for the 19th Annual National Conference on Preaching outside Washington, D.C. The three-day conference, which kick-off on Monday, will explore the role of preaching in addressing cultural, social, and political issues under the conference theme of "Where Do Pulpit and Culture Meet?"
Opening the conference, Pastor James Emery White of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., gave a plenary address titled, "Where Do Preaching and Culture Meet?" In it, he presented the Acts 17 model of preaching of Paul who was able to connect with different people despite the pluralistic cultures he encountered.
White says that preachers today should follow the Acts 17 strategy which is simply explanation. He said preachers should start off even with the simple explanations that the Bible is made up of the Old Testament and New Testament and contains 66 books and is "really one story. It tells the story of us and God."
"When it comes to apologetics, perhaps we need to talk less about reasons to believe the Bible and move towards 'this is the Bible,'" White offered. "Maybe we need less Easter messages that say 'did Jesus rise from the dead' and maybe we need to move on to say 'so what if he did?'"
"So where do preaching and culture meet?" the opening speaker asked. "At the cross."
The cross shows that even in Jesus' agony he was trying to tell one more lost person about God's heart and how they could be in paradise.
"[The cross is] the clear signal that God would stop at nothing to reach. Stop at nothing to communicate. Stop at nothing to connect – nor should we," White declared.
During a panel discussion that ensued, Pastor Joseph Evans of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., voiced his concern that increasingly a cross-less Christianity is being presented by churches. Messages that don't talk about the "bloody transaction" and that it "cost something for us to be Christians" are popular and acceptable to culture, but Evans argues that Christianity that preaches the cross will "always be powerful."
"Some people are not willing to come, but yet others will because that cross absolved our guilt," Evans said. "They want to know if Christ can still forgive sin and we ought not to shy away from that."
He added, "Christianity when you preach the cross will always be powerful because in its context Christianity was counterculture. The cross of Christ was never popular. It was rebellious at best. I don't want a Christianity that conforms to everything we see. Christ is not a popular culture. We have to have the irreverence to stand up and proclaim the Gospel. Not everybody wants to hear that, but a lot of people do."
Fellow panelist, Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., agreed that preachers must talk about the cross.
"Wherever you find the truth you find tension," stated Batterson, who was listed by Outreach Magazine as pastor to one of America's most innovative churches in 2008. "Couldn't we all agree on this – if we preach every weekend and people never get to the foot of the cross, then what is the point? There is no point," Batterson argued.
Pastor Rick Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life and founding pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, is scheduled to give a sermon Tuesday evening.
Other speakers at the event include Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship; Barry Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate; and Larry Mercer, president of Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary in Maryland.