Swanwick in the snow is a beautiful place but walking up and down to the Derbyshire Hall for sessions of the Carey Conference 2010 in near zero temperatures tests dedication.
Was it worth it?
Well I was only able to attend five sessions including John Benton's stimulating paper 'Going soft on sin?' He looked at the calamity of going soft on sin - we endanger the gospel which is all about dealing with sin. It is the seeming smallness of the first sin with makes some scoffers call the punishment disproportionate; but that same fact should actually make us consider sin's seriousness.
Secondly he looked at the causes of 'going soft' particularly the transition from an age of morality to an age of emotion.
Dr Benton then looked at consequences of going soft; and then at its cure - primarily a massive intervention of God in revival. How refreshing not to have a 'quick fix' or a series of evangelistic techniques given us!
Discussion afterwards focussed on the observation that people are not actually amoral - it's just that people draw the lines in different places. For example, we have abandoned the Ten Commandments as a measure of judgement (unless you are the world's greatest golfer) but get very indignant if anyone transgresses contemporary norms about gas-guzzling cars, unethical eating or other 'sins' against the environment, political correctness or children. Indeed we are in some ways a very intolerant and judgemental society.
People are of course made in God's image. They can no more escape this than they can pull themselves up by their own shoelaces. We are moral creatures and will draw the line between right and wrong somewhere. The trouble is, without God's Word we draw it in all the wrong places. Our morality will be determined, as all morality is, by our god. If our god is pleasure in some form, our religion is hedonism, and our morality will be tailored accordingly.
So preachers have a foothold in preaching the Law. We are not helpless. We must point out to people that they do look for judgement when they talk of 'really wicked' people. The difficulty is in seeing themselves as wicked, and seeing that God's criteria for good and evil apply to us all. Moreover we need to assert that his standard is perfection and that condemns us all.
Moreover, things are not 'all relative'. People prove that to themselves every day when they say 'it's all relative' or ' paedophiles should be punished more harshly' and 'Nick Griffin is evil' and 'terrorists are wicked' and 'industries must reduce their carbon footprint'. We cannot live without a sense of 'ought' and 'ought not'.
The next step is to show that God's Ought is the one that really counts. If there is a God then what could be more reasonable than that his Word is the say-so for us all?
Preach the Law we must. Thank you John for reminding us of that. Creation - what we are as humans, the witness to his image in us - is our ally in this. And as for revival - of course we need it. But then conviction of sin has always been a work of the Holy Spirit, whether during revivals or not. May we have more of his power among us and attending our preaching!
One other question - should we go on using biblical words like sin when people do not understand them and fill them with their own content? Surely the answer is yes! If we back off biblical words that unregenerate people distort we would stop using 'God'. The answer is to explain, illustrate and apply the words so people do understand them. That is - preach them. And pray for the Spirit to convict and enlighten.