Thoughts on T4G 2008

I had the privilege of attending the second “Together for the Gospel” Conference last week in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Here are some post-T4G thoughts:

1. The book store was stunning.  I have never seen so many books in my life (except maybe in Dr. Mohler’s basement library).

2. The singing was worshipful.  Hearing 5000-plus men singing hymns is quite an experience.

3. The fellowship was sweet.  I kept running into people I knew the whole time.  There were friends there that I never actually saw in the crowds.  It was encouraging to see so many friends who are laboring for the gospel across the country.

4. The demographic there was young.  It was amazing to see, as I noticed the first time around, that the average attender of T4G seemed to be very, very young.  This “Young, Restless, and Reformed” phenomenon is for real.

5. There were a number of Acts 29 guys.  This was encouraging to me, as I find myself quite comfortable in both the A29 and the reformed evangelical camps.  The Wednesday night hang-out at Flannagan’s was really encouraging.

6. The Schreiners are a joy to be around.  They opened up their home to me during this time, and I’m so thankful.  What a godly, loving family they are.

  Some thoughts about T4G Messages:

  1. Ligon Duncan gave a great message encouraging pastors to teach doctrine from the pulpit.  He rightly explained the current context of suspicion toward systematic theology in the church.  He explained how none of us can avoid this—we either have doctrine good or bad.  He encouraged us to see the importance sound theology has for God’s glory, our assurance, the Christian life, and ultimately, for our joy.  I love listening to Dr. Duncan.
  2. Thabiti Anyabwile encouraged us to not use categories of “race” in our language in the church.  He explained how thinking of our differences as biologically-based leads to racism and disunity.  He encouraged us to discuss things in terms of ethnicity.  We are all one in Adam, he said.  We who are Christians are one in Christ, as well.  In the Church, we should display God’s glory powerfully in how we love each other through our ethnic differences. 
  3. John MacArthur gave a great introduction to the doctrine of total depravity or total inability.  This is a message I know I’ll hand to people struggling with the doctrine.  He closed with some of the implications of not holding to this, which I thought were sound.
  4. Mark Dever challenged me, as always.  I am indebted to this man.  We just finished our second run in C-Groups through 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.  We give out What is a Healthy Church? to visitors of Karis.  I had the opportunity to take his ecclesiology class at Southern.  But I don’t agree with him on everything; for instance, we are not a democratic church.  And I didn’t agree with everything he said in this message.  He spoke about adding to the gospel, giving five cries that are threatening and attractive to the church today.  First, he spoke of the cry to “make the gospel public.”  Here he said that there is a tendency to reduce the gospel to social engagement.  I certainly agree with him, but the illustrations he used, as well as the language he chose, made it sound like social action is something that shouldn’t end up as a high priority.  I really got the sense in this point that he was directly confronting Tim Keller’s impact on the men present, as well as the Gospel Coalition documents themselves.  I found myself sitting there thinking, “But the gospel ends up changing structures, if it’s the gospel.”  And, “Christians bringing social change can commend the gospel.”  Second, he spoke of the attempt to “make the gospel larger.”  Here he warned us of the tendency to make a Christian worldview the gospel.  Again, he seemed reductionistic here.  I completely understand what he is saying.  The gospel is the good news of Jesus living, dying, and rising for us.  But, again, churches need to form strong, Christian worldviews in their people.  And this can be a strong apologetic to people outside of the church.  Third, he spoke of the tendency to “make the gospel relevant.”  I appreciated much of what he said here—speaking out against the homogeneous unit principle, for example.  But, in speaking against contextualization, he seemed to be addressing people influenced by Stetzer, Driscoll, and others.  I think we can study the context in which we minister, use current, relevant illustrations, sing songs that at least sound modern, and yet still remain faithful to the gospel message.  Fourth, he warned us not to “make the gospel personal.”  Here he rightly spoke of the need for people to be incorporated into strong, local churches and not just worship Jesus in isolation.  Fifth, he encouraged us not to “make the gospel kinder.”  Dever warned us of pragmatism that seeks to rescue the greatest number, no matter what it takes.  I couldn’t agree with him more.  I love Mark Dever and always am challenged by what he has to say.  However, I really think it seemed a bit “either-or” throughout.  It seemed unnecessarily divisive. 
  5. R.C. Sproul taught on the curse motif in the atonement.  This is one I will certainly listen to again.  It was the only time I’ve ever seem him teach sitting down.  But it was incredibly powerful.  Christ was cursed for us on the cross.  What a glorious, shocking thought!
  6. Albert Mohler spoke on the doctrine of penal substitution.  I had to miss the last part of this message, so I’ll listen again, but he did a great job of setting up the current challenges to the “heart of the gospel,” and answering them from Scripture.
  7. John Piper spoke out of Hebrews 10-13 on the motivation for Christian sacrifice.  I have heard him speak on these texts a number of times, but this was by far the best.  There were some great “freebies” in this message, as he taught about his vision for women in his church.  This was Piper at his finest.  Listen to it!
  8. C.J. Mahaney again gave the best message of the conference, in my opinion.  When I say again, I mean that I was blown away by his Resurgence talk, and the same thing happened at T4G.  He preached from Philippians 1:3-8 about the joyful pastor.  It was very encouraging and challenging.       

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Louisville at “Together for the Gospel.”  I am delighted I decided at the last minute to attend.