Together for the Gospel 2008

This week I had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference in Louisville.  It was wonderful.  I got to spend some time with my younger brother, Andrew, who flew in from Texas.  I met Kevin DeYoung (whose name tag Andrew happened to spot on an elevator), one of the authors of the new book Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), a book that I read a few weeks ago and found very helpful.  I sang rich hymns about the gospel with 5,500 brothers and sisters, often moving me to tears.  Andrew and I got a picture made with John Piper.  We also got about 15 free, theologically substantive books.  And I heard some wonderful teaching, preaching, and discussion.

Ligon Duncan gave the first address by stressing the importance of systematic theology for the church and for preaching.  Thabiti Anyabwile deconstructed the idea of biologically determined race and argued, based on theological truths from Scripture, for a new way of relating to people whose skin is a different color from ours (more on that address in a future post).  I missed John MacArthur’s message on total inability (I was in class at the time), but I heard that it was wonderful.  I did get to hear the panel discussion with MacArthur afterward.  Mark Dever spoke on contemporary attempts to improve the gospel, and he exhorted us to ensure that we never try to do such a thing.  Instead, he called us to be clear on what the gospel is and to keep it distinct from legitimate implications that may flow from it, lest we generate confusion and ultimately lead people away from the gospel.

R. C. Sproul delivered what may be the best sermon I have ever heard in my life.  It was on the curse motif of the atonement, based on Galatians 3:10-14 but drawing from the blessing/curse teachings of Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 28ff., and Numbers 6 (the Aaronic blessing), as well as from the Day of Atonement ritual of Leviticus 16.  Unable to stand for a long period of time due to his health, Dr. Sproul preached sitting down from the depths of his soul and vividly communicated to us the horror and wonder of the cross.  I will never forget that message. 

Albert Mohler followed Sproul’s sermon with an address on contemporary rejections of the doctrine of penal substitution, and he (as always) brought clarity and strong biblical-theological reasoning to the discussion.  John Piper passionately exhorted us to embrace a radical ministry of suffering as we look to the ultimate reward, namely, Christ himself.  By treasuring Christ above all, he said, and enduring suffering and loss for his sake, we show the world his glory and value in a way that would not be shown were we never to experience suffering in his service.  C. J. Mahaney ended with a call to pastors to shepherd their flocks joyfully, exhorting us from Philippians 1 to pursue ministry with gratitude, faith in God’s promises for the future, and deep affection for those under our care.  In between these sessions were panel discussions with the four leaders of T4G (Mohler, Dever, Duncan, and Mahaney) together with whatever speaker had previously given his address. 

This week was a refreshing oasis.  It was like church camp for Calvinist pastors, only without goofy recreation time, goofy youth speakers, or goofy music.  No, I take that back.  Very little of it was like church camp.  It was much too rich for that kind of an analogy.  This week I saw 5,500 brothers and sisters of mine who are passionate for the gospel of Jesus Christ celebrating that passion together and drawing energy to go back to their churches in order to proclaim that gospel more faithfully.  Gatherings like these give me great hope for the future of the church.

More to come later.  I want to share with you first some of the things Thabiti Anyabwile argued about the concepts of race and ethnicity.  And I also plan to write a series of posts on the gospel based on thoughts provoked by this conference.   

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