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Reflections on The Gospel Coalition Conference

April 18, 2011

Last week our Harvest pastoral staff had a great opportunity and attended together The Gospel Coalition (TGC) Conference in downtown Chicago. When could we ever travel such a short distance to experience so many gifted preachers and workshop leaders in a context of more than 5000 other pastors and church leaders? Wow! A lot of thoughts are circling in my mind as I process it all, and here are a few . . .

1) As a council/board member of TGC, I have a behind the scenes look at the leadership and staff that make it all happen. From D. A. Carson to Ben Peays and his team, this organization really is led by a group of humble devoted Christ-followers. The vision that Carson/Keller had has exceeded everyone’s expectations in its impact and their website is #1 for traffic among evangelicals. You should check out the ocean of resources available to you there.

2) The theme of the conference was “They Testify about Me: Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament.” I was blessed to preach one of the main sessions and had to confess that I have in times past failed to make the message of Christ the pinnacle of my message. I am convicted that Christ and His gospel needs to be the unhurried, ultimate climax of any message from any passage. This is consistent with how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament and how Christ himself used the Old Testament. Luke 22:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” I think some of the statements about the dangers of ‘moralizing’ from the Old Testament were vastly overstated. It’s the idea that lessons on godly living from the characters in the OT are misusing the OT text. I disagree strongly with this. The idea that we don’t learn patience from Job, or passion from David, or the consequences of disobedience from Saul is just wrong. However as in most instances, hyperbole and over-correction are needed to awaken our hearts to a neglected priority, so some of the sessions overstated the point to make sure it was heard. I heard it and am deeply impacted and I pray changed because of it.

3) The conference represents a very diverse group of people coming together. There are some that reject multi-site due to doubts about it’s ecclesiology. There are some who reject public harvesting of gospel decisions as “the work of the Holy Spirit.” There are some who are yet to recognize that not all large churches are doctrinally compromised, i.e. (Harvest, Village Church, Mars Hill Seattle) etc. There is a high degree of deference to the parsing of gospel orthodoxy. Pastor Mark Driscoll pointed this out in a Q&A session where he cautioned that we not lose ‘conversion’ as a priority in our pursuit of precision. I wondered if anyone even heard that. Overall the leaning of the organization reflects the leanings of it’s founders, as it should. It is intellectually stimulating, but maybe a little lacking in emotion and passion as expressions of devotion to God, at least for the guys on our team. That said, Louie Giglio/Passion and others provide that opportunity the focus here is different and needed.

4) The fellowship was great; I got a hug from some of my heroes. (Dever, Piper, Mahaney etc.) I had dinner with Mark Driscoll and Kathy and I had breakfast with Matt and Lauren Chandler. All of those times were precious and greatly encouraging. It’s wonderful to feel like you are on a team, in a family, working a different field with the same seed for the same ultimate, glorifying of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. The personal highlight for me was when, in the brief council meeting, Tim Keller reminded us all that the recent highly publicized book which contains significant doctrinal deviation, was wonderfully responded to by several on our site and as a result, we had a unified way of dealing with such a challenge to the gospel. Five years ago that would not have been possible. PRAISE GOD!

The challenge to think biblically and to rally around the priority of a pure gospel had a huge impact on those who attended including myself and our team. If you missed the event, you can still review a lot of the content at their Web site. I was greatly challenged to further growth in loving the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and MIND and strength. Many thanks to Carson, Keller, and Peays for their vision and leadership.

These are great days to love the Savior and proclaim the gospel.



Read comments:

  • RonnieApr.18.2011

    Hey Pastor James,

    In regards to moralizing OT stories, I believe that they (don’t remember exactly who talked about it) said it is okay to use the stories for moralizing but that ultimately each time you preach on that story the main focus should be pointing to Christ.

  • Michael KingApr.18.2011

    Pastor James: Your message inspired me so much. I have consulted Psalm 25 almost every day. It is such a reminder of His great mercy and love. Thanks so much for bringing this important message to my attention. God bless you!

  • frank whiteJun.11.2011

    tim keller…we are about to start one of his studies but there seems to be a big uproar over his beleifs…anything to be worried about?


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