Gospel Coalition 2011

Shedding Some Light on Conservative Evangelicalism

I grew up in Winston Salem, NC, a city of roughly 230,000. Not large, but by North Carolina standards, in the top five. Over the years, I’ve bumped into people from rural towns who have noted, sometimes with genuine deference, “Oh, you’re from the big city.” This makes me chuckle considering Winston would probably fit inside of Donald Trump’s living room. Our worldview is potently molded to our experiences such that it affects our perception of objective data and propositional truth.

If your experience of the Christian faith has been primarily independent, fundamentalist, traditional and conservative, operating in small to medium-sized churches, then your perception of evangelicalism may be similar to a small town resident visiting a large city. Bigger doesn’t mean better, but it is certainly different with diverse and multiple choices. This is not to denigrate traditional conservatives (whom I have affectionately nicknamed Tracons) or small towns. It is to illustrate perceptual distinctions. Why write about this? Let me explain.

Our church staff and elders attended the Gospel Coalition 2011 conference in Chicago this past week. What we experienced was simple, but profound, gracious, yet powerful. The subject matter, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, was well crafted and delivered from many regions of the older testament by gifted pastors and leaders. Some of you may have read the updates. While writing the updates and ruminating on the spectrum of participants and contributors at SharperIron, I considered the many articles and comments deliberating the topics of conservative evangelicals, culture, cooperation, fences, separation, etc. It occurred to me that “small town/large city” perceptions exist that skew an appreciation of the believers some have termed “fundagelicals.”

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Final Reflections from The Gospel Coalition Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at The Gospel Coalition Conference. The event was organized well and the layout of the convention center was easy to follow. I wish I had had more time to take in some of the extra panel discussions sprinkled throughout and the post-conference event. Apparently an extra session was called Thursday morning, where D.A. Carson addressed the Rob Bell issue, speaking on what universalism is and why it isn’t a confessionally Christian position. [Download the audio here.]

Seeing 5-6,000 people in attendance at this kind of an event was special for me. I’ve spent time in an ultra-conservative fundamentalist group, and for many years I learned to look with deep suspicion on anyone who didn’t agree with me on almost every point of doctrine and practice. To see the unity in Christ, the desire for good preaching, the passion for the Gospel in such a diverse and mixed group of people was thrilling. God uses all kinds of people, and united around the Gospel message we have room for varying points of view on secondary doctrines and matters of practice. I was thrilled at the idea of The Together for the Gospel conference back when it first launched.  So it was a joy to finally experience on a large scale a similar event that focuses on people coming together for the Gospel.

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Reflections on The Gospel Coalition, Day Three

This is a brief overview of the final two sessions on day 3 of The Gospel Coalition Conference.

Session 8: Mike Bullmore – God’s Great Heart of Love Toward His Own (Zephaniah)
–Download audio–

Bullmore explained that Zephaniah, like many books in the OT and the OT as a whole, actually contains the gospel. “The Old Testament is pregnant with the message of the Gospel,” he said. “As salvation history progresses it is increasingly easy to detect the specific shapes and contours of the Gospel… The Gospel is here [in the OT] in utero.” Zephaniah begins with the sober condition of man, it appears that there is no hope because the righteous judgment of God is just and deserved. But then in chapter 2:1-3, there appears a glimmer of hope. God will remember mercy in the midst of his judgment. By the end of the book, particularly in verses 14-17, that glimmer bursts forth into a great and glorious rejoicing at the consummation of God’s salvation of his people. God does not look upon us, his people (including Gentiles too, per Gal. 3:29, he pointed out), with some disappointment, as if that’s the best God could do with us. No, He rejoices in love over us with singing. We will be and are joyful over our salvation, but God’s joy is even greater than our joy.

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Day Three Update

Bob Hayton did an excellent job describing Wednesday's night sessions, so i'll leave them alone, other than to say they were indeed powerful. Let's just say there was no time for daydreaming.

Thursday morning's sessions were quality.

Mike Bullmore, pastor of Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin preached the book of Zephaniah.
He entitled it God's Great Heart of Love Toward His Own.
I hesitate at being critical, but his presentation was the least engaging of any of the conference speakers. However, his message was very solid. He highlighted something that i had never given much thought. When God gathers his people together in the last day, he is going to sing over us loudly.  Mr. Bullmore talked of the Lord's passion at what he will have accomplished and how powerful it will be that the Lord will rejoice in his bride. It will not be, "Father, I did the best i could with the cards you dealt me." It will be loud rejoicing among the Godhead over the righteous bride in all of her glory. It was encouraging.

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More Reflections from The Gospel Coalition, Day Two

Here is a brief overview of each of the plenary sessions from day 2 of the 2011 Gospel Coalition conference.

Session 5: James MacDonald – Not According to Our Sins (Psalm 25)
–Download audio–

I had never heard James MacDonald preach, except for maybe a clip here or there from the radio or something. He was an engaging speaker and very passionate. He said before you can preach Christ from the OT, you have to know how to preach. There’s a need for people today to preach, “Thus says the Lord.” Then you need to preach Christ from the Word and He is in the Word both in the Old and New Testaments. He then preached through Psalm 25 detailing his own personal experience of being crushed by life’s problems lately and really having to trust in God like the Psalmist did. He used visual elements in the preaching, but it was definitely a word-based proclamation. The visual elements helped, but it’s hard to describe if you can’t see the video. At the end he explained how Jesus is in this Psalm. He embodies our trust, He exemplifies our trust, and He enables our trust.

–Download audio–

I am not sure if the workshops will be recorded or not. But I’m glad I attended the ones I did.

Workshop 1: Colin Smith – Preaching a Christ to Whom We Can Come

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Day Two

The conference cranked back into session this morning with more folk (6-7k my rough estimate) and a plethora of more free literature from the numerous exhibitors at the conference. (Yesterday i thought it was limited, but they have been releasing in waves apparently.)  While attenders have to wade through some "Christianized Commercialism", there are benefits.  My backpack is literally full of free books, videos and journals, not including the bag full I received yesterday. Our staff is literally considering shipping the books home because we only packed small carry-ons.  Very nice perk of this event.

Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest BIble Chapel spoke from Psalm 25 this morning and entitled the sermon When You Don't Know What to Do.  As has been the pattern, his focus was on the text, strong exposition and clear application.

The afternoon was filled with 13 workshop options during each of three sessions.  This allowed for folk with multiple staff to spread out and hear a number of different speakers and a lot of different content. The workshops can be found here: Gospel Coalition 2011 Workshops.

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More Reflections from The Gospel Coalition Conference, Day One

I’ve been real busy at the conference, and enjoying every minute of it.  I wanted to share some reflections from day one, and plan on posting more thoughts later.

The music was led by Keith and Kristyn Getty.  It was more upbeat and lively than I expected, which was actually nice.  The Irish flair was there with even a bagpipe solo.  They are introducing a fairly new song of theirs, “By Faith” and also did an even newer one.  Prior to session 2, the music at one point dropped out and the congregation was heard more clearly singing “O Church Arise”.  The 5,000 or so voices singing that song together was powerful.  Praise to Jesus for bringing together his people in places like this conference center (the massive McCormick Place in Chicago) and all around the world…

Session 1: Al Mohler - Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus (John 5)

—Download audio—

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Gospel Coalition - Day One

Day one of the Gospel Coalition for 2011 has been very long, but profitable. As I've been up for 17 hours with a two hour drive and two hour flight in the mix, I will have to be brief. I had the privilege of being at the 2009 event and this by far is bigger with a much better venue - McCormick Place in Chicagoland.  As is the tradition at TGC, an attendee receives free bibles and books. There were fewer goodies this year, but the participants have also increased. No one has stated a number, but i would wager greater than 6,000 folk are in attendance.  There's a solid representation from multiple demographics though the heaviest concentration appears to be 25-40 year olds.  

The conference is entitled They Testify About Me: Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament. We had four sessions today with an optional concert at 9 pm.  Perhaps in the near future, i'll fill in some of the content specifics, but here is a summary.

Session 1 - Al Mohler introduced the subject matter by speaking from John 5:31-47: Preaching the Scriptures & Finding Jesus
Session 2 - Tim Keller preached from Exodus 14 and the redemptive story found in the crossing of the Red Sea: Getting Out
Session 3 - Alistair Begg preached the book of Ruth again showing the gospel message represented by the story: From a Foreigner to King Jesus
Session 4 - Panel Discussion - John Piper, Tim Keller, Bryan Chappell, D.A. Carson and Crawford Loritts: Preaching from the Old Testament

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