Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, Kentucky. In attendance were nearly 8,000 people, many of whom were pastors or aspiring pastors. I’m confident that the vast majority would identify themselves as part of the New Calvinism (or “Young, Restless, and Reformed”). They would probably want to use the adjective ‘Reformed’ to describe themselves. Ecclesiastically, the attendees were from all over the map. The vast majority, however, were Southern Baptists (some 3,000 apparently). There were also Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and a host of people belonging to churches with no wider affiliation. All these folks gathered together for a two-and-a-half day marathon of solid biblical teaching. This was the first time that I’d attended T4G (it’s held biennially). Let me share my general impressions.
The definite highlight of this conference was the teaching. The speakers were uniformly excellent: Albert Mohler, Thabiti Anyabwile, David Platt, John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and Kevin DeYoung. They each spoke for about an hour. The theme of the conference was “Unashamed” and it had to do with the church’s evangelistic task. If I would recommend just one of the speeches, it would be Kevin DeYoung’s. You can find it here. He spoke on the relationship between biblical inerrancy and evangelism. It was a powerful defense of a high view of the Bible.
There was also an opportunity to attend a break-out session. I attended the one led by Albert Mohler and Ligon Duncan, again on the topic of biblical inerrancy and evangelism. Mohler and Duncan drove the point home further: if you give up on the inerrancy of Scripture, you eventually give up any reason to evangelize. The doctrine of inerrancy is not theoretical — it bears on what will be preached and how.
Six panel sessions were held. For me, the most interesting was the discussion with Sam Allberry, author of the book Is God Anti-gay? A close second was the panel featuring John Piper on the holiness and sanctification. I will never forget Piper’s words: “If you want to live in sin, you’re going to hell.”
Another great feature of this conference is the free books. All the attendees received 14 free books.
This alone made it worthwhile! Lots of good titles here, none of which I’ve read before. Watch this blog for some reviews in the months to come.
Then there was the fellowship. I had the opportunity to meet with some friends from Facebook, but also make some new friends. In fact, when I first sat down at the conference, I happened to sit beside a PCA missiologist. I actually reviewed one of his books some years ago. We had lots to talk about! Throughout the time in Louisville and on my way back home, I had lots of great conversations with people from all over the place with all kinds of different backgrounds.
All in all, I had a positive experience at T4G. It was a blessing to attend — I found a lot of edification and encouragement and I would definitely consider attending again.
That said, I do have a couple of reservations or concerns. There was singing, lots of singing. There is no getting away from the fact that it is spine-tingling to hear thousands of men singing “In Christ Alone” and other solid songs. Bob Kauflin (of Sovereign Grace Music) led the singing and he did so merely with a piano. There were no drums or guitars. The music was tastefully done and almost all the songs had solid theological content and depth. I was impressed in that regard.
They saved John Piper’s talk for the end of the conference. Piper had a lot of good to say. He reminded us of the connection between predestination and human instrumentality in evangelism and mission. However, some of his Baptist colours were showing in his treatment of Romans 9 and the relationship between covenant promises and election. Towards the end, he spoke of his father and his work as an itinerant revivalistic evangelist. He described how his father would do the altar call at his revival meetings. Piper began singing, “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.” He maintained that this is a good hymn that reminds of how we should plead for people to come to Christ. Debatable? Sure. Then after he finished, Bob Kauflin started playing this hymn and the conference sang it. After one or two more songs, Mohler came on stage. He thanked some of the key people who organized this year’s T4G. Then he encouraged everybody to turn to their neighbour and pray for them. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. But while that was going on, Kauflin was playing the mood music, tears began flowing, and some people were wailing loudly. Mohler encouraged us to share the gospel with the unbelievers who might be present. It momentarily had the feel of a revival-type meeting, if not a Pentecostal worship service.
So much good was said during this conference. There was so much faithful, biblical teaching. I don’t want to take away from that. But what I realized is that John Piper was correct when, a few weeks ago, he spoke at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and said that the New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics. It seems to me that the charismatics may even be dominant. Maybe not in terms of spiritual gifts and continuationism, but definitely in the style of worship. Moreover, and this Piper didn’t say, American revivalism is still in play or at least its effects are still in evidence. How odd that a pastors’ conference would feature a quasi-altar call! Have we really moved beyond Gilbert Tennent’s “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry”? That’s not to say that there aren’t unregenerate pastors. I’m sure there are. But if there would be any place where you would not expect to see them present it surely must be at a conference called “Together for the Gospel.”
In short, this was definitely a conference oriented to the so-called “New Calvinism.” There’s much to appreciate about these folks. They have a great love for the gospel, even if that gospel is sometimes truncated with a defective view of the covenant on some key points. They have a high view of God’s Word. They desire that God be glorified. They have a great burden for the lost. They do also emphasize the importance of the local church and its ministry. I stand with them on those points. For the rest, I hope and pray that “always reforming” is a reality that we see more and more, not only with them, but also with us.