Sunday, April 30, 2006

Together for the Gospel Highlights

Some personal highlights for me:
  • being on the Band of Bloggers panel with Al Mohler, Russ Moore, and Tim Challies; and having the opportunity to meet a number of fellow bloggers [thanks to all of you who took the time to introduce yourself];
  • having dinner with friends and fellow bloggers Tim Challies, Terry Stauffer, and Paul Martin (the only quirks with Tim is that he liveblogged our supper and kept introducing himself to perfect strangers as "Tim");
  • sitting under the teaching ministry of some of my modern-day heroes in the faith: Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and John MacArthur. In our shallow celebrity-obsessed culture we have too many idols and not enough heroes. These are men of whom the world is not worthy;
  • watching an army of anonymous volunteers selflessly serve us with humility and graciousness;
  • reaping the fruit of the excellence conference planning by Matt Schmucker and Paul Medler--few know the amount of work and planning and foregone sleep it takes to pull off a conference of this size;
  • having lunch with Josh Harris, whose love for the gospel and humble spirit is evident to all;
  • having hot browns with the Sovereign Grace dream team of Mickey Connolly, John Butler, Grant Layman, and Bill Kittrell--who paid for my dinner only on the condition that they would be mentioned on this blog [on a more serious note: it was a wonderful time of fellowship and observing true gospel-centered friendship among these four brothers];
  • singing praise to Christ with 3,000 men under the leadership of Bob Kauflin;
  • meeting Reformed rapper Curtis Allen (aka Voice), whose debut album Progression I've been enjoying and is definitely worth listening to--though he has a long way to go if he wants to compete with the beat of these fellas;
  • touring Al Mohler's study, which really defies categorization and for a bibliophile is a bit like passing through the wardrobe into Narnia;
  • hearing Al Mohler read the T4G Statement--a series of affirmations and denials--the final version of which will be made available later this week [note: the versions already floating around on the blogosphere are not the final version]
While I appreciated each of the speakers' messages for different reasons, I was most convicted and challenged by R.C. Sproul's address on justification. I've been involved in the intra-evangelical debate on imputation for a number of years now, which has been at times personally painful. It is often tempting to walk away from the debate and to move on to other things. But his talk encouraged me afresh that this is a doctrine worth defending and worth cherishing. Justification by grace alone through faith alone based on Christ alone truly is articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (the article by which the church stands or falls). It is humbling to know that each of these speakers has made sacrifices and endured ridicule due to their courageous stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jason Robertson's reflection post is worth quoting at length, as it accurately summarizes my take as well:
I have much to say about the Together for the Gospel Conference, but for now I just want to deal with my opinion of the conference as a whole. Just to give you the context of my own critical viewpoint, I have attended more than a hundred conferences in my twenty years of ministry. I directed a few conferences over the years as well. I know the burden of knowing and communicating a conference vision/theme, of organizing the speakers, and of serving the attendees.

With that said, Together for the Gospel ranks as one of the best conferences I have ever been attended. It literally lived up to its name. What do I mean by that? Well, you know how we usually refer to conferences based on personalities, e.g. Sproul's conference, MacArthur's conference, Piper's conference. But because of the structure of T4G there is no predominate personality to attach to this conference. The speakers were definitely some of the best Christianity has today. Each one "hit the nail on the head" in their sessions. But each only spoke once, and each spoke on the same topic generally -- the Gospel. Thus, the conference lived up to its name.

The Gospel was discussed by various speakers from various angles. The sessions were followed by panel discussions whereby we were able to hear the speakers speak about the substance of their sermons in a casual manner. The structure provided a powerful one-two punch. Our calling to proclaim the Gospel has never been more comprehensively dealt with than at this conference.

Furthermore, as I have said in a previous post the location, structure, and content of the conference created a feeling of a reunion of family. Rather than everyone being concerned about schedules and so forth, there seemed to be a spirit of fellowship. Do you remember being a freshman in college on registration day? You didn’t know anybody, but there was a sense that you had something in common with everyone. You knew this crowd had the same goals, the same challenges, and would be friends for a long time. That’s how T4G felt.

Jason is right. I left the conference not in awe of any speakers, but rather edified by them. I left with a fresh desire to be in the Word, to worship at my local church, and to preach the gospel to myself and others.

Over at the T4G blog, Mark Dever offers some reflections and addresses the "what's next?" question.