Last week I attended my first Together for the Gospel event in Louisville. Now I have attended two of the Gospel Coalition gatherings and one Together for the Gospel (T4G) event. These two conferences are hosted in alternate years, by different organizations. But they are both part of the same movement. Together for the Gospel had a more Southern Baptist feel to it, even though not all the speakers were Baptists. Gospel Coalition has a more urbane and missional feel.
But the same general impression strikes me no matter which I attend. These events are part of a movement that is attracting many evangelical millennial pastors. There were 7,500 people gathered for this event filling the Yum Center in Louisville. Gospel Coalition events are also very large. The size of these events make many other evangelical gatherings look small, whether they be denominational events like ECO, para-church events like Q, or emerging church events.
Speakers for T4G included C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Al Mohler, David Platt, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Matt Chandler, and Thabiti Anyabwile. Each day included stirring testimonies of people (former white collar criminals, street kids who went through our prison system, moralists who hid in the church) whose lives have been transformed by Christ and the gospel.
The theme of this year’s conference was “the underestimated gospel.” We were helpfully reminded that the culture and the church underestimate the gospel. We make it too small, or too individual, or too parochial, or too weak, or we marginalize it, apologize for it, or just plain compromise it. But this gospel is none other than the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. It is the treasure that God has entrusted to the church and it must be shared.
T4G represents the rise of a grittier evangelicalism—one that desires to be simple and move back to basics. I go to events like this and look at them, not simply as a participant, or as an exhibitor representing RTS, but with the eyes of a church historian as well. As a historian, it is clear that T4G represents a conservative reaction to the growth of cultural liberalism in the United States and its broadening affect on the evangelical church.
T4G statements speak about their concern for the recovery of the gospel and gospel ministry. It is uncomfortable when other issues become priorities over the gospel. It is wary of pragmatism and the substituting of “technique for truth, therapy for theology, and management for ministry.” These conferences are more theological, not less. T4G’s faith statement includes not just theological affirmations, but also denials that add bite and clarity.
There is an emphasis on returning to the Bible to guide us in ministry. It is not shy in speaking about the inerrancy of the Bible and reaffirms this in a cultural climate where some evangelicals are questioning an historical Adam or the truthfulness of the Bible on sexual ethics. There is a deep interest in the church’s holiness—with explicit concern about racism. There is a focus on the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Substitutionary atonement is emphasized. There is a concern for missions and the Great Commission. God’s love is emphasized but so is the seriousness of our sin, the presence of his wrath and the reality of hell. Want a sample message? Check out David Platt’s message called Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions
The speakers are complementarian and seek to distance themselves from the radical egalitarianism of our day which denies or ignores gender roles and differences. They also emphasize the importance of the public reading of Scripture and expository preaching.
There were breakout sessions on being a Christian leader in a celebrity culture, about the challenges of contextualization, on the truthfulness of the Bible, on how to minister in a culture that is accepting gay marriage, on whether complementarianism is essential or exceptional, and on the place of preaching.
These conferences take a different course than emerging church conferences which focus more on what is NEXT for the church, or become fixated on emerging cultural trends. T4G goes in the opposite direction of those who are worried about being too theological. It loves theology. And there is no talk about preaching being outdated as a mode of communication!
T4G started as a friendship between four men—Duncan, Dever, Mohler and Mahanny. They differ on quite a number of issues that Christians regularly split over (denominational labels, baptism, worship styles, cultural engagement, Bible translations, charismatic issues, end time positions, signing the Manhattan Declaration, etc.). But they came together out of a similar gospel concern and started these gatherings in 2006 to encourage pastors.
Critics of T4G question the accuracy of the name “together for the gospel” and wonder why they choose this particular alignment of issues and why they draw the lines as they have (all the speakers are Calvinists and complementarians).
Certainly, T4G does not represent the whole of evangelicalism. Obviously, there are parts of that movement which are trying to be faithful to Jesus Christ that would not have felt comfortable being there for one reason or another.
But regardless, don’t lose the bigger point, that it is good to see people come together across lines to affirm their confidence in the gospel, build up pastors, and strengthen the church. For all those reasons and more, I was blessed to be a part of this event. Most of all, it reminded me, as I hope it will remind you, to never underestimate the gospel.