This year's Together for the Gospel conference felt markedly more defensive than the inaugural 2006 event. The speakers each zeroed in on the topic of theological error. Mark Dever ranged widely as he argued that evangelicals must not confuse implications of the gospel with its essence, the salvation of souls. Al Mohler capped the second evening with a relentless defense of substitutionary Atonement. The schedule was exhausting, the content hard-hitting.
Ligon Duncan, president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, set the tone with his opening talk on Tuesday night. Speaking on "Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry," Duncan bemoaned our anti-theological age. He quoted from an article, "The Dangers of Theology," that ran in his hometown newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi. In it, Valerie Cohen, rabbi at a local Reform Judaism congregation, wrote,
Theology. What a tricky thing. A devious thing, sometimes. A dangerous thing, often. Perhaps that is why Jews focus so much on deed and not creed, on doing rather than believing.
Duncan observed that Jews have experienced the deadly consequences of bad theology. So as a defense mechanism, some Reform Jews such as Rabbi Cohen have tempered all theology in order to render it benign. This move creates an environment in which anyone who holds strong beliefs about God's character is suspected of nefarious motives. To meet this challenge, we must remember that the word theology demands a modifier. The Germans who supported the Nazis believed in a racist theology. Christians counter with a biblical theology that rejects such theories of racial superiority.
Sometimes, however, pointing out these differences will not persuade. That's when Christians must demonstrate their ...