T4G's 5,001 Theology Freaks
Mark Dever asks, is our gospel too big?

I'm sitting at the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, heading back home after spending two days with 5,000 theology freaks, and I mean that in mostly a good way. Together for the Gospel ("T4G" to the initiated) is the second gathering of the friends and fans of Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and their very systematic theology (there are XVIII Articles in their doctrinal statement).

The first T4G event in 2006 drew over 3,000 of the "young, restless, and reformed" (Collin Hansen's nicely turned phrase and title of his new book). The event this year was so large it had to be held in Louisville's International Convention Center.

This year's feeding of the 5,000 was a series of addresses on theology, specifically Calvinist theology–yes, total depravity was the topic of an entire session, as was "The Curse Motif in the Atonement"–but, interestingly, traditional Reformed emphases of infant baptism, the covenant, and presbyterian polity were missing.

Each presentation was followed by an informal conversation between Al and Mark and Ligon and C.J., and all 5,000 of us got to listen in to their insights and inside jokes, their questions and affirmations. It's an engaging mixture, at least for the left-brained, and if the couple dozen people I talked to are representative of the whole, these 5,000 aren't just casual about their theology. They love exploring, dissecting, and applying this stuff!

The conference bookstore takes up almost as many square feet as the meeting space, and it's all books! If you've been to other conferences recently, you'll recognize how bizarre this is - no videos, no music CDs, no resources (unless the ESV Study Bible counts). And many of the books are written by authors who aren't available for autographs - mainly because they've been dead for awhile (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Carl Henry) or quite a while (John Calvin).

The most intriguing session for me was Mark Dever's session on "Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology." Since Leadership and Christianity Today are in the midst of a year-long Christian Vision Project focus on "Is Our Gospel Too Small?" I figured Dever would find some points to differ with (which is a spiritual gift that did NOT cease with the apostles among this crowd). He didn't disappoint.

Mark identified five "cries" of our day that he considers unbiblical efforts to "add to the gospel" and thereby confuse people and diffuse the gospel's power. Let me summarize them.

1. "Make the gospel public." Dever cited N.T. Wright's emphasis on how the gospel is not just a private matter and should affect the laws of the land, and observed "there's none of that in Scripture." While conceding that there may be implications of the gospel that should affect legislation, Dever insisted, "We must distinguish the gospel itself from the implications of that gospel. Otherwise the message of God's fully sufficient work in Christ will be mixed and confused with human works?. Never substitute good works for the good news of the gospel."

April 16, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 43 comments

skeptical

May 06, 2008  9:56am

So if I disagree with these guys, it must be because I wasn't listening carefully?

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Greg Bailey

April 29, 2008  6:27pm

For all of you all that think Mark Dever was closing the gospel to some (or many) or those of you all that don't like this brand of Christianity, listen to the speeches/sermons on T4G.org and the panel discussions are available by link at soveriegn grace minstries website. Carefully listen to Dever explain the difference between the Gospel and its outworkings. If you want to see the differences, just see what has happened to many denoms that got into the social gospel and now Christ's is no longer intelligible in their life or teaching. The short notes taken by this blogger (I am sure by his own admission) did not do justice to even just that one talk. Thabiti was actually on Dever's staff for years. No intentional racism here, asking him there was a first step to alleviating that problem. As for ladies, it is a conference for pastors of groups who do not believe in women being elder/pastors via the Pastoral Epistles. However in 2010 I will attend most likely with my Reformed wife. In Christ Alone, Greg

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dustin

April 28, 2008  3:01pm

I am encouraged by this blog! I would only seek to encourage all of the bloggers to never let this topic detour you from our biblical mandate to share the Gospel however Small or Large you think it needs to be. I would consider myself (In a loose sense of the word, because I hate the term "reformed") reformed in my theology I would never however call myself a calvinist there are too many negative connotations with the term plus If I felt that these doctrines where unique to Calvin I wouldn't give them a second thought but I find a biblical presidence for the sovereignty of God. I do have issues justifying God's sovereignty and man's responsibility but I also find in The Word a Biblical mandate for both. I was at the T4G conference this year and I felt that there were times in the conference where there was genuine worship and other times when it was superficial but I have never been to a perfect service or conference. The men who spoke never did so in a proud or boastful way and I appreciated the humility with which they preached. Did I agree with everything at the conference? Absolutely not, but what it did was challenge me to dive farther into study to seek out the truth. I would challenge others to do the same but never getting so caught up in scholasticism that we forget our purpose (Matthew 28:19-20) With prayer and attempted humility, Dustin

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Chris H.

April 27, 2008  5:41pm

It would seem to me that Marshall Shelly gave an accurate desciption of what happened at the conference. Thank you for that. What I hear from many of the bloggers is anger, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations of what was said at T4G. I am by no means a pacifist. I love to debate, but it would seem that name calling and sarcasm doesn't help the situation, but only weakens arguments. Just thought I would encourage and edify you a little.

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David Ketter

April 26, 2008  10:15am

I am not going to involve myself in the discussion here, but I would simply encourage all the participants to pursue grace in their communication. Yes, the Gospel is fundamental and we should never lose our commitment to that, or compromise it. Yet, we should HUMBLY be committed to that and speak graciously and lovingly - even in correction and disagreement. Ecumenicists argue that those in disagreement are breaking Christ's command to love one another. I encourage you, friends, to disagree in graciousness and love, looking to edify your brother rather than being right in your own mind. In the Shadow of the Cross, David Ketter

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Keith Walters

April 25, 2008  11:08pm

Oh where to begin. I think Shelley's post is fairly accurate, yet his bias is quite clear and I agree with the previous commenter that those criticizing the messages should listen to them first. I went to the conference and I loved it. Someone asked why there were not more women there? Because this was a conference for pastors and the sessions were directed to pastors. Others have lambasted Mark Dever for saying that the gospel does not have public implications. He actually does not say that. He does say that we must not confuse the Gospel with its public implications. The two are related and yet not synonymous. Indeed God's purpose is not to do the greatest good for the greatest number. God's purpose is His glory displayed both through His gracious salvation and just reprobation. This is clear within the text of Scripture. Does this mean that we do not proclaim the gospel with boldness and passion, certainly not! Rather this provides fervor and hope for gospel proclamation that God will, through the faithful preaching of the gospel, call individuals to Himself. Jarrod, One of the speakers actually talked about why justification is the central theme of the Gospel; a point made my numerous works on theology as well. Furthermore, the entire premise of the conference is that while they have different views on ecclesiology, eschatology, and a number of other things they can still be together for the gospel; that is why they did not discuss those other issues.

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chaplain

April 25, 2008  10:39pm

Sorry, gang, you lost me with the participation of Al Mohler. Don't know the rest, but this man will have to answer for the destruction and character assassination he has participated in as a primary functionary and party to the Fundamentalist Jihad of the Southern Baptist Convention. I suspect, however, that this conference, like all strivings of the current SBC, are so much chasing after the wind and are a part of an ever-diminishing and ever posturing of an inconsequential religious shell. The world doesn't care – and their "gospel" is hollow. I don't understand why Christianity Today/Leadership Journal gives this man and his cronies a voice.

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Jen

April 25, 2008  5:44pm

To reply to those commenting on the few number of women attending: this is the first year the conference was even open to women to attend, which they did because they had such a demand for attendance from women (just like the annual Shepherd's Conference, women couldn't attend the 2006 conference). However, the conference is still aimed primarily at pastors – and women aren't to be pastors. Hence, the vast majority in attendance were men. Next month's conference, New Attitude, which has a similarly doctrinally heavy approach (but aimed at young people) is very well attended by both men and women (and the speakers are mostly the same – Mahaney, Piper, Dever, and Mohler will be speaking, as will Joshua Harris and Eric Simmons), so the criticism of a conference *aimed at pastors* for having few women in attendance is the result of a failure to grasp the primary audience of T4G. I would also point out that three out of the four T4Gers are, in fact, Baptists, so why on earth would the conference go into *Presbyterian* polity (only Ligon Duncan is PCA)? And why would they do so in a conference dedicated to the Gospel? Such things are *secondary* issues – the conference heads are interested in *primary* issues.

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Keri

April 24, 2008  11:57pm

Those who criticize T4G and Dr. Dever's talk based on Mr. Shelley's article need to listen to the preaching. Your life will be changed. Mark's point is simply don't water down or add to the Gospel because it is the power of God to save. It isn't loving to tell people anything less than Jesus' death on the cross is the only way to have a relationship with God. The four friends at T4G differ theologically on many issues, however they are united in wanting to see God greatly glorified by keeping the Gospel central. (And you all should know that these men are consumate evangelizers who take every opportunity to share the Gospel clearly, boldly and joyfully with others. They love people well!) I praise God for them and their excellent teaching.

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Jarrod

April 22, 2008  1:59pm

Your comment about presbyterian polity is interesting. This group focuses only on soteriology, specifically justification. They don't really talk sanctification. They don't talk ecclesiology–does "church" mean anything other than "my local congregation"? They don't get into that. Theirs is a very narrow agenda. They say they're "together for THE GOSPEL," but to them, GOSPEL equals "theology of justification." Or am I missing something ...

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