Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Don Carson and Tim Keller came up with the idea for the Gospel Coalition (TGC) several years ago. They kicked it off in 2007 with a conference attended by 500. In 2008, the conference was a by-invitation-only, off-the-record meeting of the nearly 50 men on the coalition's council. In 2009, 3,100 pre-registered and 223 walked in.
They also rolled out the Gospel Coalition Network (TGCN) on The City, a social networking site developed at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The site will allow TGCN to approve and register members who agree with TGC's foundation documents (including their statement of faith and "Theological Vision of Ministry"). They can then organize in geographical groups.
Carson sat down with Susan Wunderink at the conference to talk about the surprises and challenges of the last few years of TGC.
There are a lot more people here than in 2007. What does that say to you?
In some ways we're almost a coalition of coalitions. Tim represents a whole network. John Piper represents a whole network. And because we share a common vision of what the gospel is and common aims and so on, it's not, in some sense, just individual churches. It's all the networks that are linked with that.
It's partly [that] we've worked very hard at distributing materials on the web. Now it's going through another huge technological leap.
I think, humanly speaking, those are the reasons. I don't want to sound too pious. Certainly I eschew every hint of triumphalism. I do think that there is a hunger in the land for a vision of confessional Christianity that is robust, God-centered, tough-minded, able to address today and tomorrow and the next day, and comprehensive.
Where is it going now? Do you just see growth? Or do you see this coalition taking on different forms?
Well, Tim and I were the ones that first organized it, and we both agreed we would keep assessing it every two or three years. If we see it meeting a genuine need, doing good, and being faithful to the gospel, we'll keep it going under our direction for about ten years.
Our aim is not to keep the coalition as an end in itself. It's a coalition of people for the sake of promoting the gospel. And if the gospel is so implanted in enough things that are taking it forward in all kinds of useful and happy ways, then we should morph into something else or stop as an organization.
I'm neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I'm not sure where it will be in 20 years. I have some confidence where it will be, God helping us, in 5 years or maybe even 10 years.
It seems like TGC shares some of the characteristics of a denomination.
It does, but it purposely disallows others.
Sociologically, there is a lot less loyalty to denominations today than 20 years ago. In one sense we're growing because of that. We are meeting a sense of dislocation.
On the other hand, in a denomination there will also be, for example, means of ordering who is ordained and who is not. There are going to be agreed standards on who becomes a member or not. Whereas we're a center-bounded set. We're not a boundary-bounded set.
Tim Keller is a deeply committed PCA man. He's a paedobaptist. My ordination is Baptist. And we're not going to agree on everything. We're happy to talk about anything, but we're not going to make one standard or the other the touchstone for the organization.
Likewise, we're not running a mission organization. We're not collecting funds to oversee a missionary sent to Pago Pago. We're not that sort of an institution.
We're not starting a seminary. We're providing some training materials, but so is any publisher, for that matter.
Tell me about international Gospel Coalition Networks.
One of the things we tried to make clear is that within North America, the regional chapters are in real space-time. They are not just in the digital world. They are people actually coming together for coffee and discussion and maybe regional meetings.
We have those already. For example, a TGC Bay Area that's having its first conference in May. There's a TGC Toronto that's forming. All of these will be accountable to us in some respect or other.
But when it comes to overseas chapters, we won't do that. I'm sure that in due course there will be The Gospel Coalition Network: Czech Republic. But we don't want to go in that direction. First, we don't want to project one more instance of American hegemony. Second, we realize that institutionally we're pretty committed not only to knowing the gospel well, but also to thinking through how to articulate it here in our space and time.
How on earth can we possibly have the pomposity to claim that we know how to do it best in Hong Kong? We recognize that those things are going to have to emerge from those areas.
Do you foresee more women being here, or more discussion on how women minister, at future conventions?
I think that you will find that what is meant by complementarian varies somewhat. We all agree that men and women are not simply interchangeable, that there are some distinctions that the Bible does lay down that we don't want to play exegetical games with. Sometimes it's just nomenclature. But there's another level of distinction as well.
In Anglican circles the diocese that is probably best known for being complementarian is Sydney. You know which diocese in the worldwide communion of Anglicanism has the greatest number of women serving in some kind of function in the local church? You guessed it: Sydney.
I think one of the things we need to learn better is how to incorporate and encourage women in all kinds of roles and functions and ministries that don't transcend what we still think are God-given mandates for structure and accountability. So we're not just saying no. I don't think that's wise or godly or good.
We're still working that stuff out, to be brutally frank. I don't think we've got it quite right.
I think many of us are concerned that we be seen to be not dominators but people who are encouraging everyone, men and women, to serve well, and who are learning the Bible well, learning to be able to handle it and teach others well.
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Susan Wunderink wrote a follow-up on Liveblog about the 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference. Christianity Today profiled the Gospel Coalition in 2007.
Carson wrote "Directions: Are Christians Required to Tithe?" CT reviewed Carson's book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.
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