I really enjoyed my recent trip to Chicago to attend The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (hereafter, TGC), so far as I can tell, is an attempt to rally the troops in the movement called the New Calvinism or the Young, Restless, and Reformed and to offer guidance, to encourage and to warn. This movement, which arises out of American evangelicalism, prizes biblical, Christ-centered preaching that is simultaneously culturally relevant. It offers an alternative to young, predominantly white church leaders who may find themselves attracted to the emergent church movement --- another young, predominantly white initiative, but one intent on "doing church" in explicitly PoMo fashion. The obvious conservatism of TGC is neither stodgy nor traditional. The music at the conference was lively and contemporary, and the speakers, often wearing blue jeans, laced their presentations with appropriate humor. The underlying commitment to Reformed soteriology for these individuals does not preclude, for example, a preference for contemporary worship or a neo-Pentecostal embrace of the so-called charismatic gifts
What most impresses me about the TGC conference are its founders, Don Carson and Tim Keller. The other speakers at the plenary sessions were mediocre, especially in comparison to Carson and Keller. I found James McDonald to be genuine, but his props were entirely unnecessary -- it wasn't a gathering of children. Both McDonald and Alistair Begg, who preached on Ruth, were handed wonderful opportunities to preach Christ from their Old Testament texts, but in both instances the references to Christ seemed somewhat detached from their expositions, as an afterthought of sorts. Matt Chandler and Albert Mohler were sound, humorous, and entertaining, but not particularly profound or insightful. Mark Driscoll's workshop had the semblance of an angry rant, and this was particularly disappointing to me since I found Driscoll to be quite insightful at the last conference.
Part of this mild letdown can be explained by my upbringing. I've been extraordinarily blessed to be nurtured in my youth by faithful, redemptive-historical, Christocentric preaching. The important figures in my own church history, Klaas Schilder and Benne Holwerda, were pioneers in developing a homiletic for narrative texts that was explicitly Christocentric and non-moralistic. By the age of twenty, long before I went to seminary, I had read Sidney's Greidanus's Sola Scriptura. So what the New Calvinism is cutting its teeth on has been my staple for decades.
And yet the conference was an immense blessing for me, and for several reasons: (a) the rousing music and faithful songs of the Gettys; (b) Tim Keller's brilliant lectures, (c) David Powlison's talk about the pastor's counselling ministry, (d) conversing with David later about the use of Scripture in counselling, (e) Don Carson's exciting talk about Melchizedek, (f) chilling with family and friends.
Next time, I'll return to Tim Keller. He is the reason I attended TGC conference, and he is the reason I will return.