This week I spent three days in the windy city, and it was indeed windy. It was also, for those three days, a city full of the hot air of numerous pastors and wannabe pastors gathered together for The Gospel Coalition’s annual conference. The selection of guest speakers came from a wide range of backgrounds and theological convictions, their various preaching styles reflected these differences.
Philip Graham Ryken, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, read from a manuscript while wearing a full suit. Following Ryken came Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, whose style could not be more different. Driscoll took the stage in a black shirt untucked, jeans, and spoke with few notes, roaming the stage, telling jokes, and possessing a level of informality that Ryken intentionally avoided. Among the other speakers there were those who affirmed the cessation of the miraculous spiritual gifts and those who practiced them. There were Presbyterians and Baptists, African Americans and Asians, young and old, pastors and seminary presidents. Yet for all these differences the men who graced the platform and spoke in the various workshops all possessed one commonality: a comittment to the preaching of the Scriptures.
The theme of the conference was “Entrusted with the Gospel: Living the Vision of 2 Timothy.” Repeatedly there was a reminder to engage the culture with the clear gospel of Jesus, and for preachers to do that by “preaching the Word.” John Piper called pastors to “get their nose in the book.” President Bryan Chapell spoke boldly of the sufficiency of Scripture. Adjith Fernando, the Leader of Youth for Christ Sri Lanka, gave us a three point methodological approach to contextualizing ministry without loosing the message. It was a great reminder to us all that relating the gospel to a specific culture does not – despite what some Emergent speakers may claim – mean changing the message. It was also a passionate argument that keeping the ancient message does not mean keeping ancient methods.
The conference as a whole was a unique experience. Young men with mohawks and tattoos rubbed shoulders with fifty year old men in suits, both buying books by seminary presidents and bloggers. In many ways, however, it was a conference similiar to any other orthodox pastors’ gathering. We heard the same words that John MacArthur (a preacher who does not like the culturally engaging model of ministry) has been saying for years. What struck me as distinctly different was the reality that the gospel, the Scriptures, these unchanging truths can be appealing and captivating to young men with alternative methodologies. With the Emergent brand of theology and practice growing in popularity it is deeply encouraging to me to see that Orthodoxy is still popular with pastors, and particularly young pastors. In the end what we should have all taken away from this week was that preaching the scriptures (dare I say it) is still cool!