More than any other conference I have attended, the CBMW Pre-Conference and the Together for the Gospel Conference served to heighten my awareness of this present historical moment. This is not to say that I typically walk around with a sort of ambivalence to my own surroundings. To the contrary, I am daily reminded of what a strange season I find myself in as an aspiring pastor. I live in the kind of world that venerates men for mutilating their own bodies as they pretend to be women, the kind of world in which grown men demand to be allowed to relieve themselves alongside small girls, the kind of world in which #ShoutYourAbortion is actually a thing, and the kind of world in which Miley Cyrus is dubbed a prophetess-evangelist for the sexual revolution on account of these twenty-one words about sex: “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age.” This present historical moment is unprecedented.
Most often, conferences (in my estimation) are designed to serve as balm for the souls of weary pastors who simply want to forget about the insanity of the world around them, but this was manifestly not the case for CBMW and T4G. This is not to say that CBMW and T4G were not balm for the souls of weary pastors; indeed, these conferences were are great refreshment for those who attended, but they were refreshing precisely because they did not give pastors an oasis to “forget about the insanity of the world around them.” Rather, these conferences addressed the issues of our day with unflinching sobriety and unapologetic confrontation. These conferences were unabashed attempts to tear down strongholds and take every thought captive.
This tone was set in no uncertain manner from the very beginning of the CBMW conference with a brief lecture delivered by MBTS’s very own, Dr. Jason Allen. Dr. Allen’s lecture was entitled, “Complementarity and the Disappearance of Men,” and it served as a stinging and convicting word for the current emasculated evangelical church. In the midst of a culture characterized by male-shaming and rabble-rousing feminaziism, Dr. Allen ascended the podium and, without hesitation, insisted that men were needed—as in, they were indispensable and irreplaceable—in the local church, and that their absence was utterly destructive. I was struck particularly by Dr. Allen’s bold resolve, not simply as a Christian figure in an ideologically hostile culture, but as the President of an academic institution, a position that receives the intrinsic pressure—more than many others—to project a sort of “friendliness” to all. Despite the fact that taking such hard stances on such controversial issues will invariably limit his benefactors to a minority of Americans (i.e., complementarian evangelicals), Dr. Allen showed no embarrassment for his claims.
This culturally counter-intuitive lecture was no exception to the rule; the trend of refusing to shy away from the offense of the gospel continued on with lecture after lecture. Not the least of these offensive lectures was Gavin Peacock’s, which was entitled, “Complementarity and the Beauty of Submission.” In this lecture, Gavin simply reflects on the concept of “submission” and shows how it is a God-honoring, fundamentally Trinitarian, gospel-reflecting concept. In doing so, he shows no discomfort in commanding submission in marriages by the authority of the Word of God, and commending it in marriages as gift to wives (!).
Another lecture that stood out was Dr. Owen Strachan’s, entitled, “The Goodness and Truthfulness of Complementarity.” As the President of the CBMW, Dr. Strachan’s lecture was unsurprisingly pointed and direct; it was a reflection on the morally and emotionally bankrupt state (and future state) of our egalitarian society, which is dominated by this social experiment we call “the sexual revolution.” In contrast to this disappointment, Dr. Strachan held forth the vision of Complementarianism as a wondrous gift from God, going so far as to make a central point of his lecture the affirmation that “our bodies are a gift from God”—an astonishingly controversial idea in light of today’s situation (I like to call it “trans-confusion”). Perhaps the point most surprising to the opponents to complementarianism was how central a big vision of God is for the whole idea. In other words, complementarianism—according to Dr. Strachan—is not primarily about being “anti-egalitarian” or about being “pro-family” or “pro-life” or “pro-traditional marriage.” Rather, complementarianism is first and foremost about reveling in the glory of God, treasuring the goodness of God, embracing the ethic of God, and manifesting the gospel of God in the design of God.
Another beautiful aspect of this CBMW pre-conference was the Women’s conference which was held on the second day. Since I was not allowed to even attend that conference on account of the conviction that 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits women from an activity (teaching men), rather than an office (being a pastor)—a controversial position even among professing complementarians!—I did not have the opportunity to hear any of these lectures. However, I do marvel that an event like this took place at all: women actually came together to proudly and boldly commend complementarity as a means of thriving and flourishing. As feminists around them insist that worth is only found in proving that women can assume the roles of men in the family and in the church with superiority, these women came and shamelessly insisted that worth is found is joyfully accepting biblical femininity—which includes wives humbly submitting to their husbands. As feminists around them equate “submission” with “oppression,” these women came together to equate “submission” with “Christ-likeness.” All of this shows a very simple, yet counter-intuitive and socially disastrous commitment: let God be made true and every man a liar. Let God be honored and let every other chip fall wherever it may. The oddity of a group of people heralding such a controversial commitment was represented well by the barrage of Twitter attacks from the Faithful And Relentless Trolls of social media throughout the conference (or, as they’re commonly called, the FARTs of social media).
At Together for the Gospel, this otherworldly commitment to the counter-cultural virtues of Scripture continued strong. The theme of this year’s conference was “We Are Protestant,” and the main sessions delivered were more than consistent with this sentiment. The talk I was most encouraged by was delivered by Mark Dever, entitled, “Endurance Needed: Strength for a Slow Reformation and the Dangerous Allure of Speed.” In this talk, Dever warned against the culture of speedy results in ministry which dominates the Western Church today. The logic was simple: the demand for more results leads to ministries driven by pragmatism, ministries driven by pragmatism lead to rushed affirmation of salvation, rushed affirmation of salvation leads to unregenerate church membership, unregenerate church membership leads to unregenerate church leaders, and unregenerate church leaders leads to apostate churches. In contrast to this lust for a worldly conception of “results,” Dever commends the joys of ministry marked by slow reformation and healthy spiritual development. I was particularly struck by Dever’s emotion as he reflected on the privilege of pastoral ministry: Dever—a man who is typically not emotionally shaken in public—was brought to tears as he described the joys of ushering old and wearied saints to glory on their hospital beds, simply watching his congregation partake in the Lord’s Supper, and even in hearing younger men in the church preach better sermons than him. Throughout his talk, I found myself praying, “Lord, give me that kind of love for your people.”
Another talk that stirred me deeply was David Platt’s, entitled, “Martyrdom and Mission: Reformers Died In their Day, How We Must Live In Ours.” In his typical fashion, Platt was able to faithfully convict and encourage his listeners as he spoke about the necessity to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also” as we look to the glory of God in the evangelism of the nations. Throughout his talk, I found myself moved with gratitude. I was made grateful for imputed righteousness (which, incidentally, was the point in Platt’s message that elicited the loudest applause of the entire conference). I was made grateful for my Bible, and the blood that was shed by so many martyrs to get it into my hands. I was made grateful for my multitude of brothers and sisters around the world who continue to shed their blood for the truths of God’s Word. And I was made especially grateful for the fact that David Platt is the President of the International Mission Board because of statements like this:
In deluding the doctrines of conversion and the Church, we’re not just belittling the Bride for whom Christ spilled his blood, we’re devaluing his Word in favor of our work! We’re defaming his reputation for our renown. Practices like this prostitute the nations for the sake of our numbers, we must repent!… and missionaries over there are doing what they’ve seen modeled here… people who plant churches around the world are learning from you, pastor, so train them well. Train them to love God’s Word. Train them to love God’s gospel. Train them to love and value and esteem the Church. Train them to love the Lord’s Supper. And just in case that’s not communicating clearly in the positive, let me put it in the negative: stop sending missionaries who have a low view of God’s Word! Stop sending missionaries who have an unclear, uncertain, man-centered understanding of God’s gospel! Stop sending missionaries who don’t know how to define and direct and defend the church with doctrinal precision! Stop sending missionaries who don’t love the Lord’s Supper!… Nominal Christianity is not wat the nations need!
Not much else could improve on such a statement driven by a jealousy for the glory of God and a love for the nations.
The conference was packed full of convicting and encouraging messages like this one, but the most striking aspect of T4G is not the celebrity-status names of those who spoke, nor is it in the messages themselves, it is rather in the men who attended. There is something truly profound about ten thousand pastors gathering together for encouragement and refreshment as they revel together in the great truths of the gospel. I have never experienced anything quite like the rushing wave of sound as thousands of pastors sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” pouring out their affection and devotion to their common Good Shepherd. And what is most encouraging about these many men who are bound by the blood of Jesus is that they are not celebrities, nor do they aspire to such a position. They are common pastors, in common churches, in common towns. They have been humbled by the ministry of the Word—some have been humbled by days of the work, and some of been humbled by decades of the work. Throughout the week, I couldn’t help but imagine the congregations represented at the conference, and I was thankful that these under-shepherds loved their flocks enough to come to Louisville for a few days to fellowship with others and to be reminded of whose flock they belong.