Why do we see pictures of both men and women in promotions of The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 national conference? As one of the women pictured, I have pondered this public embrace of sisters by what seemed to many like a huge, tight band of brothers—brothers treasured, I might add, by us sisters who affirm wholeheartedly TGC’s confessional statement and vision for ministry. Nevertheless, the brotherhood was tight; these new faces do mark an expansion. As I’ve observed it happening, through the initiation of TGC’s leaders, this expansion demonstrates a natural progression as TGC lives out its confession and vision. The lack of fanfare makes sense: the pressing issues for all of us are, first and foremost, the gospel and the church.
It’s not that one’s gender is unimportant compared to the gospel—as some voices claim these days. Rather, it’s that the biblical gospel shines in the way we’re made as male and female, particularly in the contexts of marriage and the church, where all we do aims to exalt Christ our bridegroom and our head. With those most basic contexts biblically clear and celebrated, men and women ought to enjoy the greatest freedom of cooperation for gospel ends. It’s when those contexts are not clear and not celebrated that men and women feel the need to prove something in regard to gender. Such lack of clarity and/or lack of celebration can happen in various settings. In The Gospel Coalition, I don’t believe anybody’s trying to prove anything by including women. What I’ve seen is an excitement about strengthening and expanding TGC’s gospel ministry, on the foundation of the biblical truth affirmed in its founding documents.
The process of strengthening and expanding gospel ministry happens not in a strictly theological zone, free from the mess of normal human relations; it happens in the church, the body of Christ in the world. Clearly, those involved in TGC love and serve the church—and know the church, intimately, as a motley conglomeration of poor, forked creatures God sovereignly and mercifully chooses to redeem, bless, and use. The church includes all sorts of males and females, young and old and married and unmarried and employed and unemployed and on and on. Wise pastors know that in order to minister to and through such diverse crowds, a whole lot of biblical teaching and nurturing needs to happen—in order to raise up leaders within congregations who can pass on the teaching and nurturing, whether heads of families or Sunday school teachers or women’s Bible study leaders.
The Gospel Coalition has encouraged many men to teach and nurture those in their charge according to the Word of God. That encouragement has in fact spread to women in various contexts. It has spread in my direction, as I’ve heard speakers, learned from online resources, and rejoiced to see the unified biblical commitment of so many church leaders. Now, however, the encouragement might come to women more directly, as they perhaps feel more comfortable attending conferences and benefitting from the coalition of strong pastors that marks TGC. It is indeed a good band of brothers bidding welcome. All will benefit, Lord willing, both from the work of the women leading seminars and also from the active modeling of women using their gifts of teaching and ministry within the church. All will be encouraged, Lord willing, by vibrant conversations about the gospel among men and women of the church. May the church be stronger as a result.
Without such growth, the church will be less strong, less ready to speak into the world around us. Many women and men have been drawn into communities where gender is an overriding issue, where many feel the need to prove much, and where the biblical gospel becomes diluted, subject to human ideas rather than unleashed by God’s Word. People so drawn have been listening to the loud voices of the world—or the deep voices within themselves. The church can help here if we will speak the Word of God clearly and joyfully, in a whole chorus of voices.
I believe the church needs a growing host of men and women trained in studying the Scriptures and full of the love of Christ compelling them to pass on what they know. Groups like The Gospel Coalition are encouraging such growth, and I’m ever so glad to be a part of it.
Read Don Carson's introduction for Kathleen and TGC's women's initiative.