Femininity, Diversity, and the Next Generation: Remembering TGCW12
Last week I packed up my things to fly to Orlando and sit under the teaching of popular Bible teachers and theologians John Piper, Tim Keller, and Don Carson at The Gospel Coalition women's conference. Having listened to them over the years, I felt like I knew what to expect. But I was curious to see how they would turn their typically powerful expository preaching into talks about women's issues.
And then there were the women speaking. Prior to the event I hadn't heard of many of these women. I read the bios of Paige Benton Brown, Carrie Sandom, Jenny Salt, Kathleen B. Nielson, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (the only familiar face for me) and was quite impressed. These women are authors, ministry leaders, and college and seminary professors. They are strong, they are complementarians, and they are wise. But as I read their profiles I was perplexed and again wondered how they would turn "Here Is Our God" (the theme of the conference) into talks about hospitality, decorating, caring for our children, and submitting to our husbands.
I wasn't alone in my perplexity, and I wasn't alone in my delight as each speaker taught about the transcendent, holy, powerful God. They set out to teach about God's revelation of himself in Scripture, and they delivered. The conference was intentionally unfeminine. We didn't get flowers and chocolates (I sort of resent not having chocolate) at the registration desk, no tout bag full of goodies, no flowers or girlie sayings anywhere. Then again, many men were in the background running the conference---makes sense to me.
Femininity or Lack Thereof
The environment was fitting for the messages. We learned about a God who is terrifying in his majesty yet beckoning us to come; a God who is in us---we are the new temple; a God who is infinitely valuable; a God who delivers us from ourselves but most importantly delivers us from himself---his wrath. Here is Our God---revealed to us in his Word! We experienced him, we learned about him, and we rejoiced in the knowledge of him.
There is a place for the flowers, the chocolates, the wonderfully feminine decorations, and the talks about womanhood. But the overwhelming response from women at this conference was thanksgiving for the difference. We have all benefitted so greatly from learning about womanhood. Now we know why it's important. Womanhood is about God, God is not about womanhood.
In other words, as we know more of God's character, as we understand the gospel more clearly, as we grow in love with Jesus, we will be compelled by love to obey him. Our knowledge of God will affect our application of his Word. John Piper said it this way during his preconference session: "Nobody praises what he doesn't enjoy." There is a "grace of obedience" as Tim Keller shared during his session. Exploring the issues and topics of womanhood isn't merely about the issues; it's about God himself---glorifying him, knowing him, learning about him.
The Last Days
On the last day of the conference Don Carson spoke about heaven. His major point was that heaven centers absolutely on the one triune God. Carson described pictures of heaven, glimpses of who will be there and who will not. He shared that we will be learning for all eternity. He reminded us that we will see the holy face of God and will not die; we won't be consumed. He said the culmination of everything is to see God. Every tribe, nation, and tongue will be represented in heaven, and as he put it, "they won't be all pale faced," pointing to himself.
Simultaneously, volunteers in the back of the room translated the words spoken immediately into Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and French. I saw women from England, Dubai, Australia, the Cayman Islands, Canada, and beyond. When Carson finished we all stood, from various tribes and tongues and nations, with one voice to worship our holy God led by Keith and Kristyn Getty, who are originally from Northern Ireland. Are you seeing the picture?
The conference not only brought together various evangelical churches but also an ethnically and geographically diverse people. God has created people in his very own image---unique and distinct---yet united in Christ. This image of unity and diversity and the imagery we read in Revelation was on display at the conference. I imagine this remarkable diversity blew away the expectations of even the organizers. It was indeed an international event.
The Next Generation
While I benefited greatly from the speakers I couldn't help but notice the next generation of men and women in the background serving. I had a unique opportunity to meet many of the volunteers and TGC employees. While seasoned ministry leaders spoke during plenary sessions and workshops, volunteers were working hard to make sure the event ran smoothly and to provide resources so the event would go beyond the Orlando hotel.
I watched Josh Mathews (TGC director of operations) with his ear piece and walkie-talkie run from location to location directing volunteers with a bright smile on his face. Jennie Allen (author of Anything and all-around great gal) conducted interviews during many of the sessions, often forfeiting the opportunity to sit and learn. Matt Smethurst (TGC assistant editor) organized interviews while pushing his young daughter in her little stroller so his wife might enjoy the messages.
These examples of servanthood by the next generation don't even scratch the surface of what I saw. It was exciting to me because I saw the faces of the young, restless, and reformed, whom Collin Hansen (also there serving) described in his book, in the background serving the attendees and the speakers with joy.
Yet I also caught a glimpse of the next generation in the conference crowd. God is raising up the next generation---they can never replace today's great theologians and ministry leaders but will carry on the legacy that God has begun. Now this generation serves in the background, to serve other generations coming up after them---until Christ returns.
I believe the messages from the men and women at this conference will also serve this generation and beyond as we sit and ponder and share about our God.
Image credit: Lydia Ruth Francis