On May 23-24, 2007, The Gospel Coalition held its first national conference, attended by over 500 pastors and other ministry leaders. Here are some highlights from the report by Collin Hansen:
Tethered to the Center: The Gospel Coalition is committed to core evangelical beliefs and wide-ranging cultural engagement.
The Gospel Coalition kicked off in late May with little fanfare, just how organizers wanted it. Any conference headlined by D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper would likely attract more than 500 attenders with a little publicity. But Gospel Coalition leaders chose a word-of-mouth strategy and capped attendance by hosting the two-day conference in the chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). They wanted to test their ideas on a relatively small, friendly group.
Don't let the low-key strategy fool you. This new group, spearheaded by 40 stake-holding theologians and pastors, has big goals. They want nothing less than a renewed evangelical commitment to core confessional beliefs. And they have the strategy to match their ambition.
The Gospel Coalition already boasts one hallmark achievement with its foundational documents, a confessional statement and theological call to ministry. Gospel Coalition's diverse leadership, ranging from Presbyterian pastor Phil Ryken to emerging leader Mark Driscoll, hashed out the documents in meetings over more than two years. Carson wrote the original draft of the confessional statement, while Keller penned the theological call to ministry. The confession, dense and comprehensive, addresses current trends with a positive tone meant to attract rather than condemn. But because the confession betrays a broadly Reformed perspective and expects that men lead churches and homes, it will not appeal to every evangelical. The ministry statement, on the other hand, can help all evangelicals navigate cultural challenges such as politicized faith, consumerism, and theological and moral relativism.
The Gospel Coalition consciously includes an ethnically diverse group of stakeholders. The theological vision for ministry states, "Each church should seek to reflect the diversity of its local geographic community, both in the congregation at large and in its leadership." The coalition also derives strength from its leaders' diverse church backgrounds, from Anglican to Southern Baptist.
The stakeholders acknowledge that precious few churches fully model this vision for ministry. So the Gospel Coalition's first goal might be aligning its own churches with these standards. Imagine an evangelical movement led by churches that grow by multiplying, preach with theological substance and winsome apologetics, encourage holiness among members, engage their communities in areas such as politics and art, and even share economic resources and welcome the poor. Who can argue with these aims? If the Gospel Coalition's churches can pull this off, they will have a much easier time persuading other evangelicals to return to the theological center.