In the first week of April, I had the great privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition (TGC) National Conference here in Indianapolis. It was a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a pivotal moment in church history. Plenary speakers were men like Tim Keller, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, and Thabiti Anyabwile. The conference was so rich with content it would be impossible to capture every detail, but there are at least two big themes that impacted me.
I Still Desperately Need the Gospel
I was greatly encouraged by the stories of the early Reformers and how they viewed the gospel. These were men and women believed that doctrines and practices of the medieval Catholic Church were such distortions of the true gospel that they put their very lives on the line. Through the powerful preaching of God’s word, they called the Church back to its gospel-soaked roots.
Their stories made me question what things in my life might be idols that distort the gospel. Are there things I do or believe that pull me away from the truth of God’s Word and lead me to try and earn God’s love and favor? Am I seeking approval in relationships, or in my work, or in how people perceive my ability?
Tim Keller’s message on Galatians 6 drove this point home when he described all humans as seeking the “well done” of God. We long to hear God approve us, but we often try to manipulate others and get this approval elsewhere. Boasting “only in the cross” (Gal. 6:14) involves looking only to Jesus, where His merits win us God’s approval.
As a husband and father, I was challenged to dive deeply into this because I need to lead my wife and kids from a place of confidence that only comes from Christ. When I try to lead them out of my wounds and feelings of insignificance, I only end up spreading the hurt. I can freely love when I remember how much I am loved.
The Reformers relied on God-given grace, their need for Christ and application of the God’s. The need for those things in my life remains, even 500 years after they were affirmed by the Reformers.
Racial Reconciliation is a Gospel Issue
Over the past few years, I have been thinking and praying about how I should think about racial reconciliation in light of the gospel, especially as racial tension has been at the forefront of our national discourse. As I’ve engaged in some humbling conversations with people within the Church who are of other racial backgrounds, I have grown hungry for resources that can help me think rightly and love well. I encountered a wealth of resources at the TGC conference.
I attended workshops where I heard insightful teaching around the issues of race and public education, the history of race and the American church, and the role of art in the church, all sessions taught by African-Americans. On the main stage, there was a fantastic panel discussion about race relations and a brilliant sermon on Galatians 5 from Thabiti Anyabwile. I was both encouraged and challenged as I considered what assumptions I bring to ministry, society, and interpersonal relationships.
Ultimately, God showed me I need to first be a listener. I need to ask questions, hear stories, and value everyone as God’s child. If the gospel is true, then it changes all of our ideas about race. The gospel creates a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” all called to, “ proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
I think that God has great purposes in racial reconciliation in the evangelical church and that there is a real chance for change to take place. However, it will take hard work and humility. As we cling to the vision the reformers set 500 years ago, we should live out a gospel that is equally available to all.
All in all, I highly commend the conference audio content to you. It is available for free online.
The workshops I referenced above are also available online:
- A Reformation in Education, Jemar Tisby
- The Most Segregated Hour, Eric Washington
- Art, Jackie Hill Perry