Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Gospel Coalition Colloquium. Since this was my first time at any Gospel Coalition event, I was really looking forward to getting to know some of the people there and learning more about how the Coalition functions. Overall I had a great time and I’m very glad that I attended.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, attendees were told that the various sessions were private and that we were not to publicize the proceedings in any way (blog, tweet, etc.). But that’s not entirely correct. Many of the sessions were recorded and will be made available as short videos on the Gospel Coalition website. So it was only the main sessions that were private forums. And they also said it would be fine to post some general reflections on the event as a whole (as opposed to quoting people from particular sessions). So that’s what I’m doing now.
Every event comes with both some upsides and some downsides. But let me start with some of my favorite aspects of the event.
As with any conference, it’s the people that make the whole thing worthwhile. And the Gospel Coalition definitely has some great people. I would go back just to visit with several of them again. Probably the most notable was an evening spent talking with David Powlinson about psychology, counseling, theology, and the gospel. He as incredibly gracious and stayed up far too late helping me and Jeff Louie work through a variety of questions. (Another highlight of the week was connecting with a number of current and former SBTS students that I’ve gotten to know through the blog. That wasn’t technically part of the conference, but it was still a lot of fun!)
2. Panel Discussions
Unlike conferences that focus on keynote presentations and/or papers, the Gospel Coalition devoted the whole colloquium to panel discussions of key issues in church, theology, and culture. Each session, then, saw three or four key evangelical leaders interacting on a variety of important issues. Like any conversation, this meant the discussion occasionally wandered around a bit. But, for the most part, this was a great way of getting different perspectives on each issue. And in several discussions, you really got to see where there was some diversity in the Coalition. It was good to see that this isn’t a group that expects everyone to be on the same page all the time. They were quite open about their differences and handled them very well.
I thought the panel on homosexuality was particularly good. I’m not sure why, but I think I expected a fairly simplistic/naive view of homosexuality (e.g. It’s wrong, so just stop). Instead, we heard a very nuanced take on sexuality (not just homosexuality), some of the various factors that contribute to sexual orientation, and how to respond to homosexuality in a way that conveys love, respect, and a commitment to biblical truth. Well done.
4. The Gospel and Sanctification
Another particularly effective panel discussion focused on the relationship between the gospel and sanctification. And this was one in which some of the differences really came out. The Gospel Coalition is clearly still in progress on how things like duty, commandment, and obedience fit into the gospel of grace. Everyone recognizes the need for both, but there is still some variety in how that works out. And I appreciated getting to see some of that diversity at work. The Council members did an excellent job demonstrating grace in the midst of significant difference.
5. Race Issues
And a third session that I really enjoyed was the one on racial issues. This was simply fascinating, with more discussion from the floor (as opposed to just the panel) than in other sessions. It was good to see the Gospel Coalition engaging in some good discussion on this point.
I hope everyone caught the fact that I led with the upside for a reason. This was a great event filled with amazing people. But, as I said, every event has at least some downside. And this one was no different.
I was disappointed, though not surprised, by the lack of diversity at the meeting. Like many evangelical organizations, ethnic diversity is still a challenge, though the Gospel Coalition has clearly worked harder than some on this front. A much more notable issue was the lack of gender diversity. The council members are all men, which apparently stems from their complementarianism and the fact that the council members are all ordained pastors. So lack of gender diversity on the council is an understandable result of how they’ve chosen to organize themselves. But there were very few women even among the invited guests. Given that the Coalition has worked hard in recent years to encourage women to participate in the movement (they’re expecting 3,500+ at their women’s conference in a few weeks), it was startling to see so few women attending this event.
On a similar note, the council members are well aware that their complementarianism is an issue for many. So they devoted one session was devoted to answering the questions, “Why Is TGC Complementarian? How Does That Relate to the Gospel?” Since this was one of the recorded sessions, you’ll be able to view the discussion soon. And once the video is out, I’ll comment on this more. At this point I’ll just say that although I’m glad that they addressed the question, I can’t say I was entirely satisfied.
This one may say more about me than it does the Gospel Coalition, but I have a really hard time with anything that smacks of celebrityism. And this felt like an event driven by its key personalities. To be fair, this is largely because feedback from earlier events indicated that people wanted to hear more from people like Carson, Keller, Mohler, Piper, etc. So this year, they listened to the feedback and focused many of the panels around these figures. Although the result was interesting, it also made the event feel (to me) like it was driven too much by the movements celebrities. I would have appreciated hearing from a broader range of voices.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, each council member could bring one guest to the colloquium. As I understand it, this is largely intended as a way of mentoring the next generation in gospel-centered theology and ministry. But, if that is the case, the event was only partially successful. Although the individual sessions were very interesting, I would have liked to see a lot more interaction between the council members and the guests between sessions. Since the council members are all long-time friends, I can understand why they’d want to hang out together at a conference. But if part of the purpose is to mentor the guests, a little more intentionality in this area would be wise.
Again, don’t let the downside eclipse the upside. This was three days well spent. Like all movements, the Gospel Coalition is a work in progress. It will be very interesting to see where it goes from here.