Let me start by saying that it would have been impossible for one person to attend all of TGC since there were about 80 speakers and countless break out sessions. The Gospel Coalition is a broad Evangelical platform that consists mainly of Reformed (at least Calvinist) speakers, ministries and attendees. Although the conference does not have the best book selection I’ve seen, it does have the most exhibitors. Some of the most prominent exhibits were from Southern, Westminster, ESV, RTS, and many others. Crossway is also featured prominently at the conference. As for those in attendance, this may have been one of the largest conferences I’ve ever attended (over 6k). The issue that stood out to me again was not with the sheer number of attendees but with the diversity of TGC. People, pastors and believers from virtually every expression of Reformed life. The Acts 29 types, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Charismatics, Cecessionists, and the most prominent difference in this conference (in terms of focus) was the varied views of eschatology. The Premills, Amills, and some Postmills; all views were in attendance. Of course, Amills and Premills made up the vast majority of those in attendance, with what seemed to me to be the dominant position, the Amills enjoyed prominence. Unless I am unaware of anything else, by far the most controversial moment of the conference was Piper’s session which dealt with the issue of eschatology head-on, even warmly pointing out his dear Amill friend Sam Storms from the podium. I thought Piper’s message was good and balanced, although inconclusive as far as his argument for Historic Premill went. Still, I was happy to see that a conference of this magnitude focused on the issue and was unashamed and unafraid to let the chips fall where they may. We need more of this!
I did not attend the controversial session featuring a panel of unbelievers who’s focus was on social justice. I found this to be unnecessary and chose to use my time on something more beneficial. From time to time I have chosen to challenge TGC for what seems to me to be clear compromise. I was listening carefully to a couple of sessions, particularly Tim Keller’s talk, but found it to be pretty standard Keller. Although there was nothing to be alarmed about, no “trap doors”, “you don’t go to hell for being gay”, or undermining the age of the earth etc.; it was still nothing to get really excited about if you, like me, live for biblical language. Voddie Baucham preached my favorite message of the night (however, left too early to hear Duncan and Ryken two personal favorites as well).
I had three highlights at TGC. First, my time with Josef Urban of Pure Gospel Truth. Josef is my dear friend and fellow-worker in the gospel who is doing a remarkable work in Mexico. Our late night fellowship discussing doctrine, church matters, ministry, and our futures was sweet. Also, my time at the Westminster booth with Timothy Brindle (whom Josef and I debated (passionately but with agape love) on the mode of baptism), Jared Oliphint, Camdem Baucy from The Reformed Forum, and perhaps most appreciatively was the several hours I got to spend with Dr. Lane Tipton. I was so blessed that Dr. Tipton took so much time answering my question on Vos, Beale, Biblical Theology, and Theonomy (Lane studied directly under Bahnsen, and his arguments are the best and most theologically comprehensive I have ever heard). Also my time at the panel discussion between Jeff Jue, G.K. Beale and Lane Tipton was priceless (front row too). I have to admit, Biblical Theology has had my attention now for the last several years and Beale and Vos (among others e.g. Clowney, Goldsworthy, Greidanus) are a massive part of that.
Observations and Disappointments
Disappointment is a big word, but its only really minimal but still significant enough to have to mention it. A conference on eschatology could have used a serious dialogue on eschatology between the camps. Admittedly, its hard to do this without necessarily getting into debate mode. However, just not enough was done on this. No one seemed to focus on the crux interpretum between the respective camps i.e. Rev. 20. It seems like it was avoided like the plague. So I had hoped more would have been done with this all important text in the manner and spirit that Piper handled Isaiah 65.
Conclusion and Praise Report
All in all, it was a helpful conference. I was pleased by the diversity. I understand some dislike the conference for that very reason; it helped me to remember that kingdom of God does not begin and end with me and my personal theological and ecclesiastical convictions— God’s kingdom is greater than that. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to attend another TGC. Finally, a praise report. I am typing this wrap up on my laptop which I recovered from Orlando airport. After landing in Dallas, I realized it was not in my carry on. Praise God for His marvelous grace that and my wife’s efforts in getting this all important piece of tech back to me.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.