As you well know, I spent much of last week in Louisville, Kentucky as I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference. While I posted many articles dealing with the content of the conference, I have written little in the way of reflection and description. And so I thought I would remedy that this morning, now that I have had a couple of days to gather my thoughts.
I set out with Paul, with whom I travelled last week, bright and early on Wednesday morning—early enough to drive to Buffalo in plenty of time to clear customs and security for a 10 AM flight. Our travel was quite uneventful but for one small hiccup. We had a layover in Pittsburgh (yes, we flew from Buffalo to Pittsburgh—from one of America’s armpits to the other!) and were set to catch a flight to Louisville at 11:40 AM. That schedule would have brought us into Louisville at approximately 1:30. This was important since I was scheduled to appear as part of a panel at the Band of Bloggers event at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at 3:00 PM. A 1:30 arrival would have given us plenty of time to find the seminary, find the correct room in the seminary, and prepare for the panel discussion. But air travel does not always work out this way. There were two flights leaving from our gate, one at 11:35 and one at 11:40. The 11:35 flight was boarded right on time. It did not take us long to notice, though, that just as that flight had been sent off, all of the gate agents had disappeared. By noon we were scratching our heads, wondering why there was not an airline employee to be seen. A pastor we met at the airport, who was also travelling to the conference, finally tracked down an employee of U.S. Airways who reported that the gate agents were involved in a job action and that they had walked off the job. He did not know when they would be able to find replacement personnel. Thankfully the airline drafted a janitor and various members of the office staff to take their place and we were underway only one hour late. We were grateful that this job action did not effect the pilots or flight crew!
We were met at Louisville airport by one of the wonderful conference volunteers who attends Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He managed to get us to the seminary with fifteen minutes to spare. I quickly met Timmy Brister, the organizer of the Band of Bloggers event. I also quickly caught up with Marc Heinrich and Justin Taylor and met, among others, Carolyn McCulley and Bob Kauflin. The four of us who were privileged to be panel members were quickly sent to the stage and we began our discussion. I thought the event went quite well. We discussed a variety of topics, only a couple of which were my “soapbox” issues that I had hoped to address. Still, it was a good meeting and one that I think will prove beneficial. At the very least, it provided an opportunity for a large crowd of bloggers to get together to discuss relevant issues and simply to put faces to names. I think this gathering of bloggers was larger than any that happened at last year’s GodBlogCon, so it may well be the largest-ever gathering of Christian bloggers!
Immediately after the session, Timmy gathered the whole group for a picture and we all signed a poster he had prepared for the purpose. Here are a couple of pictures I’ve leeched from Marc’s site. The first is proof that I do, at least occasionally, smile. The second is a picture of me trying to look smart while sharing the stage with people of far greater intellectual capacity than I:
After checking into the Galt House Hotel, where we had a spacious room on the twenty-third floor (which, most importantly, had a blistering wireless internet connection), Paul and I headed out for dinner with Justin Taylor (click here if you care to know what he looks like). Feeling too lazy to drive somewhere, we walked around the area of the hotel and eventually settled on Subway (yes, we travelled 400 miles and ate at a restaurant chain that has a franchise not two minutes from my front door!). We did not have a great deal of time, especially since Justin kept finding people far more interesting than us to talk with, but we enjoyed catching up, talking about blogging, and so on.
The conference, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House Hotel, began that evening with an introductory address by Mark Dever. You can read my notes for that session here. This address was followed, after a very short break, with a panel discussion featuring Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan.
The next day was a long one. The first session of the day began at 8:00 AM and the final session did not conclude until almost 10:00 PM. Despite the length of the day, it was a riveting time and I don’t know that anyone in the room was feeling fatigued, even long after the sun had set. We heard from Ligon Duncan (my notes), Al Mohler (my notes), R.C. Sproul my notes), and John Piper (my notes). There were also several panel discussions, including one featuring Sproul and another featuring Piper. Each of the sessions was truly remarkable. Duncan’s exhortation to preach from the Old Testament was convicting to all who heard it and is well worth the attention of any pastor. Mohler’s address about cultural engagement was very good and was most notable for the description of post-modernism through a set of terms beginning with self-. R.C. Sproul provided a solid overview of the doctrine of justification similar to what one might expect to hear if he had Sproul as a professor in seminary. Truly there is no one who does a more thorough, biblical, convicting job of explaining and applying justification than Sproul. John Piper provided, in the final session, a remarkable address that may go down as one of his finest speeches or sermons. He shared with the assembly why he feels expositional preaching is particularly glorifying to God. He was clearly overtaken by the Spirit as he preached with amazing force and conviction.
On that day I shared lunch with my friend Chris, whom I met at the Shepherd’s Conference, (and my new friend Lester) and in the evening shared dinner with Josh Harris (you know, the guy who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye.). I was greatly amused by the number of times he was asked if he was that Josh Harris. Clearly his reputation precedes him. We talked about our families, churches and about the books we hope to write some day. I greatly enjoyed my time with Josh and hope to be able to fellowship with him again in the future.
Throughout the day Marc Heinrich was continually pestering me to allow him to take a photograph of me with my finger up my nose (I can’t say I’m entirely certain why he wanted this photograph) but I eventually threw him a bone by having him take a photo of me holding a sign (a sign that was on my seat and said “Reserved: Tim Challies”). Mark quickly edited the sign and, were you so inclined, you could see the results and suggest a caption for the sign here.
The next day Josh and I caught up to take some pictures. He thought it would be fun to mock me by taking a photo of him imitating my usual far-too-serious pose:
Then we thought we’d turn it around:
I think his serious face is far better than mine. Doesn’t he look like he’s having a great time?
Paul and I were up again early on Friday morning. The day began with a passionate session led by C.J. Mahaney (my notes). He spoke from 1 Timothy 4 and exhorted pastors to watch their life and doctrine. I am certain that this session was a great challenge and encouragement to the pastors in attendance. The final session was, fittingly, led by John MacArthur (my notes). He provided a biographical address in which he reflected on four decades of gospel ministry. He spoke at length about the benefits of expository preaching. The conference then wrapped-up with a brief panel discussion between John MacArthur, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan.
Not long after the conference closed, we met up with Timmy Brister who, it turns out, was to be our host for the rest of the day. We headed for the Seminary and met with Dr. Mohler’s Research Assistant. He was kind enough to give us a tour of Dr. Mohler’s offices at the seminary and to answer hundreds of our questions. He also showed us many of the highlights from the rest of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary campus (and a beautiful campus it is!). We then made the short drive to Dr. Mohler’s house and spent an hour or so touring around Dr. Mohler’s famous (is it infamous?) library which totals a little over 30,000 volumes. It is a truly remarkable library, especially for a bibliophile like myself.
The rest of the day was spent eating, browsing bookstores and chatting with Timmy. He was a kind and gracious host and seemed only too happy to take care of us until it was time to head to the airport. Our journey home was entirely and thankfully uneventful, though we did not arrive home until well into the wee hours of Saturday morning. (Parenthetically, when I arrived at church yesterday morning I found the seat where I usually sit adorned by the “Reserved: Tim Challies” sign which Paul had apparently confiscated from me at some point during the conference. I don’t think anyone else understood the joke!)
All-in-all, the Together For The Gospel Conference was an incredible event. What stood out to me about this conference is that it will not be remembered for any particular person. I don’t know that anyone will look back and remember the words or message of one speaker far above the others. What people will remember is the collective passion for the gospel, a passion that existed not only in the hearts of the seven men who spoke, but in the 3000 who sat and listened and participated. Truly God was exalted (and exulted in) from beginning to end. The passion for the gospel seems already to have spread far beyond the people who were in attendance. I have already received many emails from around the world written by people who have read blogs and recaps and are eager to listen to the recordings and to read the speeches.
Speaking personally, while I am not a pastor and thus was not the primary audience for this conference, I left Louisville deeply challenged. As Paul can attest, the conference gave me much to think and talk about. The Spirit moved this weekend to convict me of sin in my life and to challenge me to strive towards godliness. Simply being in the presence of so many godly men—some who were on the stage, some who were in the seats, and some who labored tirelessly to serve, whether by driving cars or distributing books—encouraged me to do far better in emulating the Savior. When I attend such conferences I often have to remark that godliness can be contagious. Or at the very least, the desire for godliness can be contagious. Such was the case last week. And I am grateful.
Like most of the men present, I am already looking forward to the next conference which is to be held in 2008.