Together for the Gospel ‘08 kicked off at the rather unusual hour of 2:30 PM. Attendance seems to be somewhere in the area of 5500. While registration is open to both men and women, it seems that there is hardly equity. I’d estimate that there are 20 or 30 men here for every woman.
As he did at the last conference, Mark Dever opened by giving some prizes to some of the notable guests—the man who came the furthest (turns out he is from India, though there were also people here from Thailand, Australia, Serbia, and other far-off places), the man who had been in ministry the longest (55+ years), and the man who had ministered the longest at the same church (and it so happens that it was the same man who had been in ministry the longest).
Like the last T4G, Bob Kauflin is serving as worship leader. There is no band—it is just Bob and a piano. He will be leading us in a variety of hymns and before the first session we sang a couple of classics: “A Mighty Fortress” and “It Is Well with My Soul.” After it we sang, “How Firm a Foundation.”
Each of the people attending here will receive a lot of free books (fifteen, I hear). I’ll be sure to let you know the titles we receive. Before the first session, each chair had on it a copy of If You Could Ask God One Question by Paul Williams and Barry Cooper and The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile. Al Mohler took a few moments to introduce these titles.
Ligon Duncan had the privilege of leading the conference’s first session. The title was “Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry.” In an anti-doctrinal age or an age which thinks it is anti-doctrinal we need to look to the Scriptures to learn how doctrine informs and is essential for faithful pastoral ministry if we will effectively respond to the spirit of the age. And this was what Duncan sought to do.
He showed first that the very concepts of doctrine, theology and systematic theology are under duress in our times. From there he showed from Scripture that systematic theology is necessary, important and unavoidable. And then he showed what doctrine is important for. The first of these points received the bulk of the attention and, with time running short, the final point received the least.
Initially he looked to six biblical passages in which we see Paul and Jesus assert the importance of theology. He looked to John 17:13-17, I Timothy 1:3-5 and 8-11, I Timothy 6:2-4 and Titus 1. He showed that doctrine matters; that theology is for life. “Theology is the science of living blessedly ever after.” Yet our age is profoundly anti-doctrinal. Some say we need to embrace this postmodern aversion to truth and doctrine by rejecting doctrine in favor of narrative and story. But this is the exact opposite of what we need to do. We need to meet this postmodern aversion to doctrine by celebrating truth and doctrine and by unashamedly declaring doctrine. We need to outlive, outrejoice and outdie the critics of theology and doctrine.
The idea of doctrine and theology, and especially systematic theology, are head in great suspicion in the church today. “Christianity is a life, not a doctrine,” say the critics. They may think this is something that is greatly original, but in reality this was a phrase coined by nineteenth century liberals. If we are to remain faithful to the message of Scripture we need to remain Christians who love the systematic theology of Scripture.
For his second point he had time only to rifle through several examples of systematic theology in the Bible. He looked at Jesus on the road to Emmaeus, at Apollos in Acts 18:27-28, and at Paul in Acts 17. And then, in only a few moments he answered “What is doctrine important for?” And here he showed that doctrine is for God’s glory, for our assurance, for marriage and for joy.