Had a great and refreshing three days in Chicago with some good friends and Element team members for the 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference. You can find video and audio and manuscripts elsewhere, so I won't say too much about the talks. Just some general reflections.
John Piper was on his game. I feel incredibly blessed to have heard live in person one of the best messages I've ever heard from him. A great word for ministers of the gospel. Find it and take it in. He also has a keen insight to Paul's epistles that I'd never heard before, which is no wonder, given that Piper said he'd never seen it in any commentary. (Btw, only a guy like Piper can get away with introducing an insight that's not found in commentaries. Don't try that at home.)
Mark Driscoll's talk was good but uncharacteristically subdued. I took this as perhaps fatigue, but also as a sign that he was speaking from experience, wisdom, brokenness, and repentance (as he himself indicated) on the topic assigned him. Given recent hammering of Driscoll by a guy Driscoll himself honored quite recently online, his message was ripe with meaning and sensitivity.
K. Edward Copeland and Ajith Fernando also gave great messages. Copeland spoke on ministering under God's sovereignty and had some great stuff to say about pastors who engage in "recreational preaching." Time is too short to mess around. Fernando talked about suffering for the gospel in a pluralistic culture. Sobering stuff.
C.J. Mahaney's workshop (which might as well have been a plenary talk since it was a fantastic sermon to pastors in a packed-out main hall) was phenomenal. At several points I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. Mahaney, like Piper, is a guy who feels the text of Scripture. If you're a pastor, get a hold of the audio/video and be encouraged and inspired as I was.
Tim Keller's address was illuminating and engaging. Only a guy like him can make a lecture trandsformative. Jason Haggard, our worship leader and resident history buff, enjoyed Keller's talk the most, I think.
The Wednesday night panel with Keller, Piper, Crawford Loritts, and Ligon Duncan was a highlight of the conference. Such wisdom, experience, and brokenness. Young guys, we ought to be eternally grateful for the gifts of such generous ministers to the body of Christ. Loritts had some scathing words for this generation of preachers who think God is inarticulate.
The Band of Bloggers gathering was fun. The best part was just seeing in person so many people I read and talk to online for the first time. The bag full of free books wasn't bad either. :-) Thank you, Timmy Brister, for putting such an awesome thing together.
Highlights of the conference for me, aside from the edifying preaching, were the times of hanging with my friends, staying with an old friend (the guy who founded Element, actually), running into my friend and mentor Ray Ortlund, and meeting people I've only known "virtually" like Darryl Dash, Jon McIntosh, Jason Kovacs, Tim Challies, Steve McCoy, and Rob Harrison (known to long-time Thinklings readers as Ancient Mariner). Rob's more substantive rundown of the conference can be read here.
All told, I loved my time in Chicago. While I was there chewing on some of the greatness I was hearing, I got a discouraging email from a young lady who has confirmed her distance from our community, after long-time commitment and leadership, means she is no longer interested. She said she didn't know what it was, but that she is looking for someplace that better "meets her needs." She never used to speak like that and in fact was critical of those who did. Things like this can really crush my spirit. But God is faithful. And I had just that day heard Mahaney speak to faithfulness in the face of discouragement. The next day Ligon Duncan preached on finishing the race even if you finish alone.
I am thankful for TGC and its gift to gospel-driven evangelicalism. I hope to make it to the Together for the Gospel conference next year, this time with my beloved.