conference review · the gospel coalition · theology

The Kellers Kissed, Carson Cried, Piper Sang: Highlights of #TGCW16

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Last week I had the privilege to attend The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Indianapolis, IN. I signed up months ago to volunteer at the conference, since I am local, so I received a free ticket in exchange for fifteen hours of volunteer service. TGC also reimbursed my parking and meals while I was working (although I never did manage to eat a meal while working at the Info Desk – time flew by while I met hundreds of wonderful women and assisted them in various ways). I say that as a full disclosure, but all the opinions on the conference are mine, and no one asked me to write a review.

Since I am currently struggling with where I land on the scale of “Reformed Christian,” I was equally excited and apprehensive about attending the conference. I attended alone, although I recognized one other woman from my church, and ran into a handful of women I knew from Bible studies, teaching, and homeschooling. I recognized some of the names of speakers (DA Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, Jen Wilkin, and Kathleen Nielson), but others I had never heard of before (Mary Willson and Carrie Sandom). The conference is billed as a conference “for women but not about women,” and that, alone, drew me in. When I learned that the plenary sessions would contain expository preaching through the entire book of I Peter, I was hooked.

I really cannot say enough good things about TGCW16. From my perspective as a volunteer, the conference was well organized, well thought out, and deeply prayed over. Theologically, everyone was on the same page, and I only heard of people walking out of one workshop because it didn’t match the description in the program booklet. The preaching was incredible (to be fair, I didn’t hear Jen Wilkin – I was working during her session). Everyone was exegetical, expository, and deep; there was no fluff.

The pre-conference was about prayer, and the main speakers were Tim and Kathy Keller. Tim began with a message on how one can be friends with God. I have always struggled with this concept, because I deeply believe people elevate friendship with God over His holiness, but Keller did a fabulous job explaining THAT we can be friends with God, HOW we can be friends with God, and WHY we can be friends with God. And he never once even hinted that we should be able to audibly hear God’s voice. In fact, he said, “If you want to know if God is speaking to you, read the Bible.”

We have to be immersed in the Word of God. Amen.

Kathy Keller humbly spoke about joy, and for me, the most profound thing she said was “lack of joy is a sin.” My favorite part, though, was when Tim introduced Kathy, he said sweet things, and then kissed her before walking off stage. So precious! I love when Christian men champion their wives.

The final session of the pre-conference was a Q&A on prayer with the Kellers. It was cute to watch this married couple’s interaction as they discussed powerful, important but small, daily spiritual things. Tim gave a very practical way to meditate on Scripture via journaling, and Kathy said perhaps my favorite thing ever about solitude: “close the bedroom door; it’s not rocket science.”

Before the main conference began was a time of guided prayer – not guided in a new-agey, meditative sense, but guided in that different people led us in prayer. This was powerful, soothing, refreshing, moving, and everything you want corporate prayer to be. If you have time, go watch this, Blair Linne’s spoken word piece that opened the prayer session. I had a chance to meet her while volunteering; she is just lovely!

Each main session began with a time of singing, led mostly by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Sandra McCracken led a session as well. The praise time was powerful: songs that truly brought worship to God. We sang hymns, Scripture, and songs focused on the theme of suffering (since that’s what I Peter is all about). In fact, I texted a friend at one point that we had sung about 8 songs and hadn’t yet sung about ourselves! It was thrilling!

The main sessions covered a portion of I Peter until John Piper finished by preaching through all of I Peter 5. Kathleen Nielson began with I Peter 1:1-12. Some of the things she said that resonated with me: “We are elect exiles; if you are not suffering now, Praise God, but you will be; we are God’s chosen children headed home; the Stockdale Paradox; our living hope is not some abstract feeling – it is Jesus; a little while in God’s timing could be like the whole time we’re alive; keep filling yourself with the Inspired Words of God.”

Like I said previously, I missed Jen Wilkin preach on I Peter 1:13 – 2:3 because I was serving. I did get to hear Carrie Sandom preach through I Peter 2:4-10, however. She covered the building metaphors that Peter uses in this passage, and she did a phenomenal job. The two things I took away from her message were that how we live in this world really matters, and that we are a treasured possession of the King of Kings – we have a special identity because of our unique relationship with Him.

The fourth main session featured Mary Willson. I had never heard of Mary before, but she was by far the most powerful female preacher at the event. And I will write shortly about the one-on-one time I was given to spend with her! But she preached through I Peter 2:11 – 3:12, which is a HUGE portion of Scripture. She did a fantastic job rightly handling the Word. She centered her message around our status and conduct and how those two things set us apart from the world. Using our status and conduct, we are to always resist evil and do good for the glory of God – in our civic life, in our professional life, in our marital life, and in all of our life. I know people love DA Carson and John Piper, and fangurl over Jen Wilkin, but if you are going to seek out and listen to only one message from TGCW16, it should be Mary Willson’s. We are to always  resist evil and do good for the glory of God.

Now let me just pause here and say that I had never actually heard D.A. Carson before. I mean, I’ve read his stuff, of course, but I’d never heard him. I felt like I was in seminary again (which is a good thing) and I could have listened to him for hours – he has a very pleasant voice. Dr. Carson covered I Peter 3:13 – 4:19 and explored the suffering that is distinctive to Christianity – the suffering that happens because one is a Christian. He told a powerful story of a man who, by all appearances, was a strong and righteous Christian, but left his wife and church position, and it was because he had never been tested in his faith – he had never suffered for Christ. Dr. Carson said of this man, “I can’t find any significant place in his life where his faith cost him.” That is a sobering thought. He also said an immature Christian is one who has never suffered for her faith. Big things to chew on.

Saturday morning began with a panel on the persecuted church. There were amazing stories about Christians enduring suffering on behalf of Christ all over the world, but Cr. Carson, amid tears, said, “Absolutely nothing escapes the sovereignty of God, yet, at the same time, you have to say, ‘This is outrageous’.” He also said that when Christians are undergoing severe suffering and persecution, sometimes you just have to hold their hands and weep. It was so, very powerful.

John Piper wrapped up the conference. He began by straight up reciting I Peter 5. And then he exegeted the stuffing out of it 🙂 I took four pages of notes, but I seriously need to listen to it again, as soon as it’s up on the Gospel Coalition’s website, because my brain was supersaturated at that point, and I can’t even do my notes justice, let alone Dr. Piper’s words. But I did love this that he said: “This is the evil of the prosperity gospel – timing! They think you need it NOW – but it’s the glory of God in the NEXT world.” He also said that even if you suffer for 80 years, that is but a little while – temporary – compared to eternity. Oh, and he sang a bit of “Blessed be Your Name” after talking about parents burying a newborn. Do we really mean it when we sing “You give and take away”? Do we have any clue?

Next April, the Gospel Coalition will host its annual conference in Indianapolis. I will be there, again, as a volunteer, and my husband will, too. He saw how much I loved this time of growth and refreshment, and he wants in on it! You should come, too.

Oh, I also won $250 in the bookstore, courtesy of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a meet & greet with Mary Willson. But that’s a whole ‘nother story, as they say 🙂

 

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