T4G 2018 is now history. CJ Mahaney, undoubtedly under pressure from his gospelly buddies, once again withdrew from the conference, just as he was forced to do in 2014. It appears the T4G crew learned something from their 2014 public relations disaster – Mahaney was not only not sitting in the front row, he was nowhere to be seen. His Twitter feed also went silent. Taking Mahaney’s spot on the stage was H.B. Charles. Let’s hope the change is permanent!
How many of you remember Carl Trueman’s challenge to the T4G celebrities at the 2012 conference? (Listen to the audio excerpt below.) He was on a panel discussing celebrity Christian conference speakers. Trueman chided the T4G regulars for having the same dozen speakers at every conference. “Very helpful, very helpful, that’s good,” said panel moderator Ligon Duncan. Duncan’s comments proved to be mere lip service to the credible charges leveled by Trueman. Six years and three conferences later the only discernible difference seems to be the appearance of Charles to replace Mahaney, and the disappearance of Trueman.
As I once again observed the T4G conference from the comfort of my study and read through the many Tweets, I was stunned by the over-the-top outpouring of adulation for the main speakers. I believe it’s not only unhealthy, it is idolatry. I would think these wise and humble leaders would discourage this type of behavior, but quite the opposite seems to be the case. Official T4G sites on the web were full of “action shots” of the celebrities as they spoke from the stage. The T4G web page has a photo of each plenary speaker along with what they feel was a life-altering quote accompanying the photo. I also noticed several of the speakers played up to the social media phenomenon of the masses Tweeting out their favorite speaker’s pithy one-liners. If the speaker thought he had crafted a particularly fine line suitable for retweeting he would often say “let me repeat that,” and then restate the line at a slower speed with greater emphasis. This would cause even the dullest wits in the audience to sit up and write the gem down.
The speakers themselves were quick to point out how great their fellow speakers were, both from the platform and on their Twitter accounts.
The thought occurred to me that what takes place at T4G is the same thing I engaged in when I was a youngster. I, along with my brothers and our neighborhood friends all loved baseball and we collected baseball cards of our favorite players. We would spend our money earned from delivering newspapers on packs of baseball cards. One pack would contain a piece of bubblegum and several cards of different players in various poses. We would then trade cards with each other, hoping to get rid of cards we had doubles of for a player we idolized. The back of the cards contained a brief comment about the player along with his career stats.
Most of us have put away childish things, but it appears that many at T4G have simply exchanged the worship of sports stars for the worship of pastors.
Before I get into my critique of the speakers, I thought it would be interesting to see what the citizens of Louisville have to say about the T4G conference goers. It seems they aren’t enamored with them. Even some of their own crowd chided them for their cheap ways.
Also, I wanted to offer a hat tip to Deana Holmes. She is a strong advocate for those who have been abused. She flew from Phoenix to Lousiville on her own dime and her own time to protest the coddling of C.J. Mahaney and the continued presence of several Sovereign Grace Churches leaders who played an active part in the conference.
Below are some excerpts from a few of the plenary speakers. Obviously, I have not covered every speaker, nor everything a featured speaker said. I would encourage those of you who think I am being unfair to start your own blog, and then you will be able to portray your idol in a more favorable light.
Leading off is a short clip from Mark Dever. Any guess what he might be talking about? If you guessed church discipline that would be a pretty safe guess, and it would be correct.
Next is Thabiti Anyabwile. He does his best to silence all the critics like me who dare question him or any of the other T4G speakers on social media. We are scoffers. He went on to criticize anyone who retweets any comments which have originated from a scoffer.
He attempts to denigrate scoffers by stating: “scoffers buy real estate on social media, they just camp out and live there.”
This is just another hypocritical cheap shot against bloggers who oppose the celebrity speakers. Truth be told, Thabiti has a much larger presence on the internet than most bloggers I know and judging by his numerous Twitter conversations after his article on MLK, plus several articles he posted after that article attempting to salvage his name, he seems to really enjoy camping.
Finally, he makes the bold statement that “these are unsaved people pretending to be Christians.” It appears Anyabwile is saying that a blogger who dares question a T4G speaker’s views of the Bible is a scoffer and thus not a Christian. Did Anyabwile just scoff at those he labels scoffers? Is he pretending to be a Christian?
This is a tactic often used by those in power to silence their critics. It generally works pretty well, if not to actually silence those who dare question the leader, it at least makes many weaker individuals sit down and shut up. You may recall I wrote about CJ Mahaney doing the same thing to his congregants shortly after the 2016 T4G conference. You can view that blog article here.
“Those who step forward and bring truth to the light are often accused of “damaging the Gospel.” Isn’t the Gospel about truth and light?”
“Putting aside our “religious” work will often open our eyes and hearts to the beaten and bruised laying in the dirt who have given up hope.”
-Two Tweets by Boz Tchividjian
For a display of scoffing, I recommend you view a discussion Phil Johnson, James White, and Thabiti Anyabwile were having concerning an article Anyabwile wrote about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Anyabwile stated that white Americans were complicit in the murder of MLK. You can view my blog on the subject here. Johnson and White both challenged Anyabwile’s charge. Anyabwile responded to a comment Phil Johnson made in what I would label a scoffing manner, stating that Johnson didn’t understand the Gospel! Speck and plank, Thabiti?
Next, I have a segment from Albert Mohler. The blatant hypocrisy of his statement is stunning. “Sin tolerated in the church is a disaster to the church and to the gospel and to the reputation of Christ.” Mohler has tolerated, indeed abated CJ Mahaney for years. He was quick to go after Penn State for the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up, but when it was revealed shortly thereafter that his good friend CJ Mahaney had done the exact same thing, Mohler said nothing for months, then produced a statement which contained lies, signed by himself, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan. They were called out on this so they changed the statement and reposted it without commenting that they had changed it. Mohler then did everything he could to help Mahaney get back on the conference circuit, and while introducing Mahaney prior to his speech at the T4G 2016 conference, made a tasteless joke about the information one could find about Mahaney on the internet.
Although Mahaney was pressured to withdraw once again from this year’s T4G conference, it is clear the T4G leaders are still tolerating the sins of Sovereign Grace Churches. Below I have highlighted prominent Sovereign Grace leaders who took part in T4G 2018.
The last speaker I will feature is David Platt. He spoke about racial injustice. His speech created a huge amount of comments on Twitter. I won’t say much about that except to acknowledge that I agree with what Platt said in the clip below. Racial injustice needs to be addressed by the church, that said, I can’t help but wonder when T4G will address the injustice perpetrated upon the victims of sexual abuse. Although the Sovereign Grace scandal is the obvious elephant in the room, I actually believe Boz Tchividjian was correct when he stated several years ago that sexual abuse in the Protestant Church is worse than in the Roman Catholic Church. Sexual abuse scandals seem to be breaking weekly in the Evangelical world.
I also liked the Tweet below from Todd Pruitt. Pruitt is a PCA Pastor, a co-host of The Mortification of Spin, and now, apparently a scoffer for challenging David Platt. According to Anyabwile, Pruitt is also just pretending to be a Christian. (I always suspected the trio who host Mortification of Spin!)
But if you want to address racism in the church, I would suggest one should start right there in Louisville, on the SBTS campus, the seminary that trains so many of the young Baptists desiring to become pastors.
Did you know that Boyce College, the college affiliated with SBTS, is named after James P. Boyce? Boyce was the founder of SBTS. Read the quote below.
“I believe I see in all this the end of slavery. I believe we are cutting its throat, curtailing its domain. And I have been, and am, an ultra pro-slavery man.”
-James P. Boyce, founder, SBTS”
Here is a photo of Al Mohler and Rick Holland at the gravesite of James P. Boyce.
Guess who the chapel at SBTS is named after? Yep, Captain John Broadus!
It seems clear to me that T4G has plenty of reconciling to do. For the celebrity leaders to stand up and point out the racism problems in the church at large when Al Mohler and SBTS appear to me to have a huge problem of their own is hypocritical. The same goes for Mohler calling out Penn State for covering up sexual abuse while still allowing Sovereign Grace leaders to have a role in the latest T4G conference. But hey, what do I know, I am just a scoffer!