A Scoffer’s Review of T4G 2018

By | April 16, 2018

 

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.

 

 

John MacArthur at the 2016 T4G conference, surrounded by his worshippers.

 

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!

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Carol Thomas

I have read the posts regarding the speakers for T4G 2018 and am amazed at the petty sniping and general negativity on display.The point and relevancy of conference has been reduced to ‘tipping’ or otherwise of hotel/restaurant staff. The Devil is active among you all.

That was interesting to hear the Mark Dever video. Dever said that if you don’t have church discipline you will have hypocrisy. The only problem is that leaders like Dever only apply church discipline to regular members and not leaders.

In fact they do have hypocrisy in their group because they didn’t apply church discipline to C.J. Mahaney.

Ben Coggin

While I would agree that hero worship, and yes, idolatry can easily be a pitfall for those within the New Calvinist movement. Is there any other movement (Christian or otherwise) that was not headed by a prominent single individual or small council of leaders? Is there any other movement where the followers were not tempted to hero worship?

I would suggest that any successful movement has these individuals who are representatives, drivers, and “heroes”of the movement itself. Those who are not in these leadership roles would certainly look to the leaders for guidance. This can (and should) be done without worship. What are your thoughts?

Little King

Todd, a good friend of mine who I haven’t seen in a long time used to always refer to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as Southern Baptist Theological Cemetery. After reading all this, I have to laugh.

Lydia

This is is an excellent piece and is jam-packed with many angles that denote a huge problem. Just a few:

When the Neo Cal movement got rolling here at ground zero, the big theme was “going back to our roots’ as if the ‘True Gospel’ resided there. Going back to a time Baptists split over taking slaves on the mission field because the SBC was Calvinist! As a lover of history, I was shocked at how blind that motto was. It was no secret that many wrestled with the fact that God was not on their side after the war and there was a painful, slow evolution for many (not all) to free will in the SBC over the subsequent decades.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrestled with her Calvinism, in addition to slavery. It is a carefully inserted underlying theme in her not well known book, “Ministers Wooing”. A lot of people also do not know that her father was put through a grueling ecclesiastical Court trial over a point of doctrine. Nasty stuff back then.

So the “roots” focus at SBTS was astonishing. If you want to be even more appalled you can read Broadus’ bio of Boyce. He pretty much lays it out that God brought slaves here for them to convert. It was all “God determined” and they were His servants preaching to slaves.

The “Going back to roots” was an eventual disaster because of social media. The insulated and isolated leaders led many young men right off an inexplicable cliff. That is one reason why I think they have become such dogmatic social justice warriors– to rehab that unfortunate focus and image. It’s no longer doctrine as the main focus but social justice. This was also the trajectory of the descendants of the Puritans and Main lines, years ago. History repeats itself.

As to T4G descending on Louisville, the tourism folks are happy. The hotels are happy but the servers are not. Its not a secret. My philosophy is that if you can’t afford to tip the servers, maids, etc, don’t make the trip. However, my guess is every young man is saving every penny to buy books. My step dad was asked to put up an attendee years ago by a young family friend. My stepfather was no fan of Al Mohler, he barely tolerated him, but a kind and generous man who opened his home. But he was absolutely appalled that this young man, married with a child, spent his money on driving hundreds of miles to a conference when he could barely afford food or gas and had a family. He fed him and even gave him money for gas on the way home. But I am sure the young man received a bit of a lecture about putting his family first. 🙂 There is a cultic aspect to that sort of devotion.

5yearsinPDI

Fantastic piece. Thank you.

I try to remember that ten years ago I was probably as admiring as the fans are now. I would have loved to go to one of these conferences. Now I would not cross the street to hear them. I suppose in a way I am glad for what God exposed with the SGM mess, as it took the pedestals down and took me back to loving the the Lord and bible more than anything else.

Little King

Well thought-out article. I have to think more about it. As I have written before, I have been in churches over 40 years (with a lot of time off) and it’s still the same old play book action wherever you go, maybe only intensified with things like T4G; taken to new heights. When I think of all the ‘truths’ given out by men from the pulpit who I listened to and believed in wholeheartedly, men who tell you what is the ultimate truth and convey that you need to hear and live by and believe in their words, I should be ashamed of myself. I only have myself to blame.

Why does it take so long to see the truth? Why are we so gullible? I believe it is because our hearts are perverse to begin with. We believe such lies because our hearts are not right before God; and in a BIG way. It took me a number of years to wake up, with my life sort of falling apart at one point to begin to really believe God and want to obey Him. So, I am grateful for those ‘hard times’ and grateful that He did not give up on me.

I actually see the following as true, as I look back. One, my heart was not right. I really was not devoted to God. Next, even in that condition, God saw a future for me and knew that one day He would be able to bring me out of that. In the mean time, He wanted and did educate me about American Christianity. So he put me in some real good schools. I will not name the churches here. But as I look back, he wanted to educate me; and educate me he has done. So, I don’t look at it as a total waste of life for the time that I was in these churches. In life, you have to go through some hard knocks to learn something deeply. You simply cannot get it from a book or even from another persons own story. And as I said before, I see that my heart was not right toward wanting to serve God faithfully. This is a perfect set up for people being in churches where they have no business being. It’s because they themselves are not right.

However, should you be in such a place, that in itself will not stop you from growing. If you begin at some point to be faithful to God, to begin to yearn to please God, He will begin a real relationship between Him and you, and at the same time He will show you what is going on in the church that is not right. He will open your eyes. He will educate you and you can come to the point that you realize and understand without another soul telling you, that it is time for you to ‘get out.’ Which is the place you will ultimately arrive at, if, and that’s a big ‘if,’ you want to know the truth and really start loving and serving God. It’s a sign of real growth and fear of God, and wanting to not do anything that He will not like. And I saw it happen to a lot of people who went to Covenant Life Church, after they had been there for a number of years. They grew and God told them to get out.

I just wrote a lot, and if you don’t think it’s worth others reading, Todd, I will not be offended in the least if you remove it. But these are some of my thoughts.