Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) hosted a faculty panel at T4G last week, as we did at TGC15 last year. I had the privilege to participate in both panels. It was my first time at these conferences and a great opportunity to see up close the New Calvinist movement. It was both exciting and encouraging to see how these conferences are providing rich biblical teaching about the truths of the gospel.
With the events of this past week fresh in my mind, I want to share five reasons why the New Calvinism is worth supporting.
1. It focuses on encouraging pastors.
Despite attendance being capped in January, 10,000 people attended this year’s T4G, with the majority being pastors. As the organizers celebrated its 10th anniversary, they reminded everyone that this conference began with the desire to encourage and strengthen pastors. (TGC conferences have a bit of a broader scope but seek to model expositional preaching for pastors in its plenary addresses.)
The work of pastoral ministry is vital for the church, so the continual training of pastors is too. At WTS we have the opportunity to begin pastors’ training, but their training shouldn’t stop after graduation. Pastors must continue to learn and grow as they press on in their duty to feed and shepherd God’s flock.
2. It emphasizes the need for sound, scriptural theology.
Listening to the plenary speakers last week, I was impressed by their desire to ground everything they said in Scripture. Virtually every point made was supported by careful exegesis. This is crucial, since both the authority and power of preaching comes not from the one who preaches, but from Scripture alone.
Likewise, the speakers didn’t shy away from unfolding substantive doctrines that arise from Scripture. They often quoted voices from the past to help explain and illuminate these doctrines. Great theological minds from church history continue to be a treasure for the church today. I believe last week marked the first time I’d heard a pastor quote Francis Turretin in a sermon!
3. It recognizes the diversity of the North American evangelical church.
By God’s grace, the evangelical church in North America is becoming more racially diverse. While at times this diversity has caused tension, there is also the opportunity for the gospel to move us forward. Breakout sessions at T4G discussed the challenges and opportunities for the Hispanic, African American, and Asian American churches. I participated in the session exploring the future of the Asian American church. It was a time of rich reflection and discussion as we look to the future work of the gospel in North America. I’m likewise encouraged to see that TGC’s women’s conference this summer had made a concerted effort to seek substantial ethnic diversity among its speakers.
4. It promotes solid Christian writing.
B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) described pastoral ministry as a “learned profession.” He observed, “The man without learning, no matter what other gifts he may be endowed, is unfit for its duties.”
Warfield was referring to the education every pastor must have—one that doesn’t end after you receive your seminary degree. A pastor must continue to learn. And Christian writings, in books and other forms, are some of his most important tools. It was wonderful to see all the solid books available for sale and the 160,000 given away for free. The value of such books for pastoral ministry cannot be overestimated. Imprints from ministries like TGC and 9Marks have sought to bolster church leaders from various angles.
5. It is committed to the Reformed tradition.
The theme of this year’s T4G was “We Are Protestant: The Reformation at 500,” and the theme of TGC’s 2017 National Conference will be “No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond” (April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis; browse list of speakers and talks, and register here). Reformed theology is at the heart of WTS, and it’s what we’ve been teaching since J. Gresham Machen founded the seminary in 1929. So it’s a great encouragement to partner with others who share our commitment to the Reformed tradition.
In 2014 John Piper gave a series of lectures at WTS on the New Calvinism. At one point he stated, “There would be no New Calvinism without Westminster Seminary.” He was referring to the numerous influential books written by WTS faculty members. Perhaps it was an overstatement, but Piper’s comment reminded me of the historical connection between WTS and the New Calvinism.
To Serve the Local Church
Just as WTS is an independant organization with a confessional identity wanting to serve the church, the same is true of sister ministries like T4G and TGC.
And while we have some differences among us, the New Calvinist movement—as represented this week by T4G—is an opportunity to share the rich truths of the Reformation with yet another generation of pastors and churches.