National Pastors Convention to Draw Hundreds Despite Controversies

More than 2,000 pastors and ministry workers from around the nation are expected to gather in San Diego this week for a four-day event featuring more than 50 speakers on a variety of topics affecting today's world.

Among the speakers expected to help attendees of the 9th annual National Pastors Convention "nourish your soul, engage your mind, and connect in meaningful conversation" will be respected megachurch leader Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.

Also speaking, however, will be controversial emergent church leaders Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, whose movement have raised flags among many within conservative Christian circles. And, though not a speaker, William Paul Young, author of the controversial bestseller The Shack, will be on hand to discuss the background and inspiration for writing his book.

According to leading Christian publisher Zondervan, which presents the NPC this year in partnership with InterVarsity Press, the annual event brings together "doers of the Word" for replenishment, revitalization, and education.

"The blending of speakers and content with the inevitable sharing and community that occurs creates a truly dynamic and rewarding experience," says Joe Sherman, vice president of church engagement for Zondervan.

Some, however, are wary of speakers McLaren and Bell, who have been widely criticized for calling into question many parts of the Christian doctrine. The emergent church movement which they are a part of is one "lane" of the larger Emerging Church, a very broad movement ranging from doctrinal Christians to emergent liberals.

Former emergent member and now "emerging reformer" Mark Driscoll is among many who say emergent liberals have "totally gotten off the highway and is lost out in the woods."

"Do you need Jesus to go to heaven?" "Is anybody really going to hell?" "Is sex outside of marriage including homosexuality sinful?"

"On many of these issues, they won't answer the questions," noted Driscoll, who pastors Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

The Shack author Young, meanwhile, has his own following of critics as a result of his bestselling book, which has been praised by many since its phenomenal rise to fame last year and also rebuked for its "disturbing" mix of theology and heresy.

"Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God)," commented influential blogger Tim Challies, who wrote a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel's assertions to Scripture.

"But the book also raised several concerns," he continued before addressing the issues of the Trinity, submission, free will, forgiveness, scripture and revelation, and salvation.

"Sadly ... there is much bad mixed in with the good," he concluded.

Despite the presence of controversial figures, this week's convention is expected to draw hundreds.

Starting Tuesday, NPC attendees will get the opportunity to choose from over 70 sessions as well as critical-concern courses, six general sessions discussing faith and today's ever-changing culture, panel discussions, book signings, interactive seminars and more.

Attendees and speakers will also be offered a chance to be part of the historic effort by Bible Across America, a tour launched by Zondervan over four months ago to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the bestselling NIV Bible. Since Sept. 30, 2008, the "Bible Across America" tour has traveled across the nation gathering thousands of handwritten verses from people from all ages and walks of life. The tour concludes on Feb. 12 at the NPC.

"This year marks the 9th annual National Pastors Convention, and we're excited about the remarkable event that has come together," says Sherman.

"We're looking forward to a dynamic and diverse group of speakers and providing a sneak peek into many exciting books and products releasing in the coming year."

Zondervan began hosting the National Pastors Convention, previously organized by Youth Specialties, in 2006 as part of a larger initiative to better support ministry leaders.

Zondervan is a division of HarperCollins Publishers, which in turn is a subsidiary of News Corporation.