More than 3,300 pastors and students of pastoral ministry were edified with expository preaching and challenges to renew their commitment to Gospel-centered work on the opening day of The Gospel Coalition conference.
Hosted by a growing network of pastors and churches seeking to renew faithful preaching, the conference is the second national event since the launch of The Gospel Coalition in 2007.
Leaders of the coalition got right down to business on Tuesday as they opened the 2009 conference with Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Expounding a passage from the New Testament book of Acts 19, Keller spotlighted the apostle Paul whom Christians recognize as one of the most effective and faithful preachers of all time.
Paul preached in such a way that changed the lives of those who converted to Christianity and ultimately affected the culture, Keller told thousands who packed the Donald E. Stephens Conference Center in Chicago as well as those watching the session online through a live webcast.
In most cases today, however, there are many people having born-again experiences and making decisions for Christ but not living any differently from anyone else in the culture, Keller pointed out.
He called it "one of the scandals of the church."
Part of that failure to produce changed lives points back to the church or the preacher.
"You can't really administer the Gospel in a life-changing way unless you expose, discern and challenge the idols of your place," Keller said.
And idols exist in every culture and community that is not dominated by the "glory and grace of God," the Redeemer pastor noted.
"An idol is anything in your life that is so central to your life that you can't have a meaningful life if you lose it," Keller explained.
Idols can include one's career, money, achievement, romantic relationship, beauty, social or political cause, moral record, and even religiosity and ministry success.
Confronting people in the church, Keller said believers can also turn truth and morality into an idol.
Like a Pharisee, Christians may trust their own righteousness and doctrine as their salvation and push their sense of rightness toward those who differ.
Everybody (Christians) thinks they're right and bashes everybody else, Keller said.
"That's how everybody else is," he said bluntly. "That's the reason the world looks inside [the church] and doesn't see anything different. That's why we can't change the culture."
"Unless you know how to deal with those idols when preaching the Gospel, you're not going to produce converts who are going to live any differently," he stressed.
Keller urged the pastors and students to not only expose and discern the idols but to destroy them by remembering that objectively Jesus Christ already destroyed them on the cross and subjectively they need to manifest it in their lives.
"Do you know how to take the Gospel to the idols?" Keller posed. "If you know how to do that, then and only then will we turn the world upside down."
Keller's exposition of Acts 19 was an introduction into the conference's main theme "Entrusted with the Gospel: Living the Vision of Second Timothy." His address was aimed at situating "gospel-faithful ministry in the currents of the twenty-first century."
Plenary sessions throughout most of the conference will feature prominent pastors such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Ligon Duncan expounding the book of Second Timothy, where Paul communicates to a young Timothy the great privilege of proclaiming the gospel to the world.
The speakers' aim is to model "the sort of preaching through Scripture of which the church is in need while teaching the glories of this gospel of the blessed God that has been entrusted to the care of the church."
"My young pastors, this is what your people need from you," Piper, author and pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., said Tuesday, highlighting the word of God as the way to mediate grace.
"Your people get bored because they hear you generalize [Scripture]. You show me the text!" Piper exhorted.
The Gospel Coalition's National Conference is being held April 21-23.
The coalition unites a diverse group of leaders across denominational, ethnic and class lines who have a "desire to champion the Gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy" and to prepare the next generation for Gospel-centered ministry. It currently has a regional chapter in San Francisco and plans to establish several more.
To watch the conference live, visit: www.christianity.com/gospelcoalition