Friends, fans and bearers of doctrine and theology got together this past week to confront the many skewed representations of the Gospel they've seen even among evangelicals and to reaffirm the centrality of doctrine in a postmodern era.
"We live and minister in an anti-doctrinal age or at least an age that thinks that it's anti-doctrinal. We live and minister in an age which is anti-theological or at least it claims it's anti-theological," said Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., during the T4G (Together for the Gospel) conference, which concluded Thursday.
"And so we need to look to the Scriptures to learn how doctrine ... is essential for faithful pastoral ministry if we are going to effectively respond to the anti-doctrinal, anti-theological spirit of the age," he added.
The April 15-17 conference in Louisville, Ky., was the second time well-known and respected theologians came together to encourage thousands of other pastors to stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ at a time when more people are rejecting absolute truth.
Some 5,000 pastors attended – up from 3,000 from the first ever T4G event in 2006 – to hear theologians affirm sound doctrine
"I want to argue that the very ideas of doctrine, theology and systematic theology are under great duress in our own time," Duncan told the large crowd.
Doctrine is under great suspicion today, with many rejecting it and instead embracing a "postmodern uncertainty about truth," Duncan said.
"I want to suggest that is the opposite of what we need to do," he stressed.
Stepping into the highly debated doctrine of faith and works, Duncan rejected the increasingly accepted assertion that Christianity is a life and not a doctrine.
"You're most likely to hear that from an evangelical," he pointed out. "All around us we have people telling us we need to care less about theology and more about people. 'Deeds not creeds' is the motto today."
John MacArthur, author and pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., called the doctrine of human unwillingness and inability perhaps the most attacked doctrine in Christianity.
"The idea that sinners are completely helpless to redeem themselves or to make any contribution to that redemption from sin and divine judgment is the most attacked because in the big picture it is the most despised doctrine," MacArthur told the thousands of pastors. "Consequently, it is the most distinctively Christian doctrine contrary to all non-Christian views of man."
"It is distinctively Christian because it affirms the absolute inability of man to do anything to contribute to his salvation."
Meanwhile, all other religions in the world are some form of a "works-righteousness system" in which the idea is that people can be good and good enough to contribute to their salvation, MacArthur noted.
The theologians did not shoot down the importance of good works in a Christian's life but rejected it as a substitution for the preaching of the Gospel.
"Never substitute good works for the preaching of the gospel," said Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Good works such as feeding the poor should only be a "reflection of" or an "attraction to" the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he stressed.
"I believe God cares about issues of justice and so should we, but that's not the Gospel," Dever said. "The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely about pressing issues of passing policy. It is about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross once for all time."
T4G began with Dever, Duncan, C. J. Mahaney, who leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, and Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They hold a conference every two years to encourage pastors to "stand together for the Gospel." MacArthur and John Piper, senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., are among other friends who were invited to speak at this year's event.
"Don't starve your sheep because they need doctrine for God's glory and for their assurance," Duncan told the pastors. "Truth matters. Doctrine matters. Theology is for life."