Three highlights from #T4G2016

T4G 2016: We are Protestant

I spent last week in Louisville at Together for the Gospel. It was a super-busy, but really great, week filled great teaching and opportunities to catch up with friends. This weekend, I spend a fair bit of time trying to process what I’d learned and

1. On blaspheming the Trinity, unresolved problems, and dying for the sake of the gospel

I’m typically neither here nor there on panel discussions and Q&As, but I was amazed listening to Phillip Jensen at T4G. There was a ton that I loved about his discussion with Mark Dever—not the least of which being Jensen’s personality. He was totally embracing his ability to say… well, pretty much whatever he wanted, which was rad.

But more than his personality was what he shared, with what might be one of the most succinct deconstructions of the problem of the papacy I’ve ever heard. In just a few moments, Jensen was able to narrow it down to one essential issue—blasphemy:

If any man or office takes for itself the identity of the members of the Trinity, there is cause for concern, clearly. But as evangelical protestants, we should not be surprised by this. After all, as Jensen and Ligon Duncan before him reminded us as they opened the conference, the fundamental disagreements between Roman Catholics and Protestants remain unresolved:

  • Protestants believed (and still believe) the Bible alone is the sole source of authority in the church, not tradition and one man’s office;
  • Protestants believed (and many still believe) Christians must worship according to the Scriptures, rather than, essentially, worshipping our own way;
  • Protestants believed (and still believe) justification is by faith alone, not a mingling of faith and works;
  • Protestants believed (and still believe) there are only two sacraments, not seven as in Roman Catholic doctrine;
  • Protestants believed (and still believe) in the necessity of restoring the teaching office to the local church, not in a single office that stands apart from the rest of the church; and
  • Protestants believed (and many still believe) that assurance of salvation is not only possible, but necessary, whereas the Roman Catholic Church singles it out as Protestant theology’s fundamental problem.

None of these problems have gone away. And until they are resolved—whether Protestants give up the fight (which would mean abandoning the gospel) or the Roman Catholic Church repents—there can be no true and lasting unity, even if we can unite around causes such as the defence of marriage and advocating for the rights of the unborn and aged.

I long for true unity among those who claim the name of Christ. But we cannot pretend the differences aren’t real—for each of these differences represents an attack on the gospel, to say that they don’t matter or are superficial (as some do), is to miss the point entirely of what so many of our spiritual ancestors gave up their lives for.


David Platt closed the conference with a powerful exploration of the character of martyrs—and why many were reputed to have been reciting Psalm 51 as they met their ends. From this psalm, Platt asked two questions: first, why did they die, and second how shall we live. On the first point, Platt said:

  • They died because they believed their depravity was deserving of damnation. As wonderful and worthy of imitation as these men were, the martyrs knew they deserved death and damnation because of their sin.
  • They died because they believed their salvation was found solely in god’s mercy separate from their merit. They died for the Lord’s Supper, which reminded them of their lack of merit—that Christ would die for them, not that he would be sacrificed again in the Eucharist.
  • They died because they believed love like what we see in the gospel was worth proclaiming. They didn’t die because they believed or studied the gospel privately. They died because they proclaimed it.

On the second, he encouraged us to live in the following ways:

  1. Let us prioritize theological precision among God’s people. “Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Understanding God’s Word matters. How we carry out worship matters. Our understanding of the Lord’s Supper matters. We don’t look to Scripture for permission to do what we think is best but for what God says. We do not prostitute the nations for the sake of donors. And those that are doing it are learning it from us. Stop sending missionaries with a low view of God’s word.”
  2. Let us mobilize for sacrificial mission among all peoples. “The need is great for justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone in America. But it’s needed in the world too. People are just as lost in Turkey as in Tennessee. But there’s a difference: there are churches and Christians in Tennessee. There are almost none in Turkey. They have no access to the gospel. And there’s a good chance they’re going to die and go to hell because they haven’t heard it. What would it take for the idea of unreached people to become completely intolerable to us?”
  3. Let us live, lead and long for the day when Reformation will be Consummation. “We have brothers and sisters in prison in North Korea. We have brothers and sisters in Pakistan where their buildings are being charred. There are brothers and sisters in Somalia whose throats will be cut if they speak the gospel. Do we not long for the day when the figurative fires of martyrdom will be finished. The reformers were fixed on that day.”

I found these points exceptionally challenging, especially as I consider both my own heart. I live in a country that is hostile to the gospel, but in a different way than the Reformers and our brothers and sisters places like Turkey face. I can go to church without worrying that someone will arrest me on the way. I can preach at a church without fear of attack. I can write this post without fear of reprisal (in general). So how can I use the opportunities this affords me while I have them?

The crowd at Together for the Gospel 2016

2. Thousands of voices singing Christ’s praises

One of the highlights of this conference is hearing—clearly—thousands of voices joining together in praise of Christ. Singing praise as such a large group is unbelievable, especially when singing a simple song such as the doxology as we did at the end of the event. Hearing everyone together made me long for the coming new creation, when all of God’s people will join together to sing together and worship him for eternity.

It also made me look forward to praising Christ with my own church. While there are times when I struggle to sing at home, it doesn’t change my desire to. Singing at the conference gave me a few new words to sing for those moments when I struggle to sing the words on the screen at home.

3. Remembering the bondage from which we’ve been freed

John Piper presented a challenging message to the group this week, as he spoke on the bondage of the will. Though the entire message was superb, the end is what will undoubtedly cause a stir among many (and you could feel it happening in the crowd). Piper said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit):

We dare not only preach our new identity in Christ in our churches. Unless you preach the old identity in Adam how will they ever know grace? Whether you’re a convert who can remember what he was saved from or one who grew up in a Christian home, we need this…

That word “only” is important—it’s not that Piper is against preaching our identity in Christ, but that we should not ignore our old identity. Knowing what we were saved from—who we were—helps us appreciate what we were saved to—and who we are now in Christ. This is something that, is easy for me in a lot of ways to take for granted. I know exactly what I was like before Christ saved me. I was a hater of God. My children, if by God’s grace they come to faith in him, may never know a life as a hater of Christ. They might only experience a gradual progression from seeing Emily’s and my faith in action to a faith of their own emerging (and I pray for this to happen). But they need the same rescue I did for their problem is the same as mine. And all of us  owe all we have in Christ to his gracious work of saving us from our bondage to our love of darkness and hatred of the light.

That’s good news, isn’t it?

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.