Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology (Together for the Gospel)is essentially the written form of the Together For The Gospel 2008 conference. Reading it is the same as being there, so long as you also do the following:

1) Imagine the voice and preaching style of the individual authors as you read. (Caution: don’t mix them. If you read Sproul and think Mahaney, it will get very confusing)
2) Invite several thousand friends over to sing various worship songs before reading each chapter.
3) Imagine the witty banter and thoughtful insight from the authors after each chapter.
4) Ask a friend or relative to surprise you with new books in your chair every time you leave the room.
5) Have a horse near you. A doll, a picture, a real live pony, any horse will do. You are, after all, suppose to be in Louisville.

Ok, so its not the same as being there, but for those of us that weren’t at T4G08, its nice to have the teaching all in once book.

Since this book is a compilation of the T4G sermons, each chapter, like T4G itself is only loosely connected to any other. The one thing each has in common is a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel of the cross.

First up, is Ligon Duncon. His chapter, Sound Doctrine, is an argument for systematic theology and clear doctrine. He exposes the idea that we could be “doctrine-less” as being a doctrine in and of itself and stresses that the question is not should we or should we not have doctrine, but what doctrine should we have? He carefully reveals the ideas which question doctrine and thoroughly explains that doctrine is necessary and useful and that systematic theology is every bit as biblical as biblical theology.

Next up is Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti presents one of the freshest and profound arguments against racism I have ever read. As someone who once made “Jeremiah Wright look like a poster child for the Boy Scouts,” he argues that “the trajectory of race is always toward racism and an unbridgeable otherness.” He rejects the very idea of race, reminding us that we are descendents of Adam. We are of one race. Any acknowledgment of other sources or other races may very well suggest another savior. To Thabiti, the idea of race is contrary to the gospel. He acknowledges that we may have ethnic differences among us, and he certainly agrees that we have biological differences, but he urgest that we realize four grounds for unity: 1) Unity in Adam, 2) Unity in Christ, 3) Unity in the Church, and 4) Unity in glory.

John MacArthur is next. He addresses the doctrine of total depravity. Claiming that “soft preaching makes hard people,” MacArthur calls for a renewed zeal of this once common doctrine. As someone that is often outside of the reformed camp, I appreciate the careful way in which MacArthur explains this subject. This is a valuable chapter for the Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike.

Mark Dever presents a defense against five “improvements” to the Gospel. He urges pastors to “preach the Gospel we have been given” and be aware of various trends in theology that attempt to make the gospel social, larger, relevant, personal, or kinder. He argues that all the good points of these ideas are found within the Gospel, but to focus on any of them alone is to step away from the Gospel.

[For clarity, Dever has included and addendum written by Greg Gilbert entitled What is the Gospel? In it, Gilbert claims that the Gospel is the “declaration of the Kingdom together with the means of entering it.” Gilbert’s article has been expanded and published as a book now. What Is the Gospel? (9marks) is on my reading list and will be reviewed here soon.]

Sproul’s contribution is a look at the Curse Motif of atonement. This is a hard hitting message which reminds us of the depth of what was accomplished at the cross. He charges his readers with this, “That is the reality we must make clear to our people – either they will bear the curse of God themselves or they will flee to the One who took it for them.” This is an excellent explanation and argument for the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which sets us up for what is next.

Al Mohler provides eye-opening evidence for the fact that a most basic doctrine, that Jesus Christ bore the punishment for our sins, is under attack. As I read this chapter, I realized how much of hatred of substitutionary atonement I have heard in popular Christians books lately. Mohler gives an excellent argument for why questioning this doctrine is “an assault on the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” This was one of the most valuable chapters in the book.

The last two chapters are meant to encourage, and they do it well. John Piper provides a walk through Hebrews and what it says about the Supremacy of Christ. He concludes, “Let us go to him outside the camp. For here we have no lasting city. But we seek a city which is to come, whose builder is God and whose light is the Lamb.”

Finally, C.J. Mahaney contributes a message for pastors. He understands well, the conflict between a great conference, message, or book, and the day to day struggle of pastoring a “regular” church. He urges pastors to be grateful rather than complaining, to minister in faith (how often we neglect that!), and to love the people we serve. It is a simple and profound charge.

I was introduced to T4G by attending the 2010 conference. It was wonderful. It was truly the best conference I have attended and I wish I had known about it for 2006 and 2008. It is good that the messages are available in this format. This is an excellent book for any pastor or layperson. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, and well worth the time to read.