Conference aims to stop evangelicals’ “theological drift”

HAMILTON, ON—A coalition trying to stop the "theological drift" from the centre of evangelicalism is holding a conference in Cambridge in May.

The Gospel Coalition grew out of a desire by American evangelical pastors Don Carson and Tim Keller to "bring the church back to the centre of the gospel," says West Highland Baptist lead pastor John Mahaffey.

"It started as a reaction to things that were going on," says Mahaffey, who also chairs The Gospel Coalition Ontario chapter's second regional conference. "There was a strong consensus that evangelicalism was becoming more defined by fringes and extremes and not known for the gospel."

That consensus, and the coalition's role, is outlined on its web site.

"We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. … We have committed ourselves to invigorating churches with new hope and compelling joy based on the promises received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone."

The coalition's genesis was a 2005 round table discussion of pastors in Chicago. Mahaffey was the only Canadian pastor present. After suggesting more pastors from Canada be invited to future colloquia, and attending a few of the American-held conferences, Mahaffey helped organize the first Canadian conference two years ago. About 350 pastors and Christian leaders attended the one-day conference held at West Highland Baptist.

This year, anticipating twice as many attendees, the conference will be held at Heritage College and Seminary over two and a half days—May 29 to 31.

Mahaffey says pastors' and denominational conferences over the past 15 years have focused on building great churches, reaching seekers and becoming more culturally relevant.

"There's nothing wrong with these. Our emphasis is to bring people back to the central core, the central tenets of what we believe," he says. "We have been become more defined by methodology than theology."

David Short, pastor at St. John's Vancouver Anglican Church, will give an example of defining a church by theology in a plenary message. St. John's left the Anglican Church of Canada and joined the Anglican Network in Canada in 2008 over the Diocese of New Westminster's decision to bless same sex unions.

Short will describe what "faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus looks like in a denomination's theological drift," says Mahaffey.

Speaking on the theme "The Priority of the Gospel," other plenary speakers include Don Carson and John Neufeld, pastor of Willingdon Church in Burnaby, B.C.

The workshop topics feature a two-part series by Joe Boot on defending the gospel in a pluralistic society, two workshops by Michael Haykin on being a Canadian evangelical in the 20th century, and another by Dwayne Cline on the challenge of establishing thriving gospel-centred churches in the inner city.

For more information check or the conference's Facebook page.

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