Gospel Courage and the ERLC National Conference

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erlc national conference

I had the privilege to attend the ERLC National Conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” on October 27-29, 2014 held at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. I was also honored to be on a pastor’s panel on “Facing the Biggest Challenges to Marriage in the Church Today.” The goal of the conference was “to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches” (http://erlc.com/conference).

Activists on the Christian left, like Rachel Held Evans, roundly criticized the conference for talking about the LGBT but not talking to them. These theologically liberal critics define talking to the LGBT community as giving advocates a platform to share their views as presenters at the conference. But to the chagrin of Rachel Held Evans and other LGBT biblical revisionists, the purpose of the conference was not to debate the Christian permissibility of homosexual behavior—it is sexual immorality. The conference was designed to help equip Christians and churches to respond to the sin of homosexual behavior and the cultural legalization of same-sex marriage with a thoroughgoing gospel-centeredness.

Nevertheless, the charge that the conference was talking about but not to the LGBT conference is false. Thankfully, there were quite a few people from the LGBT community in attendance at the conference. The ERLC conference presented an unapologetic message on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the reality of gospel hope, but it also provided a venue where people created in the image of God could look one another in the eye and have genuine personal conversations about these vital matters. One LGBT activist, Brandan Robertson, explained to the Christian Post:

My favorite and the most valuable part of the conference, for me, was the over 20 conversations I had with Southern Baptist leaders and laypeople alike. The ability to see each other, face to face, as fellow Christians who disagree on these issues, opened the door for relationship and further conversation that I am confident will extend well beyond the conference.

What I find stunning is not the predictable response of Rachel Held Evans and other gay rights activists to the conference, nothing short of abandoning a biblical sexual ethic will be interpreted as kind or loving by them. What has bewildered me is that a few conservative evangelicals have interpreted having face-to-face convictional conversations with people as compromise. It seems to me that some self-professed biblicists have removed the NT Gospels from their Bible. 

That is not the first time that objection has been raised to followers of Christ:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13).

Years ago, I remember hearing John MacArthur talk about Pat Robertson’s desire to start a Christian anti-defamation league. MacArthur quoted Robertson as saying “You’ve called us fools so we’ll call you bigots. Christians are tired of being stepped on and the time has come to stand up for Christians’ rights.”
MacArthur went on to explain:

Well, some commentators coming out of that meeting said that Pat Robertson stood up and declared war on non-Christians. That’s a strange perspective, isn’t it? Are non-Christians the enemy or are they the mission field? They’re not the enemy. They’re not to be hated. They’re not to be fought. They’re not to be belittled. They’re not to be demeaned. They’re not to be assaulted. They’re not to be attacked. They are the very people that we have been called to reach.

He continued,

What happens in this environment is all of a sudden the mission field becomes the enemy and you start to engender hostility toward people who are not Christians. (Grace to You).

It is a strange evangelical culture when face-to-face conversations clarifying sin and the gospel are considered compromise and abstract, impersonal blog posts and social media barbs are considered courageous and convictional. Brad Paisley sang, “I’m so much cooler online” and I am afraid that some evangelicals are much more courageous online. Those who compromise biblical truth in an attempt to accommodate its message to modern culture end up losing the Christian gospel altogether. But the gospel can be forsaken in the opposite direction as well. Those who look at other sinners merely as enemies to be defeated in a culture war have forsaken the Christian gospel mission. After all, victory for us is not the defeat of our cultural opponents but their rescue.

By |November 4th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , , |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today


  1. Larry November 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Hi David,

    From what I’ve read and watched this was a wonderful conference and, like you, I thank God for the courage of those who stood for the truth at the conference. I’ve not read any of the criticism you’re responding to (other than what you show in the article) so I’m not taking that side necessarily. But, it seems you are confusing two categories of people in your response to the criticism – those outside the church who advocate and commit homosexual sin and those inside. We do not approach both of these groups the same way.

    Brandon Robertson and Matthew Vines are in the second category – those who claim to be followers of Christ while remaining unrepentant and seeking to lead the church astray. Scripture calls such people wolves in sheep’s clothing. Your post equates these men with the “sinners” gathered at Matthew’s house to whom Christ ministered. I think a better comparison is with the man in the Corinthian church who was unrepentantly involved in sexual sin while claiming to be a believer. I Corinthians 5:9-12 comes particularly to mind when thinking of Robertson, Vines and others like them. In this passage Paul makes the distinction between those inside and outside the church as well as outlines the differing approaches to the two groups.

    The Christian approach to those like Brandon Robertson and Matthew Vines is to call them to repent and failing that, to separate from them and warn the church about them. I have to wonder if any of these conversations with 20 Southern Baptist leaders and lay people included a call to repent and a warning of the danger in not doing so. Given these conversations were Robertson’s “favorite part” of the conference and that he hopes they will continue that seems unlikely. This is not an issue on which brothers in Christ can disagree like mode of baptism. Nonetheless, Robertson’s quote suggests that it is and that nothing he heard in the conversations he had hinted otherwise.

    We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water regarding the good work done at this conference. However, we need to be mindful that “conversations” (rather than loving, biblical confrontation and, when necessary, separation) have been the first step on the path to acceptance of homosexual practice in every denomination where that is now the case. Such a strategy should be pursued, if at all, with utmost caution.

    To paraphrase John Calvin, a pastor should have one voice for the sheep and another for the wolves.

  2. David Prince November 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    I do not think I am confusing categories at all but I do think you are. In fact, I do not think unrepentant homosexuals can be followers of Christ, that is—believers. Is your argument that you believe they can be? If I were the pastor of the men you mentioned I would certainly proceed with church discipline. The 1 Corinthians 5 passage that you mention pertains to church discipline. I am not the pastor of either man nor was any speaker at the conference to my knowledge.

    It seems to me that you are confusing the responsibility of a local church to respond to the unrepentant sin of members in their congregation and the responsibility of all believers to respond to unrepentant sinners with clarity about sin and proclamation of the Gospel. By the way, there is no need for you to proceed on the basis of your hints and suppositions since you were not in attendance. I was in attendance and I was involved in some of the conversations and I can tell you what those conversations contained. There is no need for quote marks around conversations as you did. They were genuine gospel conversations that provided loving biblical confrontation regarding sin. They emphatically did contain a call to repent and a warning of the danger in not doing so. Also, every speaker at the conference was clear about unrepentant sin and the hope of the Gospel. Your uninformed “hints” and “suppositions” can easily become slander & gossip. Critiquing what was said is certainly fair game but judging motives in spite of what was said is troubling.

    Calvin was right per your paraphrase “a pastor should have one voice for the sheep and another for the wolves.” But Calvin certainly maintained that both voices must contain the gospel clarity. Machen was right, the path to liberalism always involves the abandonment of the gospel. Those who want the church to capitulate on the issue of a biblical sexual ethic say it has nothing to do with the Gospel, but sadly, too many professing conservatives want to proceed the same way when they suggest that pointing sinners to the Gospel is compromise and dangerous. If looking people in the eye, personally clarifying sin, and pointing them to the hope of the gospel is dangerous then sign me up for that danger. In fact, I think failing to do so is what is truly dangerous.

  3. Larry November 11, 2014 at 7:52 am


    No, I’m not at all suggesting unrepentant homosexuals can be believers. I’m unsure what I said in my response that would indicate that but if I was unclear there I apologize.

    As for quotes around “conversations” I was referring to how that word is and has been used in the denominations who’ve capitulated on this issue – as a means of avoiding difficult confrontation. I was not referring to your specific conversations so again I apologize for not being clear. But you saw my motives there better than I did apparently.

    Glad to hear the conversations included a call to repent. I have been involved with men struggling in this way off and on for many years and that is sadly a rare thing in most of their encounters with Christians.

    Sorry to have troubled you.

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