Interview with Don Carson on the TGC Women's Conference
The first Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference is approaching (June 22–24 in Orlando, Florida). Don Carson, the president and co-founder of TGC, answered a few questions about the conference and the priority of training women for ministry.
Explain for us the origin of the women's conference and how it serves the broader vision of TGC?
Don Carson: TGC aims to reform evangelicalism, putting the "evangel" (the gospel) at the center of our thinking and practice — and that means focusing on Scripture, on Christ, on the cross and resurrection, on the God who redeems his people. If we are going to contribute to the reformation of evangelicalism, we must aim to teach women as well as men.
Is the 2012 conference primarily for a general audience of Christian women, or is it targeted to women who are formally involved in ministry?
DC: It targets all women who want to know their Bibles better, who want to encounter the living God through the great "theophany" passages — passages where God displays himself in spectacular revelation. Nevertheless those who are formally involved in vocational ministry will be strengthened by exemplary teaching, and some of the workshops are aimed at helping such women.
What do you hope women will gain from this particular conference?
DC: From the plenaries, (1) a renewed vision of God and his sweeping purposes of redemption; and (2) for those with eyes to see, some models of how to handle Scripture faithfully and tellingly. From the Workshops, a wide variety of stimulating help for Christian women — on their marriages, on how to lead Bible studies, on gospel outreach to people who do not look like you, on Scripture memory, on singleness, and much more.
The unfolding plan of redemption provides the backbone for this conference theme. How will biblical theology particularly serve women, and especially those in ministry roles?
DC: If we leap too quickly to personal application without reflecting on how any biblical passage fits into the Bible's grand history and plan of redemption, we almost always end up (however unwittingly) distorting the Bible. Worse, we lose sight of the way Scripture flows toward Jesus. The best application of Scripture takes place after coming to grips with how any text fits into the God-given big picture.
In the past you have talked about the difficulty of holding complementarian convictions (men and women are not interchangeable) and yet at the same time encouraging women to pursue ministry opportunities. In the last few years, where has your own thinking changed or been sharpened here?
DC: I don't think my views have changed much. On the other hand, I increasingly recognize that:
- It is important not to become silent on the issue; it is possible for the complementarian position to lose by default.
- We must so handle Scripture that the relevant passages are convicting, transforming, and seen to be for the good of both men and women, for God makes no mistakes. Recently Bob Yarbrough and I were the speakers at a conference for ministers dealing with these themes; the material will be available shortly on the TGC website.
- It is very important that the complementarian stance not be reduced to a cheap parody, where all we are saying is "No!" I would love to see far more churches utilizing the gifts and training of women, whether in paid staff positions or not — positions that are shaped by complementarian confessionalism and simultaneously encouraging, liberating, gospel-focused. Our churches could do with a lot more women in the heritage of Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, and Syntyche. (Why do we remember the latter two only for their bickering, and not only for their ministry of contending for the gospel at Paul's side?)
The first Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference is scheduled for June 22–24 in Orlando, Florida. Women can register for $125 through the end of February, at which point the rate increases to $175. Students and women who live outside the United States can register for $100 (no deadline).