In October I was invited to participate in a regional conference in Ontario. The theme was on revival and the expositions were very good, especially those given by Don Carson, the Canadian born scholar. The sponsoring group was The Gospel Coalition’s Ontario Chapter.
Now The Gospel Coalition (TGC) was formed in 2005 by Don Carson and New York City pastor Tim Keller as a modest plan to rally about 40 broadly Reformed pastors together in order to assist the church by leveraging resources for teaching and outreach.
Since then, TGC has had conferences and a significant web influence, as well as the beginnings of regional ‘chapters’. In Canada, groups in Ontario, Atlantic Canada and Quebec have started chapters of the US-based TGC. Yet many Canadian church leaders felt that a separate national group was needed. So discussions began at the TGC Ontario conference to talk about forming The Gospel Coalition Canada.
I was privileged to be asked to participate in those discussions about TGC. I heard Don Carson tell about the history of TGC and how it has grown to have a great influence beyond the US. Carson said that the city with the highest amount of users for the TGC website came from Sydney, Australia! Yet Carson stated that TGC had never intended to be an international ministry. It was a US oriented para-church ministry. So what has happened in response is that groups from different countries have started TGC-like organizations with similar aims, but with complete control in their own hands, not the US group. TGC offered to generously share resources, and branding, but hoped that these other countries would develop their own ministry as they saw fit.
Australia was a test case for this (although Spanish and French speaking groups have begun as well). An Australian Council was established to form The Gospel Coalition Australia. For now, they use a ‘mirrored’ version of the US TGC site, but they are developing on their own, making decisions as they see fit for the Australian context.
So in Canada, there is the possibility of the same thing happening. In the October meeting in Ontario, it was decided among the assembled group that John Neufeld of Back to the Bible Canada, and John Mahaffey, Pastor of West Highland Baptist, Hamilton, would invite an initial council together to consider the TGC doctrinal statement and the prospect of establishing a para-church entity in Canada.
Unlike the US, Canada has very few para-church ministries that are theologically robust, yet unifying across denominations around the gospel. In the US, TGC is just one of many differing ‘Reformed evangelical’ constituencies, which can overlap with other sound ministries. Canada has none. And the evangelical denominations in Canada are losing any distinctiveness in being evangelical, while individual churches are finding more in kinship with churches outside of their denominations than in them. This is where a Gospel Coalition-type of ministry could be helpful in Canada.
I was asked to participate in the Ottawa meeting last week with other Reformed evangelical pastors in order to establish The Gospel Coalition Canada. This is an immense privilege for me and it touches on a ministry burden that I have had since the early days of my Christian life. Canada needs sound gospel preaching, in sound gospel churches, populated by sound, gospel Christians.
The possibility of The Gospel Coalition Canada is in my view a generational opportunity in this country. It is my opinion that nearly all of the Canadian evangelical denominations will be ‘former’ evangelicals within a generation. This is already happening, so that the ‘coalitions’ of the past, whether Baptist, Mennonite,Reformed, Presbyterian, etc., will all become similar in structure, doctrine and practice to the United Church of Canada or the Anglican Church of Canada. These ‘churches’ are merely social agencies, or advocacy groups who are at best trafficking in the bare husk of confessional orthodoxy.
The Gospel Coalition Canada, is not another denomination. However as Dr. Carson made clear in October it is a para-church ministry. It simply comes alongside of the church and helps the church, because the church is the main thing. Nevertheless, such coalition building is desperately needed in Canada where so many churches and leaders feel isolated and unaware of others who may be likeminded. In response to this isolation, many pastors and churches have looked south to the US. They have even begun to develop ministry connections with US based ministries. The more North-South cooperation has happened, the less East-West assistance has occurred.
The Gospel Coalition Canada is an effort to change that.
It is an attempt to share in the ministry of the gospel together across a vast land that stretches from sea to sea to sea. It is a generational opportunity. And in the spiritual lostness of Canada’s great expanse may our prayer be that God would graciously bless such efforts to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ today and until he returns in glory.