Results tagged “Westminster Conference” from Reformation21 Blog

The Westminster Conference will take place later this year, God willing, in central London at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. As usual, there are two days of lectures and discussion, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December. The outline for the two days is below, and the brochure can be downloaded to obtain the booking form. More information can be found at the conference website.

Sin and sanctification in John Owen (Sinclair Ferguson ~ Elder at St. Peter's Free Church, Dundee). John Owen is one of the monumental figures of the seventeenth century. His profound scriptural sensitivity to sin and understanding of sanctification form some of the deepest currents of his work both as a theologian and as a pastor. This paper will explore these complementary and contradictory elements of Christian experience through the lens of Owen's wrestling with the issues.

"On the side of God": Andrew Fuller's pastoral theology
(Jeremy Walker ~ Pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley). Andrew Fuller is recognised as a theologian and for his friendship with and support of William Carey. However, these labours cannot be divorced from his principles and practices as a pastor and a preacher. This was his primary calling. It informed and was expressed in everything else in which he was involved. This paper will draw together some of the convictions recorded, conclusions reached and counsels expressed by Andrew Fuller in the realm of pastoral theology.

The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen (David Pfeiffer ~ Minister of Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church). Apparent tensions between convictions about the definite extent of the atonement joined with commitments to the freeness of the gospel offer are perennial issues in Christ's church. Few men have contended for the former more effectively than John Owen and his works breathe a lively and transparent concern that lost men should trust in the only Saviour of sinners. David Pfeiffer will help us to see these elements of Owen's labour in healthy parallel.

Erasmus and the Greek New Testament (Peter Hallihan ~ retired from pastoral ministry; Editorial Consultant for TBS). Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536) was the genius sometimes described as the prince of the humanists. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to learning and religion was his edition of the Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of most vernacular translations of the Scriptures for the next three centuries. Peter Hallihan will give us insights into the man and his work, tracing some of his influences and influence.

Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections
(Paul Helm ~ formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, King's College, London). The name of Jonathan Edwards, together with select elements of his theology, has become more prominent in the thinking and practice of Reformed evangelicals in recent years. Ready reference is made to well-known but not always well-understood works such as Edwards' study of the religious affections. Paul Helm will take a fresh look at this book, emphasising its setting and its sources, helping us grasp the substance and application of Edwards' work.

Isaac Watts and the gift of prayer
(Benedict Bird ~ ThM Student and Greek Teacher at London Theological Seminary). Best known for his hymnody, Isaac Watts was also an influential theologian. He considered prayer to be not only a duty but a precious privilege, and he wrote to assist the saints in learning to pray. He showed that prayer is a gift, but one that can be developed. Prayer is not always high on the agenda in the church of Christ, and not often developed to a high degree when it is. In his Guide to Prayer, Watts directs us still to cultivate "this holy skill of conversation with God."

The Westminster Conference 2014


About 120 people gathered during Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the long-running Westminster Conference. A mix of regulars and newer and younger faces enjoyed a couple of days of theological and historical cogitation.

The first day opened with Stephen Clark's paper on holy worldliness. Focusing on George Whitefield and Howell Harris as cases in point, he explored the sometimes unhealthy dualism that sometimes dehumanised them, especially with regard to their romantic relationships. Comically painful and painfully comical at times, the paper demanded that we be properly grounded in the real world, recognising both our God-given humanity and its present fallen nature.

Then Adrian Brake gave us an excellent window into the life of Thomas Charles of Bala. Regularly seizing up and clutching to his bosom Charles' biblical dictionary (in reality, a phenomenally instructive Bible teaching tool), he kept us properly entertained with an overview of this man of God who laboured to preach the gospel by all legitimate means, and had a great impact on his countrymen, as well as many others. Especially moving were the descriptions of real hunger for the Word of God written.

The day closed with Andrew Davies' survey of the finest elements of Calvinistic Methodism, helping us to see the spread and influence of the movement, and its common ground with the most vibrant expressions of biblical Christianity in many other times and places.

The second day opened with Mark Jones on law and grace. Mark gave a finely nuanced paper on the subject, helping us to fine tune our understanding of antinomianism in its historic and present expressions. The discussion turned helpfully to some of the more blunt modern forms of these errors and their dangers, with the need for pastors to understand the sometimes fine distinctions in these matters, preaching a full gospel to the whole man.

Robert Strivens followed with a paper on Richard Baxter, giving a sense of his life and focusing on a couple of his more accessible works. Interesting questions were then raised about whether or not we afforded more room to historic figures like Baxter than we do to modern authors like N. T. Wright, and if it was right to do so, given the errors of both in the crucial matter of justification.

The day and the conference closed with Andy Young's paper on John Knox as an international Christian. In a well-structured paper, Andy traced the life and influence and concerns of Knox with an earnestness which Knox himself might have commended. It was a good end to a generally good conference.

Next year's conference will take place on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December, God willing. All will be welcome, and further details will follow in due course. Proposed papers should be on the following topics:

  • Erasmus and the Greek New Testament
  • Isaac Watts and "the gift of prayer"
  • Sin and sanctification in the thought of John Owen
  • The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen
  • Andrew Fuller as a pastoral theologian
  • Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections

Westminster Conference 2014: "Authentic Calvinism?"

This year's Westminster Conference is within hailing distance (Tue 02 and Wed 03 Dec) and the bookings have begun rolling in. Details can be found on the new website, together with the booking form for those wishing to attend. First time attendees at the conference can come free if they are among the first ten such to notify the Secretary (contact via the website). It looks like a pretty ripe array of the usual theological and historical subjects, and the fee is peanuts by comparison with other two day conferences in central London, so do check it out and come along.

Westminster Conference 2014: "Authentic Calvinism?"

Brochure 2014 cover small.jpgThe brochure is available and booking is open for the Westminster Conference 2014. The conference runs from Tuesday 2nd through Wednesday 3rd December, and features six papers, as follows:

  • Holy worldliness? by Stephen Clark
  • Thomas Charles of Bala by Adrian Brake
  • The International Phenomenon of Calvinistic Methodism by Andrew Davies
  • Law and Grace by Mark Jones
  • Richard Baxter and his Legacy by Robert Strivens
  • John Knox: An International Christian by Andy Young

The conference is being hosted at the Salvation Army's Regent Hall on Oxford Street, London. More details, including all the information required for booking, are in the brochure. I hope that many will be able to attend, and that it will prove again to be a stimulating and profitable couple of days.

The Westminster Conference 2013

The Westminster Conference is taking place on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th December at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. This year, the topics are, I hope, particularly timely, speaking to current issues and pressing needs in the church of Christ, and bringing the wisdom and experience of the past to bear on the immediate present. Six papers are given, with discussion afterward, as follows:
Do we have the Right Gospels? by Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge. It is a time of confusion. Claims and counter-claims are made about the formation and content of the Biblical canon by men and women with scholarly reputations. 'Experts' and popularisers crop up discovering or offering 'new' gospels, often with a radically different message from the ones that the church has always accepted. Peter Williams will guide us through the morass and offer some direction and instruction in assessing and responding to such claims.
C. S. Lewis: Clarity and Confusion by Andrew Wheeler of Lake Road Chapel, Keswick. C. S. Lewis has become something of a poster-boy for modern evangelicalism, with many prominent figures listing him as one of their primary influences. But who was he, what did he teach, and how much is he to be trusted? Andrew Wheeler will sift the wheat from the chaff, equipping us to make a careful, thoughtful consideration of Lewis's labours and teachings so that we can better determine if, when and how far he may be safely followed.

Henry Havelock by Jeremy Walker. Perhaps best known for his heroic participation in the relief of the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock also provides a model for Christian warfare in a spiritually hostile environment. A survey of his life will reveal lessons for practical godliness in the public sphere, an example for believers of a life lived with an eye to pleasing his Lord, without extravagance or fanfare, yet always with the savour of Jesus Christ.

Evangelistic preaching: Lessons from the Past by Gary Benfold of Moordown Baptist Church, Bournemouth. Evangelistic preaching - preaching that aims directly and immediately at the conversion of souls - is not much in fashion today, but the past is full of examples of men who spoke plainly to unbelievers with the desire of seeing them saved - men to whom God gave a harvest of souls. How can today's preachers so speak as to see men saved? How do divine sovereignty and human responsibility intertwine in this vital endeavour?

Edward Irving: Confusion and Clarity by Nick Tucker of Oak Hill College. One of the comets who soared across the nineteenth century London religious scene was Edward Irving, whose burgeoning ministry saw large crowds attending his powerful yet sometimes contentious preaching. Alongside personal tragedies were claims of spiritual gifts and prophetic insights. The tensions involved in Irving's ministry are strikingly similar to many we face today, and a study of Irving provides us with helpful insights and lessons.

Isaac Ambrose by Gary Brady of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London. "As Christ is more excellent than all the world, so this sight transcends all other sights; it is the epitome of a Christian's happiness, the quintessence of evangelical duties, Looking unto JESUS." So wrote Isaac Ambrose, whose best known work vividly explores the duty and delight of fixing the eye upon the Lord. Gary Brady will consider the man and his ministry, offering insights into his character and his labours as he sought to hold Christ before the eyes of men.
Those interested can download the brochure for further information and booking details. Please pray for the Lord's blessing on the conference. I trust that you might consider joining us there.

Westminster wrap-up

This year's Westminster Conference finished yesterday with a further three papers. The first was, for me, perhaps the highlight of the conference. David Gregson from Reeth gave a paper (the Reeth lecture?) on Blaise Pascal. We considered his life and his scientific exploits as a man of indisputable genius. The most fascinating aspect was his 'twofold conversion' through exposure to the Augustinian theology of grace by means of the Jansenist movement, a stream within the Roman Catholic church which emphasized man's depravity and God's saving grace. There was first an intellectual embrace of the position, followed by what has become known as Pascal's 'night of fire,' an overwhelming conversion experience. Thereafter, Pascal's developed a new sense of the limits and purposes of human reason, emphasizing far more the heart (as the centre of the being) and the shortcomings of a merely intellectual approach. Quoting liberally from the Pensées (Thoughts), we were guided through some of the tensions and wonders of Pascal's thought, including the famous wager and his stout allegiance to 17th century Roman Catholicism. A reasonable discussion developed around the relative roles and relationships of faith and reason, as well as what one must know and believe in order to be saved. David's passion for his subject and depth of understanding were evident, and I should think a good number went away determined to read Pascal for themselves.

Then Roger Welch attempted an overview of Christianity's engagement with Islam (taking both terms in the broadest sense) from the emergence of Islam up to the present day. This was one of those papers where you could see the speaker necessarily dropping material as he went, so the printed paper will contain a lot more narrative. Roger did a great job of packing his material in to the allotted time, and the discussion which followed focused on how we need to think and speak in order to be effective witnesses to Muslims in our own environment, as well as in other places, as well as tensions to do with perspectives on God as Father and Son, and related translation issues. The matter of works and grace came through prominently as the discussion continued under Stephen Clarke's able chairmanship.

Finally, Peter Law wrapped us up with a thoughtful, sensitive and balanced biographical study of Henry Martyn. As ever, there is a healthy rebuke when we consider the commitment of such men to God and to their work for God: we understand why Charles Simeon would point guests to Martyn's portrait in his study, and say, "There! See that blessed man! No one looks at me as he does. He never takes his eyes off me and seems always to be saying, 'Be serious, be earnest; don't trifle, don't trifle'." Then, smiling at and bowing to his protégé's picture, Simeon would add, "And I won't trifle, I won't trifle." At the same time, this was a measured perspective, letting us see the sometimes uncomfortable realities of Martyn's work and exposing some of the pride and fastidiousness which sometimes threatened to send him into easier and more comfortable paths.

Next year's conference is due to take place on 3rd and 4th December 2013, and includes papers on clarity and confusion in C. S. Lewis (who is generally thought to need no introduction but actually needs precisely the kind of introduction this paper aims to give); whether or not we have the right Gospels (in the light of recent assertions and confusions on the issue); Henry Havelock (the Christian general who relieved Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny, but - just as importantly - an example of how to live as a follower of Christ in the public sphere and in a difficult vocation); lessons from the past for our present evangelistic preaching (because it's not something that many preachers do well); Isaac Ambrose (that Christ-drenched Puritan); and, issues arising from the ministry of Edward Irving (a forerunner of the Charismatic confusion that still remains today).

Past papers - and there are some stonkers - are available through the Westminster Conference website, where information on next year's conference will be available shortly, and where booking information can be found in due course.

Waterpistols at the Westminster Corral

Oh, the ignominy!

One moment Mr Levy is speaking of my contribution to the discussion at the Westminster Conference, and the next he dismisses those making contributions as "loony toons." A more sensitive man than I might turn for solace to one of those cheering Russian novels which Carl recommends from time to time, great doorsteps about tragic declines and slow deaths, written by a man called Nokyoroanblokov from his winter hovel in Siberia.

Of course, Mr Levy is as right to point out the low standard of debate following that first paper as he is to query the attachment of some American churches to robed choirs. I am not quite sure who told Lee Gatiss what to expect, but there's no denying that our brother carpe'd the diem. I think whomever had primed him might have given him a bit of a bum steer, though, because he spent the first fifteen minutes working on what I thought were somewhat flawed assumptions, including - and this, I admit, despite certain appearances - the notion that we all think we are living in the latter half of the seventeenth century (this, of course, is nonsense - a good number of us are firmly mired in the eighteenth). In all seriousness, it is interesting to work back from what we heard to what must, I presume, be the common assumptions about this particular community. In his defence, Lee's title was not "1662 - so what?" but "1662 and all that." The unfortunate effect of his early approach was that he came across as a little more aggressive than he might have wished, even brash. Did he really need to quote Churchill's 'fighting on the beaches' bit? There were points at which I thought, "Only an Anglican could say that!" (I refrain from Truemanesque comments about certain schools and universities). For example, there was the thoroughly misguided assertion that 1689 and the Act of Toleration sorted out all the problems of the Clarendon Code, or what seemed to be the assumption that the Constantinian Settlement could universally be considered a good thing (as opposed to one of the great tragedies in the history of Christ's church). My point in discussion was that I am not a Dissenting minister of the gospel because of 1662, and I accept that the heritage of that period is as much the right of my evangelical Anglican brother to enjoy as it is mine. I understand that the Anglican communion has changed, but I am at least as much persuaded that it would be unconscionable to be a part of that communion now as it was in 1662. For example, I am no more in favour of synodical rule than I am of rule by Episcopal bishop; erastianism is anathema to me; I think the presumption of baptismal regeneration in the Anglican rite still proves spiritually deadly to thousands; the recent debacle over women bishops only emphasises the mess; I won't go on, although I already did. There seems to be a misapprehension that we are all Dissenters because of 1662. We certainly see the issues of the seventeenth century, but I find even more reasons not to be Anglican in 2012.

Perhaps the most evident disconnect came in a comment by another Anglican brother after the session. I had suggested to Lee that I was as much a Dissenter and Separatist by conviction as I presumed he was an Anglican. This slightly threw the other gentleman, who wanted me to understand that he - and, by extension, Lee, though he did not say this - were not so much convinced of the rightness of Anglicanism as not sufficiently convinced of certain other things to move away from Anglicanism. It seems, then, that we are talking past each other. I cannot understand how these brothers can consider certain things as relatively unimportant, and they cannot understand why I consider them too important to ignore. In that sense, perhaps we are not too far from 1662 after all.

Sadly, with the exception of a couple of comments by Iain Murray about the necessary separation of spiritual and political programmes and processes, none of this really took off in the discussion. Lee did us the honour of taking a stand and giving a stirring apologia for Anglicanism in general and what seemed a rather rose-tinted expectation for Reformed and evangelical men within that communion, and we did not do him the equal honour of giving him some stick in the most gracious way imaginable.

What must be understood, reader, is that the Westminster Conference does still abide by the British standards of a relatively bygone age, wherein a chap - if not entirely disgruntled, then certainly one remove from being fully gruntled - considers it a protest slightly below self-immolation on the scale of severity to catch the eye of another chap who may be in the same stage of gruntlement as himself and marginally raise a quizzical eyebrow. Of course, once the paper and discussion are finished, people mutter into sympathetic ears all the comments and contributions that they ought to make while the discussion is taking place. In that sense, I think that we were not perhaps as honest and upfront as we might have been.

At least some of this bubbled up nicely in Andrew Davies' session on the experience of a couple of Dissenters, where the discussion focused in on issues of conscience and obedience to authority: Whose authority? Where communicated? How does one train the conscience? Mr Davies' paper was gentle and careful, a good reminder of how biography can instruct and encourage. The readiness of these men to seize every opportunity to do as much good as they were able under trying circumstances was a profitable example.

The last paper was by Andrew Atherstone, and addressed the matter of hagiography and history. Comparing and contrasting a "confessional" approach (illustrated with a string of excerpts from the Banner of Truth magazine, with special reference to Iain Murray) with a "professional" approach - the school of Bebbington et al - Andrew suggested that neither side should be so quickly dismissive of the other. At last the discussion began to liven up a bit - more of the spirit with which we should have engaged Lee in the morning - and there was some healthy give and take. While some of the attendees at the conference are historians by training and, in measure, vocation, most are serious students of history from a pastoral perspective. I do not think Andrew persuaded us entirely of his via media, but he did underline the necessity of those who are more confessional historians engaging with the data with real integrity, and not neglecting God's employment of secondary causes to accomplish his divine ends, even while we will not compromise on robustly stated convictions about the ultimate and originating cause.

And so, as my train shuffles toward London for day two, delayed by the apparently utterly unforeseen consequence of stuff falling from the sky - this tricksy British weather! When shall we ever learn to expect precipitation during the winter months! - I hope for good things and better discussions today.

[A brief update: Lee has entered the fray very much in the spirit of things over here.]