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