Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Westminster Conference 2012 Day 1

The day began with a novel event - a lecture by an Anglican - the Director of the Church Society, Lee Gatiss. He is thoroughly Reformed in theology; probably you could not put a hair between him and most people at the conference (numbering 140) on most divisions of doctrine, other than ecclesiology and perhaps baptism.

His subject was '1662 and all that'.

The address was interesting without being gripping. He quoted one authority to the effect that there were probably only 900 rather than 2000 ejectees when properly counted, and in discussion someone referred to 800; I was fully prepared for it to be down to single figures by lunchtime but thankfully the discussion was called to an end. Not that the principles involved hang on the number who suffered.

The major issues were skirted: what is the biblical nature of the church and whose Word rules the church?

The second address was by an old stalwart of the conference, Andrew Davies, and he gave us outlines of two ejectees in Wales, and a quick glimpse at a third (numbers going up this afternoon - the programme had promised us only two - after this morning's reductionism I am amazed that three could be found). Philip Henry was the best known, the others were Samuel Jones and Thomas Goudge (?)

This paper was followed by a useful discussion of matters of conscience and authority, and the important point that it was the issue of imposition of matters that were not 'vital' but 'significant', rather than the issues themselves, that caused the ejectees (all twelve of them by now, I shouldn't wonder) to stand firm. It was useful to mop up the affairs of the morning.

The third paper was by another Anglican, Andrew Atherstone of Oxford. 'Hagiography or History?' was his title - how should Christians write biography? It was a shame that he did not really define his terms - what exactly do we mean by hagiography, and how does it differ from what he later called 'confessional' writing, as opposed to 'professional' or academic writing? It is unfortunate that there was a contrast posited between the two - after all, cannot one write confessionally and professionally?

It is unfortunate too that he made it all rather personal in using Iain Murray to bounce off (in a very respectful way, I should say) but doubly unfortunately, Iain Murray was not there to answer for himself, having had to leave early, we were told. It was a pity too that someone called the book on Lloyd-Jones ('Engaging with Martyn Lloyd- Jones') which had really sparked of this whole debate, an 'exercise in self-promotion'. After the many exhortations from the chair to be polite, it was uncalled for to treat the speaker in this way, though a little ground was made up by the offender and also by someone else who praised the book.

A mixed day at the office, then, and we look forward to tomorrow.

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