We began the day with a survey of the life of Blaise Pascal (1623-62) from David Gregson. Pascal was a mathematical genius who was deeply affected by the Jansenists in the 1640s but whose deeper and perhaps true conversion came in the famous 'night of fire' in 1654. It was thrilling to hear how the record of this remarkable experience was found sewn up in a coat of Pascal's some years after he died.
After his conversion he lived for only eight years but wrote the famous 'Pensees', a series of meditations intended to be the basis of an apologetics work which Pascal never wrote. He remained within the Roman church and never challenged teachings about the supremacy of the Pope, transubstantiation etc.
Inevitably questions arose about how much 'content' one needs to believe to be a Christian (described by one as 'an illegitimate question'; why? maybe we can't answer it, but I am not sure it is illegitimate). We also discussed how hard it is to break out of our pre-Christian thought patterns.
And the thought occurred to me: if Pascal's experience had been recounted by a charismatic of the 1980s, would we be so sure it was a genuine conversion?
The Jansenists, incidentally, were a group who were gripped by the concept of God's grace - Augustinians who remained within the Roman Church but who were suppressed in the later 17th Century. Dr Lloyd-Jones apparently called them 'Calvinistic Methodists before their time'. How closely related are they I wonder to the Jensenists of the Sydney diocese in Australia who are also Augustinians working within the establishment?
Roger Welch gave us an excellent overview of Christian responses to Islam after lunch though it was too heavy going for some who enjoyed a light post-prandial slumber; but the quality of the paper and the knowledge imparted were top class. The discussion tended towards the anecdotal - 'this is my experience of muslim evangelism and how may I do better?' which was not bad, but it revealed how little we as a group knew about Muslim evangelism or had experience of it.
Finally we had a good paper from Peter Law about Henry Martyn, always inspirational.
The next conference is 3rd-4th December 2013 and includes papers on C.S.Lewis; 'Have we got the right gospels?'; Henry Havelock (the Christian general who crushed the Indian mutiny in the mid 19th century); Evangelistic preaching - lessons from great preachers; Isaac Ambrose (a puritan from the north of England); and issues arising from the ministry of Edward Irving. A good mixture and something for everyone. Be there!