London’s Proclamation Trust Conference
This year’s annual evangelical ministry assembly organised by the Proclamation Trust at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London, at the end of June was well attended with nearly a thousand present. Visiting speakers included Tim Keller and Don Carson from the USA and Phillip Jensen from Australia. The main theme was church planting. One always appreciates the excellent organisation, enthusiasm and the stimulus the messages often give.
Other things one could do without, such as the conversational prayer style; the offhand way Scripture is often read; the applauding of overseas speakers; the almost total absence of warm experiential Calvinistic preaching; the inane chorus led by a beat combo on the second day. Hearing Dick Lucas warn against praise leaders reminded me a little of Spurgeon warning against some of the things coming in during his time that he was powerless to stop. It was with sadness that we heard from Mr Lucas’s own lips that this was to be the last of his regular ‘expositions for expositors’, especially as exposition has taken rather a back seat in recent years. His expositions from 1 Peter this year were a highlight.
In the middle of one of his messages on church planting, Australian evangelical Phil Jensen gave his traditional rant against Anglicanism – always far more scathing than any nonconformist would attempt in public.
Enjoyable as it is, it is difficult to see the point of it. The Proclamation Trust continues to be something of a mystery in this respect. Don Carson on evangelical unity was most disappointing. First, we had a fine paper pointing up the many difficulties involved. His attempt to ingratiate himself with non-Baptists by sharing an anecdote about difficulties immersing believers seemed, to this Baptist, inappropriate and unhelpful. His second paper sidestepped all the issues raised in the first and the many more that do exist and simply urged all to love one another more. To completely ignore all the New Testament texts on the purity and the discipline of the local church was irresponsible, especially in such a gathering.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment, however, was the pragmatism that seemed to prevail everywhere, especially in the messages from Phil Jensen and Tim Keller on church planting. Jensen’s approach is basically to try any combination that looks as if it might work. If it does, good, if not, put it down to experience. Keller’s approach is similar with an emphasis on giving the people what they want, especially when it comes to worship style. The idea of going to Scripture for our ideas seems to be an alien one to the former Westminster Theological Seminary lecturer. Even when he recommended investigation of Scripture he narrowed down to Acts 13- 19, not the whole of the book. A similar pragmatism came out in the seminars I attended – his otherwise helpful one on counselling and Stephen Timmis’s introduction to his own version of church planting. The current effort apparently involved spending a Sunday morning reviewing a secular rock album.
Other speakers were Australian evangelist John Chapman and PT head David Jackman. Despite the above remarks I did enjoy this conference in many ways. However, unlike many at the Conference, this is not the only one which I have attended this year and I fear that many attending do not realise how seriously they are being short changed by this otherwise worthy conference. Perhaps one of the most revealing moments was when Tim Keller in an aside asked if we still believed in public proclamation of the word! Not only did he sound a little unsure but the conference itself also did.
Next year the subject is preaching. It will be interesting.
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