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The Carey Conference, January 2009

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Category Articles
Date January 30, 2009

It was my great privilege to be at the Carey Conference in Swanwick once again. We were packed out there. I travelled up by car with four African students from LTS – two from West Africa (Femi and Klebert), two from South Africa (Richard and Clinton).

FIRST DAY

The first session was chaired by Hugh Collier. The speaker was David Ellis (currently in Stowmarket but due to move soon to Hinckley and at one time a missionary in France). 2009 sees the 500th year of Calvin’s birth so it was appropriate that we began with a paper on Calvin the Pastor and Theologian.

Beginning with an amusing reference to the response of a Swiss chocolatier to the Calvin anniversary, David went on to remind us of important aspects of Calvin’s character and history. His burden was that Calvin was a real human being, not the austere and lifeless plaster saint or tyrant sometimes presented. A man of action, he felt his heart was in God’s hand. Fearless and determined, he sought to base all that he taught on Scripture, leaving a monumental legacy in his writings, especially the Institutes. Under his hand Geneva became a centre that had an incalculable impact in many countries – not just in Christian terms but as far as politics and democracy are concerned too. He was every inch a Frenchman, full of tenderness and affection towards his fellow countrymen. Calvin’s greatest skill was putting things in their right place. How important that is. Often that is the problem in churches. Things are misplaced and given the wrong emphasis.

Calvin was a man with a sense of humour and a man with a great capacity for life-long friendship. His brilliance and his capacity for hard work were evident at a young age. At the same time he was a very modest and by nature a very private man. (The nearest he comes to personal reference is in his preface to his work on the Psalms). His appetite for hard study affected his health and this was probably made worse by his temperament. He suffered from many diseases but his strong constitution no doubt helped him to live as long and to be as productive as he did.

Tracing his various movements, David referred to a short stay in Italy where he and Mareau worked on a psalter. The two young men were often attractive to the ladies of the court. Calvin was always chiefly concerned to bear witness to them. It was en route from Noyon to Basle that he was eventually confronted in Geneva by Farel in a historic meeting. The rest, as they say, is history. How one explains this except as an act of God is difficult to see.

Reformation was the aim in Geneva. It was an uphill struggle and Calvin did not always get his way. Calvin’s influence was very great. Apart from anything he trained many men for the ministry, including 88 men who went to France, 10 of them dying as martyrs.

He was from Picardy. They are known as ‘the southerners of the north’. They have a Latin temperament and are great lovers of freedom. Calvin’s obstinacy and quick temper were no doubt partly due to this. He confesses at one time about his temper, ‘I have not been able to tame this ferocious beast’.

David also spoke about his way of writing. He used popular proverbs (eg sickness comes on a horse and leaves on foot), sometimes earthy language and always plain and straightforward language. He was always fearful of not being clear enough.

Calvin was married for 8 years to the widow Idelette de Bure. She brought two sons to the marriage. They themselves had two children but they died as infants. This clearly affected him though he never let go of the fact of God’s sovereignty.

Since the Apostle Paul there probably has not been a greater minister. (David referred to a 1964 Puritan Paper on Calvin by O R Johnston – worth checking out on these matters).

Bill James chaired our second session and Dr Tom Schreiner, Professor of NT interpretation at Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, who has written on Romans and NT Theology among other things, gave us an exegesis of Romans 2:1-3:20 (omitting 3:1-8). In a very clear and helpful style he worked through the passage pointing out exegetical issues and revealing his own views as well as those of others (such as Dunn and Moo) en route. Lots of mostly helpful things were said in the message and in discussion afterwards touching on the insanity of evil, how hypothetical Paul is, natural law, secret sins, the advantages and disadvantages of being a Jew, the judgement, etc. Quite stimulating on the whole. We ought to have more exegesis at such conferences.

After supper our second American spoke – Jerry Marcellino, a pastor in Laurel, Mississippi. John Benton chaired. In a very interesting paper he sought to encourage us from 1 Corinthians 4 by asserting that the doctrine of providence will fuel your perseverance in the ministry if you do four things.
1. Rightly assess your call – Who are you? (1 Cor. 4:1-6)

Speaking up very much for the traditional understanding of the call he spoke of the call to shepherd the sheep, to reach the perishing and to proclaim Jesus as Lord and ourselves as his servants.

2. Know you are in the place of ministry where you should be – Where are you? (1 Cor. 4:7-12)

Hopefully you know you are in just the place you know you should be. Think of Bunyan’s faithfulness to his 120 in Bedford when he could gathers hundreds in London. The need is a voice for the hour and an hour for the voice.

He also spoke of the importance of suffering. He asked are you remembering where the power comes from? (But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.) We should expect opposition. We need to keep the focus on the person of Jesus and be sure that we are in the place of his providential ordering.

3. Rightly assess the length of your ministry – Why are you there? To make known the Living God (1 Cor. 4:13-15)

He quoted some helpful things from my father-in-law (Geoff Thomas) on finding a place and settling there – including the helpfulness of attending ministers’ conferences. He advocated not planning to go but being willing to stay, but planning to stay but being willing to go. He referred to Gilbert Tennant’s response to Whitefield – wanting ‘not to die but to live as long as I can and to do my people as much good as I can’.

4. Get your aim in ministry right – What are you doing? Living in the light of eternity (1 Cor. 4:16-18)

He spoke alliteratively of
– Persevering (Therefore we do not lose heart.)
– Plodding – a long obedience in the same direction. (Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day)
– Preparation (‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’)
– Perception (So ‘we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’.)

He concluded with these words:
Aim to remain
Aim to sustain – word centred, warm hearted
Aim to proclaim – Jesus.
Aim to obtain – crown of life, righteousness.

This was warm-hearted and useful stuff, worth hearing. A good discussion followed.

SECOND DAY

Our first session was Tom Schreiner’s second message from Romans. I chaired. We skipped Romans 3:21-26 and then worked through 3:27 to the end of Chapter 4.

Again we started with an apt quote from Luther. Yesterday it was the hammer of the law and today a reminder that we always have more to learn with regard to the matter of justification by faith. Again we had an excellent walk through, interacting especially with the new perspective on Paul, acknowledging insights where possible but more often pointing out its misreadings. We also had a few anecdotes such as his wondering at one time why his Christian life was such a struggle and then remembering that we have no reservoir of strength but need to rely always on God and about praying for things with faith and realism. Abraham’s perseverance in faith is a great example to us and reminds us that justification is only by faith.

There was time for a few questions on the new perspective and assurance and then it was time for coffee.

2009 sees the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th of his On the Origin of Species and so it was appropriate to have pastor and scientist Dr Stephen Lloyd speaking on Darwin to Dawkins. He began by noting how nervous many evangelicals are about Darwinism. They feel intimidated scientifically and theologically. Also it is feared that the debate with Darwinism is divisive and a non-starter apologetically. Further, there is a fear that it may prove a distraction. Finally, creationism is thought of as dated. Yet, in the secular world they do not think of Darwinism as dated. In the move from modernism to post-modernism it has remained intact. Dawkins, etc., are saying nothing new, just asserting what has long been believed.

The media is interested in Darwinism because people are interested. Despite general apathy there is a great interest generally in the subject of origins. So we can’t avoid it. Further we should turn it to our advantage. It can unite rather than divide. It is also not a problem evangelistically and can be helpful pastorally too. Now is a good time for debate. What Dr Lloyd did then was to helpfully update us on three areas of the debate where the cultural and scientific landscape has changed – the intelligent design movement, creationism and biblical understanding.

Intelligent Design

The movement began in the USA through lawyer Philip Johnson. On a sabbatical in Oxford, still then unconverted, he bought and read Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker and Michael Denton’s Evolution – A Theory in Crisis. He saw that the debate was not a scientific one by definition. He pointed out the circularity of evolutionary arguments. The debate is set up in terms of a religion/science debate but it is not. Evolution is always the assumption. Naturalism rules. Dawkins is determined to take this view regardless of facts. Religion is put in the non-real realm. Evolutionary theory is not so much anti-God as anti-science. Johnson argued that we must be more scientific and follow the facts wherever they lead (Darwin on Trial, 1991; also note Reason in the Balance, 1995). At first the ID movement was not so much anti-evolution but a reaction to new science and discovery. We were shown a clip of Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) and Scott Minnich speaking of the complexity in humanity (as discovered since the fifties) and how it speaks so clearly of design. Darwinism has no way of explaining such things. The cell is outrageously complex – the opposite of what 19th Century scientists expected.

Mathematician William Dembski wrote The Design Inference in 1998 seeking to set out a rigorous mathematical way of detecting design. His publishers CUP were happy with the idea but became nervous about the application to biology. Dembski speaks of evidence of design very narrowly and certainly does not seek to identify the Designer. (Dembski would not see a snowflake as designed). CUP also published (2004) Debating Design.

Anthony Flue is one who has now moved, because of ID arguments, to a belief in a God. ID has had a high media profile. Christians are unclear what to think. The media often lump it in with creationism but it is only a scientific theory and not necessarily biblical. It is useful for puncturing the naturalism bubble. Unlike creationism some scientists are at least willing to consider ID. It cannot save but it is our friend. ID is like the airforce and creationism the ground forces!

Stephen Lloyd also spoke of new landscapes with regard to

Creationism

Things have moved on since Whitcomb and Morris but there are still things to criticise. There are bad creationist books, etc. Often very negative, simply anti-evolutionary. Better to be positive. There are research journals and other efforts have been made simply to do research on a creationist model. New creationism (cf. Paul Garner’s book by that title) involves new people working in their own special fields – eg. John Baumgarten an expert in plate tectonics; Kurt Wise (who did his PhD with Stephen Jay Gould) a palaeontologist, etc. Such people are working as teams. They seek to be positive. Simply rubbishing evolutionists is not helpful. It is better to give a better model, one true to the Word. (A model is a story to explain something). Creationists have been developing various models. There are not only new models but also new questions, eg. carbon dating a diamond, looking for mica in the Grand Canyon where it is not supposed to be. It is real science. A model can only be consistent or inconsistent with the Bible, which is not a scientific textbook.

The Bible

There is a new landscape here too. We tend to think there is nothing new to say but some of the biblical arguments need developing, in part because we have been asking the wrong questions. There is a sense in which we can forget Genesis, which is pretty straightforward. Romans is perhaps more important. The Gospel Coalition helpfully emphasises Creation – fall – redemption – restoration in a way that sometimes has not been done in the past. We live in a biblically illiterate age and we need to press the story line. This is where we really come into conflict with Darwinism. Three crucial doctrines that are particularly pertinent to the matter of origins are whether there was agony or death before Adam; Adam was a real human being; Noah’s flood was a worldwide deluge

Dr Lloyd (as at the John Owen Conference back in September) concentrated on the first issue only (he has something in print soon). If we try and make the biblical story cohere with the Darwinian one, the biblical story becomes incoherent and disjointed. For example, to say cancer is part of the original creation is problematic in many, many ways.

After lunch I headed off in the car to Quinta Christian Centre where I had agreed to give a seminar on ‘Holiness’ for the CICCU (Cambridge Inter-collegiate Christian Union). It’s about 95 miles and there is no obvious route so I ended up taking quite an interesting route. About 120 were at the conference and 20 of them came to the seminar, which was great. I’m not used to students really. By my age they look like children but when they speak they are obviously young adults and I had some really nice chats both in and out of the seminar. Ian Hamilton was doing the main talks. No time to talk to him as he had just been told that the man who had agreed to give a seminar on the Trinity couldn’t show up so was substituting.

By speaking for CICCU I had to miss the Prayer and Share session, which I normally look forward to. Apparently, 9 or 10 spoke:

Three EMF students, Sergey, Jack and Andreas (from Ukraine, Poland and Switzerland respectively).
Erroll Hulse (unable to be at all of the conference) spoke about Conferences for African pastors in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Another Sergey from Ukraine who is a student in WEST.
Three LTS students – Phil, Clinton and Femi (from the UK, South Africa and Nigeria respectively).
Roger Fay also introduced Slava Viazovski who is involved in literature work in Belarus, where EP hold conferences and where it is hoped that a seminary can be begun.

By the time I got back to Swanwick, Jerry Marcellino was well into his second paper on Finishing Well. His burden seemed to be the importance of persevering to the end. He emphasised faithfulness not success. His style seemed a little sentimental to me and less theologically toned than yesterday but I missed the first half of the talk so I can’t say.

THIRD DAY

For his final paper Tom Schreiner took us through Romans 9:30-10:21 and again had useful things to say. He reminded us, for example, that we can sum up Reformed Theology by saying ‘If we do any good it is due to God’s grace. If we do evil, it is our fault.’ He reminded us that election does not exclude human responsibility. In passing, he noted that Romans 9:1 is a clear example of praying for unbelievers. He also said that he believes in a coming revival for the Jews from the passage but did not really flesh that out. Dutchman Kees Van Kralingen chaired. It was good to hear from him that the 1689 Confession is about to be translated into Dutch.

After coffee, Bill James chaired Tom and Jerry (! ie, Schreiner and Marcellino) in a Question session. People wanted to ask Tom Schreiner about the new perspective and one or two other things. We heard from Jerry Marcellino about the formation of FIRE. In the course of explaining himself he said a number of things about his present church in Laurel, Mississippi, including the fact that they do not have an evening service. This led to a brief (and in my opinion inadequate) discussion of the Lord’s Day. Anyway very soon it was time for lunch.

The final session, chaired by Phil Heaps, was given over to a sermon from Steven Curry (formerly in Ballymoney but now pastoring in Bangor). Steven should have spoken last year but was unwell. Typically thorough, clear and warm he took us to Philippians 2 (an adapted Christmas sermon perhaps) and made the following helpful five points. If we are to go on in the ministry in the footsteps of Jesus as true servants of God then
1. We should have an attitude that surrenders position for the sake of the people of God.
2. We should have an attitude that serves submissively in obedience to God.
3. We should have an attitude that patiently waits in humility to be exalted in due time by God.
4. We should have an attitude that puts first the cause of God.
5. We should have an attitude that is motivated by the glory of God.

After a quick cuppa I headed back with Richard, Clinton and Femi (but not Klebert who was off to Brighton) plus Tom Schreiner who needed to be at Heathrow first thing Friday. That was a real bonus. Theological students have endless questions and so it was good to listen to the conversation as they fired away. I am looking forward to the Affinity Conference next month on the law. I talked to Tom about this and the Sabbath. It’s difficult to unwind after a conference, however. I eventually got off and got Tom to Heathrow in good time, then came home and went to bed again!

Gary Brady is Pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London.

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