The Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2013
This year’s Proclamation Trust Evangelical Ministry Assembly is in the Barbican for the first time. There are some disadvantages to the venue besides its unfamiliarity but the idea of getting 1250 people in one room is attractive and as we get used to it I’m sure it will grow on us. The EMA tried to break out a few years ago to Westminster Central Hall but then retrenched to St Helen’s where only 850 can be catered for.
Day 1 included three plenary sessions and an afternoon seminar stream. Vaughan Roberts was the token Anglican for the day (how things change) kicking us off with the first 12 verses of 1 Peter.
Dan Strange then took us to the strange world of cultural studies and how we engage with modern man. One sometimes fears a lot of work is being done to get to some fairly obvious points but overall it is pretty stimulating. His ‘enter, explore, expose, evangelise’ paradigm is good and the need for subversion and fulfilment in preaching was most interesting.
In the afternoon I chose to hear Mark Dever on ministry in a changing world. That was very good. He gave us the option of Q & A or coffee next. I was one of only two who voted for coffee and so we had an okay bit of interaction to close.
The final session was Paul Mallard on Colossians 1:9-14, which like the rest of the day was okay. Indeed okay sums it up for me. Being a grumpy old man, lots of things annoyed me (having a singer with a microphone to lead the singing, out of sync videos, students reading the Scriptures badly instead of letting the man who was about to preach on it, the lack of EP books on the bookstall, etc) but I am wise enough to let those go.
What is sad, however, is firstly the way conferences lose their edge. I remember the early days of EMA when you had Dick Lucas, Australians we had never heard and, above all, an eagerness to carefully expound Scripture. Obviously things move on but one can’t help feeling that, like most conferences, it is now a matter of filling slots with good material rather than anything more inspired.
More disturbing is the whole matter of preaching. There was a moment at the end of Vaughan Roberts’ address where a strange thing happened. First, he quoted Lloyd-Jones (that’s rare enough at EMA). Then, he actually preached (from the heart as he would say). I have heard him say before that he is unhappy with being called a Bible teacher. He wants to preach. And for those few minutes, and to some extent before, that is what he did. As the Lloyd-Jones quote goes, the man gave me an idea of the glory of God and that was worth the whole of the rest of the day.
I should add that a conference is always more than the sessions. It was good to see many people. With some there was time for just a wave but it was good to chat at some length with others, including two people in particular who have faced recent deaths in the family.
I only got three of the four sessions, having to leave early and so missing Mark Dever at the end of the day. I was there for the other sessions, though. Vaughan Roberts started the day again from 1 Peter on submission, service and a little bit again on suffering. Thoroughly prepared and eager to be a blessing, Vaughan Roberts’ expositions have been one of the best streams and I am sorry to be missing his final session. I liked his retelling of how it is when you ask men and women how their marriages are doing. Men usually say ‘fine’ but then you ask the wife she says ‘well . . .’ I’m sure that is true to life.
The second session was Rico Tice (vying with Dan Strange for the worst dressed speaker award). One can’t help liking Rico’s enthusiasm and passion for evangelism, and his self-dismissiveness is attractive, though it can be overdone. It is especially good to hear an evangelist saying we must speak about the wrath of God. Also, last time I heard Rico he was emphasising the need for the Sunday morning preacher to advertise the small groups, whereas this time he said preachers must preach Christ crucified. Most fun confession: ‘I was so miffed I went and bought a Magnum’. Silliest statement: ‘Shepherds don’t give birth to sheep, sheep do.’ What?!! Rico is well known for his enthusiasm for small group work. His latest craze is one-to-one work. Apparently Uncovered has gone down a storm in UCCF circles and among the cognoscenti is seen as the new way forward. It was a bit of a déja vu moment for me as I remember being told that small groups were the panacea for all ills. My fear is that unintentionally or not this just further demotes preaching as commonly understood. For that to happen at a conference organised by a group that says it is ‘unashamed to recall ministers to the work of biblical preaching and teaching, believing that this alone will equip the saints for the work of ministry’ may well be out of place.
In the afternoon we had our seminar stream. Jago Wynne, a former management consultant (no, nor me), who has written on the subject, spoke about Christianity in the work-place. This was okay, although I was sorry to hear that old mistake repeated that work is worship. He may have been misled by a desire for alliteration (with work and witness) but one fears a deeper theological misunderstanding. On the whole it was fine though. The idea that pastors could spend a week ‘workshadowing’ members did make me laugh a bit. It is amazing what ideas people can come up with. I think the problem is not beginning with the Bible, which never suggests to ministers to go to the work-place of their flock (though it might well have happened anyway).
A combination of events on the third day meant that I only caught the session with Garry Williams. So I missed both main Mark Dever sessions somehow and only caught his seminar, which I now see is all pretty much written out here. The irony is that it was Dever’s presence that helped me decide to come. That and the opportunity to meet people. I particularly enjoyed spending an hour with my friend Paul Pease from Hook. What a good bloke.
So, Garry Williams. He was given the history slot and looked at Augustine’s City of God by briefly surveying Augustine’s life and background, then giving us an anatomy of the cities of God and earth and three applications. Garry is not as hip as Mike Reeves (no dead white guys here, rather references to amateur dramatics and secondary authors) but he is able to read big books and succinctly synthesise and summarise them and that is quite a skill. Simply to hear someone in this context say that we need theologians not pragmatists is a breath of fresh air. It would be interesting to know what members of the state church (half the people there were Anglicans) thought of his contention that the state is not neutral.
- Only unfallen angels and saved people are in the City of God. All others are outside of it.
- Both cities manifest themselves in different ways down the years of history.
- Satan is behind the earthly city.
- Both cities are driven by love – love for God or love for self.
- You can, therefore, rightly understand the earthly city as being dominated by disordered love. He added that Augustine believed that all created things are innately good. Satan creates nothing he only destroys. By nature it is as if man is hanging upside down.
- The earthly city is divided against itself. Self-idolisation means everyone wants to be God and so the lust for dominion means peace is impossible.
- The earthly city ends in eternal death.
- There is no neutral ground and so we must expect conflict.
- Don’t pin your hopes on this world.
- Where is the earthly city? Out there but we are not without sin and the need for grace and repentance is constant.
So a good conference on the whole. The venue just about works. I’d hate to think what they are paying for it (they charged us £82 more than you will pay for next week at the Met. Tab.1). It is all set for next year too and you can book now. I’ve already forgotten the memorable title they’ve chosen.2 (I can’t see many people paying £6 for the lunches next year if they are not improved). Dominated by non-Anglicans and in a neutral venue, the claim that this is not an Anglican conference looked stronger than ever this year. As with all conferences, the best thing about it is the chance to meet old friends and new which I very much enjoyed.
- The reference is to the School of Theology at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, 2-4 July 2013.
- ‘Removing the Veil: the Glory of God and the Preaching of the Gospel’; 24-26 June 2014.
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