As I was saying, the Affinity Theological Studies Conference is a proper confer-ence. Meaning that those who attend get to confer together and discuss papers presented in small break-out groups and in plenary sessions. Cool, eh? The break-out groups comprised of around twelve people.
I once attended a Ministers' conference in the UK where the big shot American speaker did not deign take his meals with the rest of us. Did he think we Brits have disgusting eating habits or something? No such aloofness was allowed at this event. Speakers duly ate with the rest of us and took their place in discussion groups along with everybody else, which is as it should be.
Philip Eveson, retired Principal of the London Theological Seminary chaired our group. Hywel Jones, who gave the final paper on preaching in the power of the Spirit, another former LTS Principal was also a member of "Group 4". But neither man attempted to hog the discussions, which gave mouthy delegates like me a chance to contribute. We talked about the pros and cons of the papers delivered and tried to work out how to apply what we had learned in church life. For some reason, Philip Eveson got rather fixated on John Frame's point, cited in Dan Strange's paper about the Bible being sufficient for a Christian plumber. Did he mean that there is a distinctly Christian approach to welding pipes and changing washers, or that a Christian plumber will do an honest job? We thought that it was probably the latter.
It was nice to be able to put Hywel Jones on the spot when it came to discussing his paper. What are we seeking when we pray for the power of the Spirit in preaching? Boldness, liberty, life-transforming power. Can we discern the Spirit at work when we feel that we have failed in preaching, but our people are helped? Yes, God is sovereign, but we should nevertheless seek more of the empowering presence of the Spirit in our preaching.
I don't know why, but I felt OK saying my piece in the small group sessions, but didn't feel like piping up in the plenaries. Maybe something to do with my Welsh inferiority complex. Then again, 50% of the speakers and Affinity's new Director, Peter Milsom were Welsh, as were a good number of some of the most vocal contributors at the plenaries. In fact, most of the people I spoke to at the conference were either Welsh, had trained/taught at LTS, or, like me were both Welsh and LTS'ers.
The plenary sessions were good though, especially the panel discussion when all the speakers took to the stage and fielded questions from the floor. Questions ranged around the application of biblical principles in the contemporary situation, where our people are often confronted with tricky ethical dilemmas. Should a Christian in the military use torture to obtain potentially life saving intelligence? Is there such a thing as "the lesser of two evils" - i.e. telling a lie to prevent someone being murdered? Or will the Lord not put his people in a position where the only option is to sin? What of the Christian guesthouse owners who were found guilty of breaking the law in refusing a bed to a homosexual couple? Were they right to do so? (On this, take a look at Mostyn Roberts' thought provoking post, Changing Times: the Christian in a secular society). Conference chairman Stephen Clark suggested that we need to give fresh attention to biblical ethics, an area where we are weak in comparison to our forebears. It was suggested that the next Affinity Theological Studies Conference (2013) might be given over to this issue.
Theological discussion laced with friendly banter continued at meal times and in coffee fuelled late night conversations. On Wednesday night I was chatting to Mostyn Roberts about the theology of Kevin Vanhoozer, when a chap from a neighbouring table asked if he could join us. It turns out that the brother from Romania is currently engaged in doctoral studies on Vanhoozer's theological method. We had an stimulating conversation on KJV's theodramatic proposals. It was also nice to bump into several people who I've not met before who are regular readers of this blog.
This was my first Affinity Theological Studies Conference and I really enjoyed it. The papers were very helpful and the discussion orientated format worked well. Oh, and unlike one of the speakers, Carl Trueman (where did they get him from?), the lady at the Affinity desk did know my name.
But before wrapping up my reflections on the conference, I feel I should share with readers a couple of important truths that were impressed upon me at the event. 1) Allusions to pop music are likely to be lost on many pastors and theologians. I found myself having to explain Trueman's mealtime reference to Mark Knopfler. And I can't stand Dire Straits. It was demeaning. For me the 80's were all about Going Underground by The Jam and U2's Joshua Tree, not dire yuppie music. Also, Eminem (whose music I loath even more than Dire Straits) is a rap singer, not a packet of sweets. 2) Wearing chunky-knit jumpers with jeans and brown brogues isn't a good look.