Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Affinity Theological Studies Conference 2015 Report

Last Wednesday to Friday I attended the Affinity Theological Studies Conference. Many conferences aimed at Ministers and theological students take place annually. The Affinity one is biennial, which kind of makes it seem special. But that is not its only distinction. Most conferences involve very little actual conferring aside from general chit chat at meal times, or coffee-fueled late night conversations with friends. Confer-ences they are not. And even when panel-led discussions are laid on in an attempt to facilitate interaction they don't really work. It's a bit like BBC Question Time with Dimbleby on rambling form and no one especially interesting or controversial on the panel to liven things up. Plus tiresome and predictable questions from the audience. 'Why can't we all be Presbyterians?' and the like. 

The Affinity event is different, however. It's a proper conference with discussion at its heart. Papers are circulated to delegates beforehand. At the conference authors don't deliver their papers in full, but briefly introduce them in preparation for the discussion sessions.

This year's theme was Union with Christ. See here for a breakdown of the papers and their authors. I'm not going to attempt to summarise them here, as they will be published in due course in Affinity's online theological journal, Foundations. Suffice to say that all were of excellent quality as to content. Most were of reasonable length, which was handy as I hadn't managed much reading before the event and had to get through the papers during free time. A mammoth 36-pager defeated my best attempts at speed reading late on Thursday night, but I managed to get through most of it. One lacuna was the eschatological aspect of union with Christ. Most papers hinted at this dimension, but none were entirely devoted to it. Perhaps the next conference can make good by looking at biblical eschatology? We can always hope.

As far as discussion is concerned delegates were grouped into six groups of around eight people, each with its own chair. Our group gelled well, with lots of good quality theological discussion and reflection on how to apply the teaching of the various papers in our ministries. Speakers are divided up one per group, meaning each group gets to grill a one in turn. Ours was Bob Leatham whose paper on John Calvin and union with Christ prompted in-depth discussion on the Lord's Supper and theosis

After the group discussions delegates come together for plenary sessions. A panel discussion brought the conference to a close. Unusually, even that worked well. When David Dimbleby eventually retires the BBC should get Stephen Clark to chair Question Time

Several people were kind enough to mention that they read this blog, which I've rather neglected of late. Pastoral commitments, school governor work and family stuff have left me with little time for posting displaced fragments. But taking the wife to a hospital outpatients appointment meant I was able to snatch a few spare moments in the waiting room to begin composing this piece on my mobile. 

Given the conference theme I must admit to a twinge of disappointment that on Sunday I was due to preach on Nehemiah 11, rather than John 15 or Colossians 3, say. But on the other hand, I reflected, how could I preach that chapter meaningfully to the New Testament people of God apart from the interrelated themes of the covenant of grace and union with Christ that make the Old Testament Scriptures applicable to today's church? 

I left the conference with an enriched sense of the wonder of the believers' union with Christ and the blessings that flow to us in and through the Saviour, Ephesians 1:3. 

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