Thursday, April 30, 2009

2009 Banner Ministers' Conference Report

What with 2009 witnessing the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, it was no surprise that the life and teaching of great Reformer loomed large in this year’s Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference.

That said, the conference was not a total Calvinfest. Lindsay Brown, well known for his work with the student body IFES gave the opening sermon on Hebrews 2:1-3, focusing on our “so great salvation”. In a time when many seem to have lost confidence in the gospel, the preacher urged us to consider: 1) God is the author of salvation:, 2), We have been saved from sin and death, 3) We have been saved for forgiveness, adoption and eternal life. The richly illustrated message proved an attention grabbing and encouraging start to proceedings. Brown also gave a most helpful talk on ‘Calvin and Mission’, which demonstrated that the Reformer had a deep and abiding interest in missionary work.

Sinclair Ferguson gave two addresses, both based on Colossians 3:1-17, entitled, ‘Union with Christ: Gospel Foundations’ and ‘Union with Christ: Gospel Implications’. The theme of union with Christ was undoubtedly close to Calvin’s heart, but Ferguson’s aim was to expound the Scriptures rather than consider what the Genevan preacher had to say on the subject. After setting out the architecture of the doctrine in the first message, the theologian explained how we must deal with sin and pursue holiness in the light of our union with Christ.
Derek Thomas, an acknowledged Calvin scholar drew attention to ‘Calvin’s Sermons on Jeremiah’ and ‘Calvin’s Sermons on the Pastoral Epistles’ . These papers were well researched and afforded fresh insights into Calvin the preacher. But they were marred slightly by the speaker's choppy style of delivery. His last address on ‘Calvin the Theologian’ was the best of the three. Thomas gave a lucid and compelling exposition of some of the main themes in Calvin’s theology.

For me, conference highlights were two the addresses given by Garry Williams. In ‘John Calvin in the Valley of the Shadow of Death’, we were helped to see that Calvin was no untouchable colossus. He was a man with like passions as ourselves, experiencing intense suffering in his personal life, family, ministry. He faced suffering with fortitude, trusting that God, his sovereign Lord and loving Father was able to work all things together for good. Then in ‘John Calvin and the Judgement Seat of Christ’ we observed the Reformer in controversy as he responded to Cardinal Sadolet's letter to the citizens of Geneva. Calvin was a model controversialist. He was a courageous advocate of the truth and a careful analyst of doctrinal differences. Both emphases are important as we do battle for the truth as it is in Jesus.
Mark Johnston gave the closing sermon on Isaiah 66:2, drawing on Calvin’s comments on the importance of Scriptural piety. Other stuff happened like a panel discussion for younger men with Derek Thomas and Sinclair Ferguson. There were a couple of 15 minute shorts on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, one on the 1859 Revival in Ulster by Jonathan Watson, and the other on preaching by Alan McNabb. The issue of Word and Spirit in preaching was raised by Stuart Olyott in one of the discussion sessions, something I've blogged about in the past.
In all this was a pretty good conference. A few of the addresses and sermons were a little workmanlike and lacked a certain passion. But there were also some also some deeply moving and challenging messages that will fortify Ministers for the trials and tribulations of pastoral life. It was nice to meet up with old friends including fellow bloggers Martin Downes, Gary Brady, Gary Benfold, new boy Jonathan Hunt and Jeremy Walker. On the Wednesday evening my little room was jam packed full for the annual gathering of the "Taffia" cartel of Welsh Ministers. Geoff Thomas quizzed Sinclair Ferguson on his experiences in the USA and other things. Oh, and our side won the footy 7-6. And my legs still ache.
Gary Brady live blogged the conference, tapping at his mini-laptop while I scribbled away like an old fashioned hack in my Reporter's Notebook. You can see his detailed reports here.


Jonathan Hunt said...

The conference that killed my blog.

Exiled Preacher said...

Didn't do mine any harm. Perhaps I haven't got a good reputation to worry about loosing.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Hardly. I have just been reading over the past 2 years of some of the stuff I have written and I am cringing.

Exiled Preacher said...

Oh well. Good to see you at Banner, even if it was the conference that set your blog sleeping with the fishes.

Stephen said...

Hey! I was there too! First time.

Thanks for the report. It was a good conf, though, like you said, some of it was 'workman-like'. It was good to spend time with people I have only heard about.

Jonathan, I particularly enjoyed spending time with you. Will certainly remember you and your situation in prayer.

Gary Brady said...

Still recovering but it was ood to see you gentlemen and others there - in the flesh!