Friday, April 20, 2012

Banner Ministers' Conference: Some Impressions

Iain Murray
As I said before I went away, I wasn't intending on taking notes at this year's Banner. I just wanted to tune in to the ministry of the Word without the distraction of fiddling around with my phone's tiny qwerty keyboard. I'll have to invest in a tablet PC of some kind. Maybe if I'm a good boy I'll get one for my birthday in August (if that doesn't sound too Pelagian in the context of a report on the Banner Conference). Handwritten notes are next to useless as my handwriting is pretty illegible.

My 'no notes' policy seemed like a good idea at the time, but on returning home I found that I haven't got much detailed recollection of what was said in the various addresses. Maybe I've got a bad case of that well documented syndrome called 'conference head'. Maybe I'm just loosing it. Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure, the near total recall I enjoyed before I hit 40 is now a thing of the past. Hazy impressions of stuff that happened in the recent past rather than HD-sharp memories now seems to be the way of things. With that in mind, you may wish to take what I write here with a pinch of salt. My impressions are arranged by speaker rather than being a day by day, session by session account. 

Ted Donnelley

I was really looking forward to hearing Ted as I have benefited immensely from his preaching in the past. At the height of his powers his ministry had a rare combination of exegetical insight, theological acumen, homiletical skill and penetrating applicatory power. But in recent years Ted had been very unwell and was unable to preach for some time. The Lord has granted him a measure of recovery and he is now able to preach once more. Ted was scheduled to speak at the first and last sessions of the conference. He made a good start preaching on, 'Let us exalt his name together', from Psalm 34:3, but sadly became disorientated and had to stop. Nevertheless, what we heard of his message, 'Let us exalt his name...' set a fitting tone for the conference. 

Maurice Roberts

Roberts was a regular Banner speaker when I first attended the conference in the late 1980's and early 90's. And despite his pot-shots at contemporary issues (new covenant theology and the new perspective on Paul) there was something decidedly old-school about his two messages at this year's event. He spoke on 'The Justice of God' (Monday evening) and 'God's Way of Holiness' (Wednesday morning). In both cases his addresses were more like lectures in systematic theology rather than an attempt to expound and apply a passage of Scripture. What he said only had a tangential relationship with the Scriptures that were read before he spoke (1 John 1 and Colossians 3 respectively). This was a shame. The conceptual clarity of systematics is of great value when it comes to distinguishing between retributive and remunerative justice and justification and sanctification, but Roberts' material was not sufficiently grounded in and shaped by biblical exegesis. The lecture on holiness made no reference to 'definitive sanctification'. His treatment of mortification and vivification was not directly related (as it is in Colossians 3) to the fact that in Christ the believer has died to the old life of sin and has been raised to a new life of holiness. There were some good points on the role of the law in the life of holiness, but the imperatives of the Christian life must be clearly rooted in the believer's union with Christ crucified and risen. 

Matthew Brennan

More exposition from Brennan, who spoke on John the Baptist - what John thought about Jesus (from John 1 & 3 - Tuesday morning) and what Jesus thought about John (from Matthew 11 - Wednesday morning). The Baptist points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God. He was willing to decrease that Christ might increase. Good stuff.

Jonathan Watson

Watson spoke on 'The Ministry We Need - Lessons from Old Princeton (Tuesday morning). I really am a bit hazy on this one, but basically Watson's affecting talk commended the Old (pre 1929) Princeton emphasis on the importance of piety and experiential godliness for the Christian Ministry. Two Banner new Banner titles are devoted to this theme (see new releases here). 

Iain Murray 

The schedule had to be re-jigged to relieve Ted Donnelley of the responsibility of preaching the closing sermon. Iain Murray stepped in and spoke on 'The Benefits and Dangers of Controversy' (Thursday morning - first session). The benefits include the defence and clarification of the truth over and against error. This must be done. The dangers include succumbing to a sectarian spirit and combative, hypercritical attitude.  Controversy must be undertaken with care. 

Alistair Begg

Begg's three exposition of Paul's letter to Titus  were probably the conference highlight for me. (Titus 1 - Tuesday evening, Titus 2 - Wednesday evening, and Titus 3 - Thursday final session). The messages were engagingly delivered and insightful, with plenty of application to the contemporary scene. While dealing with a chapter per session meant that some details of the text had to be skipped over, there was enough substance not to leave us feeing short-changed. Good points on living for Christ in an ungodly world, the vital importance of a holy and biblically sound church leadership, God's word to old and young in our congregations, dealing with error, the glory of the gospel, good works in the community etc.

And finally 

There is, of course, more to conferences than listening to the various addresses. It was good to renew fellowship with old friends, some of whom I only get to see at Banner. It is also great to make some new acquaintances at the meal table. One day you find yourself talking about the situation in Indonesia with brothers from that country, another talking Bavinck and Kyper with black-clad Dutch Reformed men. Wednesday evening's 'Taffia', an informal gathering of (mostly, but not exclusively) Welsh ministers was a great time of fellowship. The pop flowed, Pringles were crunched and Fruit Pastilles were chewed as Geoff Thomas interviewed Matthew Brennan and Alistair Begg.

Oh, and our side won Tuesday afternoon's football match with a 'golden goal' in the dying minutes. No home goals from me this year. I managed one or two tackles and  disrupted a few attack moves. I even headed the ball. A Banner first, that. And my glasses didn't fall off. Good eh?

Dates for Banner 2013: 15-18 April.
Speakers include: Sinclair Ferguson, Jonathan Watson, Michel Reeves and Jeremy Walker.  


Jonathan Hunt said...

Good thoughts, Guy. I largely concur. Thanks for getting me into the Taffia meeting, that was great and some of the insights from Begg and Brennan particularly will live long in the memory. I feel that I do have the right to attend Taffia meetings, because our Chapel has a view of Wales. This is a great inspiration to the young ones. I tell them that if they misbehave I will send them across the channel...

I would point out that I very sacrificially 'pushed the pastilles' each time they came past me, without partaking.

Such holiness is hard to come by, I tell you.

Guy Davies said...

The Taffia rocks.