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Topical Tuesday: Living in the Light of the Future

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Posted by Tom Brown, 7 Feb 2017

Tom Brown reports on this year's Church Society-Fellowship of Word & Spirit conference.

A friend of mine recently tweeted, “‘I get to go to one conference a year - which one should I choose?”  With lots of options, all with different aims and offers, it’s an important question to think about. 

This year, for the first time, I joined 50-60 other brothers and sisters for 3 days at the Church Society-Fellowship of Word and Spirit conference (23rd-25th January).

I’d never heard of the conference before but was encouraged by their desire to ‘balance theological rigour and pastoral sensitivity while providing a forum for like-minded evangelicals to encourage one another in biblical ministry.’ 

The main sessions were taken by Paul Gardner (senior pastor at Christ Church, Atlanta, former lecturer at Oak Hill College and former Anglican archdeacon). 

Paul’s sessions lead with the headline focus of ‘living in the light of the future’.  He looked at the topic of eschatology though a biblical-theological lens and sought to trace its place through scripture’s grand narrative.  We were encouraged to see anew the fullness of ‘Eden’ language from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 and how God is determined to be present with his people in the temple of his new heavens and earth.

This enabled us to look both at God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people (and dig deeper into that), to see how we are fulfilling creation mandate in gospel proclamation, and how the doctrine of eschatology is a great incentive for evangelism.

In addition to the main sessions, Bible readings were led by Simon Vibert (vice-principal at Wycliffe Hall, director of the School of Preaching, and 18-years’ experience in parish ministry) who helped us dig under the surface of 1 John.

These sessions launched with a call for believers to demonstrate their understanding of God’s love for us by loving one another.  The cross is not just forensic (though it certainly is that), but it also acts as our motivator for genuine Christian living with the church supposed to be an eloquent testimony to the love of God. 

This emphasised John’s call for us to take sin seriously (indeed the atonement demands that we do), remembering that while we will never be sinless, we are to strive to sin less.  Our sin should drive us to the cross for both forgiveness, and replenished love.

With the current prevalence for ‘alternative facts’, it was refreshing to hear again the call of the apostle (John, not Simon!) to both know and guard what Francis Schaeffer referred to as ‘true truth.’  1 John is an impassioned call that the church, and particularly its leaders, need to be narrow in our doctrine but broad in our love. 

There were also three dedicated seminars: ‘Hope for the Millennial mindset’ (understanding and reaching those born between 1985 and 2004); ‘Hope for the broken’ (thinking through pastoral counselling) and ‘Hope for the church in controversy’.

Wallace Benn led the latter with an insightful session reflecting on how evangelicals should view the current state of ministry within the church of England, lessons from the Reformers, and the Bishops’ recommendations regarding same-sex marriage. The audio of that talk will be posted here tomorrow.

It was a joy and encouragement to listen to both Paul and Simon teach passionately and faithfully and in a way that drew together the best aspects of detailed exegesis while also using the tools of biblical theology to help us see the overarching narrative and structure of scripture.

In addition to the teaching, some of the most profitable times were spend around the lunch tables or over a pint in the evening.  It’s a rare thing to go to a conference and actually have time to get to know people and chat through the joys, complexities, and trials of gospel ministry.  I consider it a real privilege to have been able to spend the time laughing with and being encouraged by those currently on the front line.

The conference is booked again for 22-24 January, 2018 – I recommend putting the dates in your diary now!

Tom Brown is an ordinand at Oak Hill College, London.

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