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Authentic Calvinism?

February 2015 | by Roger Fay

This was the title of December’s Westminster Conference, held in the comfortable premises of the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London.

This two-day conference is an opportunity for church leaders and others, men and women, to feast heart and mind on material both intellectually stimulating and spiritually edifying.

The conference’s six papers are usually in church history and historical theology. They require much prior study and reflection from those who give them. Their benefits are enhanced by the 30-45 minutes discussion that follows each.

This year, nearly 100 were in attendance. The papers were all of a good standard, although one speaker was so intimately involved with his subject that he probably assumed too much knowledge in his hearers.

Stephen Clark gave a fascinating study of the flawed marriages of George Whitefield and Howell Harris, basing his conclusions in the Bible’s perspective on nature and grace. Adrian Brake spoke on Thomas Charles of Bala, bringing out relevant lessons from this giant of Welsh evangelicalism.

Andrew Davies spoke in his usual warm-hearted and uplifting way on ‘The international phenomenon of Calvinistic Methodism’. Mark Jones gave us deep insights into the complex nature of a heresy still with us: practical antinomianism is not often known by that name, but disregard for holiness — which is what it amounts to — is rooted in wrong theology, as he helpfully reminded us.

Robert Strivens gave a helpful overview of the life and legacy of Richard Baxter. Baxter’s literary output was phenomenal, although, as in the case of John Wesley, there were serious inconsistencies in his theology.

It was fitting in the 500th year since John Knox’s birth that the final paper should be on Knox. This was ably presented by Andrew Young, who explored the international connections of John Knox and thereby demonstrated that biblical Christianity is global in its outworking.

2015’s conference, on 1-2 December, features papers on Erasmus and the Greek New Testament; Isaac Watts and prayer; John Owen on sin and sanctification; the atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen; and Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections.

Roger Fay