The recent Westminster Conference — mainly devoted to the study of historical theology, with special reference to the Puritan era and lessons for today — met, as usual, in the convenient and comfortable Salvation Army’s Regent Hall in Oxford Street, London.
About 100 men and women were present for each of the six sessions. The overall conference title was ‘The Puritan Experiment’.
Each 50-minute address was followed by a similar time frame given over to questions of clarification and open discussion on themes arising from the paper. Successful discussion requires chairmen to exercise a benevolent despotism and attendees to only make relevant contributions.
This year, all the papers and discussions were of an excellent standard and opened up avenues for profitable reading, further reflection, and practical action.
The final conference paper is not followed by discussion in order to facilitate travel home. This relates to my one slight disappointment. This paper — ‘The Pilgrim Fathers’, carefully researched by Paul Smith (Broadstairs) — would have made an ideal candidate for discussion, its subject matter harking back so obviously to the conference title.
There could have been fruitful consideration of, for example, varying responses to state persecution, or whether constructing a theocratic (or even theonomic) Christian state in this present evil age is a realistic prospect or a valid aim.
The various papers were well researched and accessible to those with limited background knowledge.
Dr Joseph Pipa (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, South Carolina) and Rev. Douglas McCallum (Cambridge) dealt well with two Puritan figures of major importance in their day, but largely neglected since: William Perkins and Thomas Manton, respectively. The written works of both are still available.
Jeremy Walker (Crawley) and Robert Strivens (Bradford-on-Avon) worked their papers in a helpful tandem as they tackled, respectively, the principles and practice of Puritan worship.
Matthew Bingham (Oak Hill College) brought valuable insight to the diffuse subject of ‘The emergence of independency’ in the seventeenth century.
Conference addresses for this and past conferences can be ordered from John Harris, 18 Nook Green, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, WF12 0BJ.
The 2020 conference is planned for 1-2 December and will include material on ‘Luther, Bellarmine, the definition of an evangelical, the Marrow Controversy, regeneration, and Benjamin Beddome’ (www.westminsterconference.co.uk).