Cheltenham Bible Festival
It was an amazing providence that enabled the first Cheltenham Bible Festival to go ahead at the beginning of August as scheduled.
The severe floods which hit the headlines for many days had knocked out the region’s main water treatment plant. The army had occupied the racecourse site until the week before the event and water was reconnected with only a day or two to spare.
Ironically, the sun then shone gloriously throughout the three days – permitting the 2500 attending the Festival to marvel at the beautiful Cotswold scenery. All of these could have been accommodated in the excellent, state-of-the-art conference hall where the main Bible ministry meetings were held.
Don Carson was the principal speaker. Taking 2 Thessalonians over three mornings, he expounded each chapter in turn under the titles: ‘Living in Difficult Times’; ‘Waiting for the End Times’; and ‘Working in the Meantime’. He was as stimulating and challenging as usual – a true example of the preacher-theologian so rare in our times.
CBF differed from previous annual events run by the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) at Pwllheli and Caister in two important ways.
Firstly, instead of FIEC setting the whole agenda, other agencies agreeing with FIEC’s doctrinal basis and Bible-centred ethos were invited to provide their own subjects and speakers. This led to a greater diversity than had previously been achieved. At times there were as many as ten or a dozen activities going on simultaneously.
Any who had the impression that CBF would be light on the ministry of the Word were in for a surprise. Inevitably nobody could get to everything they might have wished to, but most of the seminars were well attended. (Affinity ran three popular seminars. We were packed out when Mike Ovey, co-author of Pierced for our Transgressions, spoke powerfully on the vital importance of the doctrine of penal substitution.)
The second innovation lay in the very idea of a ‘Festival’. This was a studied attempt to celebrate God’s creation and the creative gifts he has passed on to his children. Marquees dedicated to music-making and various crafts added to the holiday atmosphere and helped broaden the perspectives of those attending. It will be interesting to see how this added dimension develops in coming years. An excellent track was also laid on for those with learning disabilities.
All in all, FIEC are to be congratulated for their courage and generosity in launching a concept which constitutes a potential breakthrough in co-operation between Bible-centred Evangelicals.
I sincerely hope that what is being attempted will be increasingly appreciated and that in the future, others will want to share the organisational and financial burdens that FIEC has so far been prepared to shoulder.