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Westminster Conference 2012

February 2013 | by Roger Fay

Westminster Conference 2012

More than 100 Westminster Conference attendees enjoyed an intellectual and spiritual repast over 4-5 December. For the second year running, the conference met in the comfortable, conveniently situated premises of Regent Hall (Salvation Army), Oxford Street.
    For 2012 the necessary focus was the Great Ejection of 1662 and issues flowing from it. The conference title ‘Truth at any cost’ helpfully captured the main spiritual lesson. As important today as then is the need to put truth and conscience above every other consideration.
    Although the opening paper, ‘1662 and all that’, from Lee Gatiss challenged some traditional nonconformist understandings of the Ejection, both his paper and Andrew Davies’ ‘Two eminent ejectees’ agreed that this large-scale application of seventeenth century Anglican ‘political correctness’ was a tragic blunder.
    A fascinating paper by Roger Welch on ‘Christian attitudes to Islam’ described different approaches to contextualisation in the Muslim world. This issue surely provides a ready sphere of application for ‘truth at any cost’. ‘Henry Martyn: pioneer missionary’, for one, was prepared to take up his cross at immense cost in order to reach Muslims, as Peter Law’s paper set forth.
‘Night of fire’
David Gregson’s ‘Pascal: truth through the mind and heart’ took most of us into new territory both fascinating and stirring. Pascal’s ‘night of fire’, when he personally met with the living God, is an experience sorely needed by evangelicals today.
    The paper presented by Andrew Atherstone on ‘Hagiography and history’ was unusual and refreshingly intriguing and challenging. When does a historian’s sympathetic approach to his subject mutate into hagiography (idealising or idolising its subject)?
    Perhaps we all missed the main point in the ensuing discussion? The type of literature the Westminster Conference resorts to is not just history (or hagiography, for that matter!). It is more like historical theology, a quite distinct field with its own unique set of parameters.
    As usual, most papers raised more issues than we could follow through in depth in succeeding discussions. However, the conference organisers are to be congratulated, first, for inviting two Reformed Evangelical Anglicans to give papers — which they did with erudition and polish — and second, for a particularly interesting and varied programme.
Roger Fay

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