I haven’t been to a conference for about 4 years now… and the last few conferences I went to were ones I was speaking at or one’s where I was familiar with the subject matter, so the last couple of days have been refreshing and stimulating.
I studied at Vose Seminary back in the 90s when it was the Baptist Theological College and while I very much appreciated the input from my lecturers I get the feeling I was 15 years too early. As one who is somewhat out of the denominational loop these days I was really impressed with the conference Vose put on, both the quality of lecturer but also the genuinely daring and provocative content. It was not a ‘safe’ conference and for that I am thankful. It would have been so easy to invite a well known and completely ‘safe’ evangelical teacher, but these guys invited Scot McKnight – no heretic by any stretch – but someone who is within the evangelical camp, yet also very able to push the boundaries of thought.
He certainly pushed my boundaries, but more because I found myself unable to keep up with his content and input rather than necessarily his theological framing. Scot’s lecture on the nature of the gospel was sensational and I am hoping it makes waves across our state for many years to come. The way in which he delineated the difference between the gospel and the plan of salvation was brilliant. If you want to get a summary then check it out here.
Brian Harris offered an excellent paper on how the trinitarian nature of God ought to give shape to our churches and then there were a heap of other great presenters. As I said, its been a while since I have had my brain stretched so I actually found myself disturbingly out of shape. I can dig a trench, or move a wheelbarrow as fast as anyone these days. but my theological mind has become flabby. That said, the last couple of days reminded me of how much I enjoy these experiences and even provoked me to reconsider study. I mentioned it to Danelle and she asked ‘for what purpose?’ All I could offer was ‘pleasure and enjoyment…’ Not really enough to drop everything for…
Living in the distant parts of the city I feel pretty separated from the rest of the crew and moving further out to Yanchep has increased that sense of distance, so it was really good to see some of my mates again – other blokes (and women) leading churches and doing similar stuff. Mental note to self – I should do that more often…
I noticed that comment was made of the fact that Vose has staff who are both academic and pastoral and that was affirmed because the academic staff would understand what the pastors are grappling with. True. But after 4 years of blue collar work I wonder if it possible to push harder on that and suggest that we need lecturers who are both academic, pastoral and engaged in the secular workforce. I realise that’s a big ask, but my own learnings over the last 4 years have re-shaped who I have become as a Christian leader and would undoubtedly influence how I would teach if I were a theology lecturer. I don’t know how practical that is, but I’d be curious to see how a regular engagement in ordinary working life might impact on content and approach to theological education.
There weren’t many low points in the conference however I did find one lecture rather infuriating. It endeavoured to compare two ‘Baptist’ ecclesiologies – one of Nigel Wright and the other Mike Frost/Al Hirsch (assuming Hirschy was a Baptist!) and argued that from the ‘silence’ of Hirsch/Frost on the sacraments of baptism and communion they clearly did not hold them as an essential part of their ecclesiology. As a friend commented, it was a classic example of why we shouldn’t argue from silence… Even more bizarre was the fact that the lecturer knew Frost personally, had worked at the same college as him, but had never bothered to ask him about the apparent ‘silence’. I mean seriously, if you’re curious then why not just walk across the corridor and ask the question?!!… I certainly hope this blog doesn’t get critiqued on what I don’t say… but then again there is probably enough in what I have already said to keep a critic busy for a while.
So – well done to Vose for a fantastic conference. I was glad that I wasn’t able to keep up theologically and that it wasn’t pitched at the slowest moving brain in the room. It was stretching, inspiring and enjoyable. Maybe next year I’ll absorb a bit more… or perhaps things will go from bad to worse and I’ll lose focus altogether!