An Unusual Conference

Last week I attended the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory. Dan Hester, my brother-in-law and I went together and we met up with about half a dozen men from Bethel Baptist in Schaumburg, IL as well.

One pastor, who in the past has been no friend of Reformed theology, said with a laugh that it was “a bunch of Reformed guys” and there appeared to be some truth in that evaluation. About 100 men were in the auditorium to listen to 8 or 9 45-minute lectures from the creme de la creme of conservative, separatist Christianity. There were 6 speakers in all with Kevin Bauder getting three slots to himself.

Incidentally, when I first saw him in person I thought he was Doug Wilson—tall, bearded, snowy mountain hair.

Positively, the facilities were great, the books were a blessing, the snacks and church helpers were impeccable, and the singing was outstanding. They used great, classic hymns with a full body of earnest, male voices forming the choir.

Probably the best speaker was the youngest—is that any indication of who has their pulse on the important issues? A 33-year old pastor from Michigan spoke on why pastors need to study theology. He explicitly rebuked Biblicism as being a non-position, described himself as a “4.7, 4.8, or even 5 pointer depending on the day.” He said that if pastors don’t understand dispensationalism and covenant theology they will constantly miss the point of many texts and in the process teach their people a shallow hermeneutic.

They gave us Pentecost Today? by Iain Murray along with several other books. At the end of the day, Dan and I were the only ones of our group left, and all the pastors were allowed to enter the bookroom and take whatever display copies they wanted for free. My brother-in-law and I garnered a few goodies before having nearly 2 hours of great conversation each way in the car.

The conference was held at a church that obviously had thought carefully about beauty in architecture even putting the Five Solas in stained glass high above the pulpit. The brickwork was nearly Presbyterian though the church was Baptist.

Of the 9 total sessions (including a boring panel discussion where they didn’t allow for audience questions!) most of them were good or better.

One speaker read a lengthy, single-spaced manuscript (which we all had copies of) in 45 minutes. He read it rapidly with very few pauses. He didn’t stumble over words because they would have forced him to slow down. The overall effect of the delivery was so forced and disconnected, that I joined the rest of our section and probably the rest of the room in a collective sigh and knowing smiles of disbelief when he finally ended right on time. The paper was supposed to be an exposition demonstrating that Lordship salvation is the Biblical gospel. However, I think it would be more accurate to say that the offering was an exegetical discussion of systematic theology with plenty of Greek and unfamiliar terms (“parabola” found its way into the first line and “genitive of…” whatever made an appearance more than once).

He laughed only once that I recall in the whole lecture: when he quickly read the one line that had to do with sinners and eternal punishment. That typified the whole presentation–a disconnected rush to finish delivering an academic paper in time. I asked a few pastors after the session what they thought his main point was, one said, “[The speaker] is smart.”

Another session was not quite equally as dry, but certainly dry. He also had a lengthy, single-spaced handout with bibliography. This is not your father’s fundamentalism.

And the big surprises? As I hinted, they all called themselves fundamentalists and explicitly on more than one occasion pledged allegiance to classic dispensationalism. One speaker winsomely stated that he has wanted to “sew Alva McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom into the back of my Bible.” Another one put in print that Jesus was offering the millennium throughout the gospels, not NT salvation. I had 5 small, smooth questions perfectly written out for the question answer time, but they didn’t open the floor for questions!

So, a lot of good points and a few weird ones. But I am grateful that some pastors were introduced to Reformed soteriology, and I’m grateful that some fundies are trying to write and think. Even if they don’t have the wisdom to realize that you shouldn’t speak that way at a pastor’s conference.

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