The Jonathan Edwards for the Church Conference met for the first time in Durham on 27/28th February. Held in the excellently equipped and staffed Penthouse Suite of Collingwood College at Durham University, which was filled with enthusiastic attendees.
As the first dedicated Edwards Conference to be held in England it was prayer answered to see the mix of international participants from a cross section of churches. This conference was only possible through the generosity of God’s people and the very low fee finally offered as a gift to encourage attendance in no way covered the final costs.
Deliberately designed to avoid an overly academic feel we focused on God’s working through this ever challenging figure of this eighteenth century Transatlantic Evangelical Awakening. His preaching and teaching was applied to Today’s Church. An emphasis on Edwards’s God-centeredness pervaded the Conference. Michael Brautigam and William Schweitzer addressed these things incisively: “Our God is an Awesome God”, ”God is a Communicative Being”. Also Edwards’s strong belief in the necessity of the whole person to be engaged with God (contra much of today’s mind/spirit split) and a willingness to suffer soon became apparent in all the papers presented. Especially memorable for sheer impact was Gerald McDermott’s paper: “Directing Souls: What Pastors Today Can Learn From Edwards Ministry” which ranged over calling, care for souls, the priority of preaching, study, prayer, church discipline, a willingness to be unpopular and to suffer.
Doug Sweeney, Steve Nichols and Nick Batzig all very ably addressed Scripture and the power of God’s Word written and ever focusing like a laser on Christ. John Murray enabled us to see Edwards’s impact on Britain and his relation to God’s reviving work here. Roy Mellor reminded us of the events surrounding Edwards’s astonishing dismissal from First Church Northampton in 1750 and cited Conversion as being the real issue.
William Macleod preached on Revival after a wonderfully presented Conference Dinner. Whist Kevin Bidwell and Eric Alldritt led our start of day devotions. The Evangelical Bookshop of Belfast provided a comprehensive range of books by and about Edwards, by our speakers and many others. This encircled the room and the till was very busy!
Several participants have highlighted the glaring need for a network of UK based preachers/theologians/teachers/researchers to engage more closely. We would love to hear from any interested people.
All of the papers (plus two additions) have been published as Jonathan Edwards for the Church: The Ministry and the Means of Grace (Evangelical Press, 2015).
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Based upon this feedback, and upon the answers given to the specific question as to whether there was interest in another conference, the decision was made to hold a second conference in 2016.
Soli Deo Gloria.