Every November seventy or eighty of us (occasionally a few more) gather at Swanwick in Derbyshire for the conference of the Reformation and Revival Fellowship. There is little point in going to this conference unless you like good preaching but if you do, it is one of the best around. Part of the secret of the conference is the subject matter. Reformation and revival enable the preachers to preach God for his own glory's sake. At the ministers' conferences that I also attend, there is always what feels like an ulterior motive; a text is preached with a view to making us better pastors. The professional grid somehow constrains the text. At the RRF the preachers and the listeners are under no such constraints. We join together to hear from God about God and about Christ and about his grace and his purposes. It is liberating and refreshing and not uncommonly the place of rich blessing.
This year Geoff Thomas set us off warmly with a study of the fruit of godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:11; what stayed with many of us, it seemed, was the plea for 'earnestness'. This was pressed home for us by four addresses from Kenneth Stewart (Glasgow) on 'Reformation under Hezekiah'. This good king was nothing if not earnest. We saw his godliness, his thorough reform of religion, his later weakness, his restoration and his pride. Human after all, but determined to serve his God wholeheartedly in his day.
Is earnestness lacking in our day? There seems to be more of a desire to be cool than to be hot. Earnestness is associated with being rather too serious, being old-fashioned, a bit of an anorak. I was leafing through a Christian teenage magazine recently and one of the contributors (a Christian pop chanteuse) was very keen to tell her audience that whatever people said about them, they were beautiful in God's sight. You are not ugly, you are beautiful - that's the message; boost your self-esteem. With that attitude, who is going to be earnest in repentance? Who is going to experience, much less value, godly grief? We are affirming creation to the detriment of affirming the Fall and sin. We all think far too well of ourselves; as Dr Lloyd Jones would say, we are really all far too healthy.
Our third speaker reminded us of this saying of the Doctor's: Philip Eveson gave two excellent papers on Dr Lloyd Jones and his theology of revival. The first paper took us through the influences that formed Lloyd Jones' thinking; his conversion, the Welsh context of Calvinistic Methodism and the 1904-05 revivals; his own spiritual experiences of 1948; his reading of Jonathan Edwards. His concern for revival was no obsession, asserted Mr Eveson; this was a passionate but wholly reasonable conviction. The second paper helped us through the theology of Lloyd Jones, and was very clear but left many of us with more questions than answers and the desire to have had a question session with Philip - a tribute to him, I should say, and no criticism of the clarity of his address.
Some of the questions I might have asked were:
1. Would it have been helpful if the remarkable experiences of great saints of God were not given the term 'baptism in/by the Spirit' as Dr Lloyd Jones does?
2. Is it helpful to read back from an individual spiritual experience to the event of Pentecost and then argue that a repetition of Pentecost is what we want today? Apart from anything else, is that how to look at Pentecost?
3. Does the fear of quenching the Spirit lead to a paralysis in confronting unbiblical manifestations which claim to be of the Spirit?
4. Does it make any difference if we go back beyond the eighteenth century to the seventeenth and sixteenth? What is our model of God 'doing great things'?
This was a good conference and we are thankful to our speakers and preachers for excellent material and much to think about.
If you want to hear the talks or download them go to www.reformationandrevival.org.