The Association Conference 2009 Report
by David Llewellyn Jenkins
The Amyraldian Association held its seventh annual conference at Hargham Road Chapel in Attleborough, Norfolk on April 15-16. In recognition of John Calvin's Quincentenary (1509-2009), this year's conference took Celebrating Calvin as its theme. Six papers over two days offered all in attendance a fresh perspective on the remarkable ministry of the Genevan Reformer. The abiding relevance of his theological, pastoral and liturgical endeavours to our current concerns was brought home with renewed force and weight.
Opening the first day, David Bond was concerned to emphasize the fundamentally Christocentric nature of Calvin's theology. This was a thoughtful paper, full of fascinating detail, and the hearer was left in no doubt that the hope of the godly has ever reposed in Christ alone.
In defending Calvin's dualistic conception of the Divine will, Alan Clifford fearlessly engaged with much of the anti-Amyraldian polemic that has been launched in his direction over the years. The Cliffordian thesis was as sharp, vivid and convincing as ever; Amyraut et al (the title of the paper) emerged triumphant (again) over Helm, Trueman et al. More importantly, the sufficiency of Christ's saving work was gloriously upheld.
In a typically cogent and thought-provoking contribution, Ronald Barnet identified himself with Calvin's advocacy of Presbyterian order, endorsing his 'sound, biblically-founded advice on the critical nature of the church and its offices.' A lively discussion ensued at the end of this session, prompted by certain remarks of Calvin regarding the 'insane pride' of the Anabaptists.
On Thursday morning, Stephen Quinton rooted Calvin's defence of infant baptism in the Reformer's understanding of covenant theology. Stephen moved across Calvin's exegetical insights with sustained intelligence and precision, extracting from the unity of the Old and New Testament sacraments much that is vital for the cultivation of piety and the formation of morals within the Christian life. This was an uncommonly erudite paper: its implications resonate still in the mind of this reviewer.
In the penultimate contribution, displaying a deft and confident touch, Nigel Westhead controlled a mass of variegated material to anchor Calvin's conception of assurance in the love of God the Father, in Christ as the foundation of our faith, and in the work of the Holy Spirit. For Calvin, opined Nigel, 'assurance of [God's] love is simultaneously knowledge of our salvation.'
Hazlett Lynch brought proceedings to a close with his paper entitled Calvin and Courage: Under the Cross. With his customary eloquence and moral urgency, Hazlett drew upon the story of the five martyrs of Lyon to reveal 'Calvin's ‘theology of the heart'. In our walk with the Saviour, we were exhorted to eschew the path of scholasticism and identify instead with His suffering servants. This was a thrilling conclusion to a conference that supplied many new reasons to honour Calvin's memory. Many hard questions were raised regarding how, as Christians, we understand ourselves and our relationship to society in the modern era; but the hand-wringing and defeatism that blighted last year's Westminster Conference were wholly absent. A palpable sense of optimism prevailed, of being set upon the solid foundation of joy which is God's all-sufficient and unfailing love.
Proceedings on both days were prefaced by worship. A bookstall was well used. Good fellowship was enjoyed throughout the conference, during coffee and lunch breaks, and walks in the afternoon sunshine. This year's conference will linger long in the memory.