Vicky and I had the great delight of attending the award ceremony for the Centre for Mentorship and Theological Reflection last night with some friends. It was hosted at Tyndale Seminary in their very interesting looking chapel (Justin said it reminded him of a space-ship). The event was well attended, which I am sure was an encouragement to the host and director of the Centre, Dr. Dennis Ngien. In fact, it was Dr. Ngien who helped make the night great.
The key-note speaker for the evening was Dr. John Webster of the University of Aberdeen. I have heard much about Dr. Webster, and have read reviews of some of his books, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Considering that he is a Barth scholar and has taught at TST, but is thought of highly in many of the Reformed community, I had absolutely no expectations other than good scholarship, no matter what his views. I was delightfully surprised to find Dr. Webster warmly evangelical, very balanced in his approach, and solidly orthodox. Well he should be considering the fact that his lecture for the night was “orthodoxy.” I will refrain from posting my notes from his talk and give my summary of the night instead. Maybe later I’ll publish my thoughts more thoroughly.
After Dr. Webster’s talk, and a brilliant question and answer period, we took a quick break to get some refreshments. Of course, the guys in my group were chomping at the bit to get to the book-store, and the wives reluctantly followed. Of my pack of ravenous book-nerds, I was the only one to actually buy one (of course), and was greatly thrilled with my choice. I found Paul Helm’s Faith and Understanding in the Reason & Religion series for $14! What a score. Because I had some birthday money in my pocket from my in-laws, I grabbed it. As I have said before on this blog, Paul Helm is one of my favourite theologians — so getting this $40 book for such an inexpensive price was great.
When we returned from the break it was time for the Centre to hand out its awards. I believe there were six awards handed out, three of them to people I knew personally. Our professor of systematic theology, Kirk Wellum, received an award which was a wonderful surprise to those of us from TBS. As well, Stephen Yuille received the junior scholar award for the completion of his PhD on the Puritan George Swinnock under Tony Lane at London School of Theology. I was very happy for Stephen, especially when I heard that J.I. Packer will be writing an intro to the thesis which is to be published by Paternoster. Stephen has contributed a number of articles for Eusebeia over the years, one which can be found here at the Banner site.
The final, and most significant award of the night went to Dr. Haykin for his contributions to both Christians scholarship and piety. Nobody, in my mind, is more deserving than Dr. Haykin for this distinction. I have never known a scholar whose chief concern is Biblical spirituality in the life of his students and colleagues. Dr. Haykin is a brilliant academic, but he is truly an academic for the church. I have learned more about what it means to be a Christian by just watching him in his daily life than I ever have in a class-room. It was a great delight for me to see Dr. Haykin receive this recognition.
Upon receiving the award, Dr. Haykin then took to the lecturn and delivered a charge to the hundred or so of us who were there. Although it was brief, Dr. Haykin took us all on a wonderful journey through Christian history, working backwards to the New Testament, arguing for the interface between theology and piety. He was in true “Haykin form” and I believe really offered us all a powerful admonition to be people whose chief aim is to know and glorify God.
Finally, the evening ended with a sermon by Dr. Victor Shepherd who teaches systematics at Tyndale. Although I appreciated the theme and much of the content of Dr. Shepherd’s talk on the centrality of the cross, I was saddened at some aspects of his tone — especially when dealing with Calvinists. Truly his sermon was in great concord with a Calvinist understanding of God’s holiness, justice and mercy displayed in the cross of Christ. But he did take issue with Calvinists who think that they are the only one’s who believe that God is sovereign. He explained that no where in Calvin’s Institutes does the word ‘sovereign’ appear — although it was all that the later Calvinists could talk about. I really wondered what the point of this diatribe was? I believe he was using it as an illustration that all Christians should believe in the sovereignty of God, which of course I agree with, but I wonder if there was a better way to go about it? Especially because of the amount of work that has gone into refuting the so-called “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” jargon — most notably Paul Helm did a great job in documenting Calvin’s consistency with later Reformed orthodoxy. The illustration of a young girl in one of his classes who was a Calvinist was surely not the normal Calvinist response to some of his claims. At least in terms of tone, I would hope not.
The make-up of the audience was such that I had never really experienced before. On the one hand there were a number of us there who had links to TBS and were clearly Reformed. As well, it was a delight to see Joe Boot, the director of Ravi Zacharias Ministries Canada in attendance. I saw Joe Boot speak with Ravi last year in Toronto and was greatly encouraged to see that Joe is a thorough-going Van Tillian and Calvinist! On the other end of the spectrum was, interestingly enough, open-theist theologian Clark Pinnock. Dr. Pinnock sat right near the front and listened to all three lectures with apparent interest. He sang along to the great hymns that Dr. Ngien picked out, and even raised his hand (I hear that Pinnock is now a Pentecostal). I stole a number of glances at him throughout the lectures and wondered to myself, “What is he thinking right now?” Especially in John Webster’s address on orthodoxy. One of the main points of Webster’s definition of orthodoxy had to do with the consensus of the church throughout history, across denominational lines, as to what constitutes orthodox doctrine. Surely Dr. Pinnock must know that his understanding of God has not been recognised as orthodox in the history of the church. Did he realise that Webster was indirectly calling open theism heterodoxy? The final point of Webster’s was about dealing with heresy, again, what went through Pinnock’s mind? It made for an entertaining night that’s for sure!
The Centre and Dr. Ngien did a wonderful job in hosting the ceremony. Their choice of recipients for awards was great, as was their choice of speakers. I will definitely attend again in two years time, if I am able. Congratulations Kirk, Stephen and Dr. Haykin!