Post-Conference Thoughts

The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, housed at Southern Seminary, held their annual conference on August 24-25 in Louisville, KY. The conference was entitled “Baptist Spirituality – Historical Perspectives.” Keynote speakers included Greg Thornbury, Malcolm Yarnell, Crawford Gribben, Robert Strivens, Kevin Smith, etc. On the afternoon of the first day there were breakout sessions that included papers given by Stephen Yuille, Steve Weaver, Gordon Heath, Al Mickle, Aaron Menikoff, myself and others. All in all, the conference was excellent.

In order to save some jack, I drove down to Louisville in an RV with my good friend Greg McManus, pastor of Grace Community Church in London, ON. I would say getting to spend that time with Greg was one of the best parts of the trip. It was a twenty-hour round trip and we slept in the RV on the campus of Southern. The “rig” was awesome and had all of the comforts of home. Shower, microwave, oven, fridge/freezer, washroom, and it slept something like eight people. We bought groceries and ate most of our meals there. The weather was so nice in Louisville that we didn’t even need the airconditioning!

A number of highlights from the conference itself were: Kevin Smith’s paper called “A Distracted Piety: African American Baptists.” It was moving and quite informative. He traced the role of race and it’s relation to theological orthodoxy in the early African-American Baptist movement, showing that issues of race – while important – were subsurvient to doctrinal fidelity. The questions after the paper were also quite informative – if only from my observations as a Canadian. I was struck both from this lecture and Tom Nettles’ on J.P. Boyce that race was and still is an issue in the States. It is deeply entwined with their history, which of course includes the church’s history. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that Christians kept slaves. Dr. Smith did a great job at conveying the need for being Christians first and black, white, hispanic or whatever a distant second.

Greg Thornbury’s paper was also a major highlight for me. I had the delight of sitting next to Dr. Thornbury (dean of Union University) at the conference banquet. In fact, our whole table was great: Thornbury, Aaron Menikoff (and a friend), Malcolm Yarnell, Crawford Gribben, Greg McManus and myself. Greg, Crawford and I didn’t know any of them when we sat down. To see the interchange between Thornbury and Yarnell was extremely entertaining! It was also a delight to meet Aaron Menikoff whom I’d heard so much about. He’s an extremely nice guy.

Thornbury’s paper was on spirituality and theological education. He elucidated what he called “Personal Las Vegas” moments – or PLV’s. This is where a person moves from the Tupelo to the Vegas, using Elvis Presley as an example. Where one dawns the rhinestones in favour of the denim shirt. We all have these PLV’s, where we think something better of ourselves, when really we’ve just chumped out to a cliche. Thornbury applied this to institutions and people who have done this in baptist life, looking at Francis Wayland and his experiences in particular. It was well presented, humourous and indicting – to others and to myself. Thornbury is a scholar to watch.

The conference was timed to coincide with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s convocation. Southern is celebrating their sesquicentennial this year, marking 150 years of their existence. Therefore convocation was especially poignant. I can’t tell you the feeling that surged through me when the massive congregation arose to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and the whole faculty processed through the chapel. Looking over to see top evangelical theologians like Tom Schreiner, Stephen Wellum, Michael Haykin, Denny Burk, Bruce Ware, Tom Nettles, Brian Vickers, etc., being led by Albert Mohler and Russell Moore to their seats at the front gave me goosebumps. Being there really made you feel like you were a part of something big. When Dr. Mohler announced the signing of the Abstract of Principles – Southern’s faith statement – the gravitas and solemnity was everywhere in the air. Chip Stam and Brian Vickers signed the statement as new full-time faculty. With quill in hand, they signed the 150 year old document with pride.

Dr. Mohler preached a great sermon from Revelation 1 on the eschatological nature of Christian ministry {here’s the video you can see Greg, Crawford and I at the bottom left of the screen}. He reminded us that Christ is sovereign over time, over kingdoms and over the church. And keeping this in perspective will only envigorate ministry and keep us in the faith. It was a great way to start the school year.

It was also a tremendous delight to spend time with Crawford Gribben. He’s a good friend and one who’s company I truly enjoy. I was glad that he and Greg to meet. I love it when I can introduce friends and the time spent hanging out with both of these men was fun; especially our breakfast at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe in Louisville where my friend John Tucker joined us. This place was ciche to the core – very Americana. I had the biggest breakfast I’d ever seen in my life – complete with grits and biscuits. I couldn’t finish it because it was so big! But man was it good.

In terms of my own paper, I think that it went well. From what I gather, most people came to my session, which was encouraging. I chalk that up to people being attracted to the name of Jonathan Edwards in the title: “Alexander Carson (1776-1844): Jonathan Edwards of the Nineteenth Century.” The response from people afterwards was humbling and deeply encouraging. I got a charge out of presenting the paper, although the Q&A left something to be desired (thanks Crawford!). Many thanks to the Center for allowing me to present, it was my first time doing something like this and they made it a great experience!

Steve Weaver, who ran the conference, did an excellent job. I remember running those conferences when it was the Jonathan Edwards Centre for Reformed Spirituality. We did them on a much smaller scale, and that was tough! Steve ran a massive conference at a huge campus with lots of attendees. I was impressed. Dr. Haykin was a great host, both of the conference in general and my own break-out session. So congratulations to both of them for a job well done. Hopefully the conference audio will be available at the Fuller Center website and you can listen to all of the talks. I highly recommend the Smith paper and Thornbury’s.

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6 Comments

Filed under al mohler, andrew fuller conference, baptists, church history, conferences, crawford gribben, friends, louisville, michael haykin, southern seminary

6 responses to “Post-Conference Thoughts

  1. Good stuff but I want to focus on one short comment you made. Saying you have a hard time getting your mind around the fact that Christians kept slaves is like saying you have a hard time getting your mind around Paul’s requiring the death penalty for homosexuals.

  2. I would of course understand something like this a bit better: I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that some Christians thought American style slavery was Biblical slavery.

    • Yes, I mean the latter. Of course slavery is a major theme in Scripture: slaves to sin or slaves to Christ being one of them. As well, historically, the Roman Empire had slaves consist of at least two thirds of its population.
      The trouble I have is with Christians thinking that one human being can own another human being as a piece of property, and that based upon race.
      Incidentally, did you know that thousands of Irish and Scots were brought to the American South as slaves too?

  3. CG

    Ian, great summary of a great conference. And you have such loud bass voice when you sing!

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