New Word Alive 2009

Last week I was part of the first week of the New Word Alive conference in Pwllheli – only my second time at a Christian conference like this. First off, I had a really great time, thought the student price of £89 was a bargain, and was even pleasantly surprised by the sunny weather in the Lleyn Peninsula!

There was a good range of different seminar tracks to attend, and I had trouble choosing which one I wanted to go to the most, though fortunately we were encouraged to all attend the morning Bible readings led by Vaughan Roberts, who was giving an overview of 1 Corinthians 1-7 in his sermons. 1 Corinthians is great, and a lot of the points Roberts made felt very timely for me, and for the evangelical community in Britain at the moment. He chose to focus on “True Spirituality” as a uniting theme – authentic Christianity which looks to God’s revelation, not to human wisdom, focussing on Christ’s cross. Coming up to Easter it is good to be pointed back to the cross and to be made to think about how it forms the centre of the Christian gospel, but also informs the mode of Christian living and discipleship. I’m currently studying Mark for an essay and was surprised to see how many of the themes Mark draws out are there in 1 Corinthians – the scandal of the crucified Messiah, the need for a cross-shaped life for his followers, the emphasis on service and the way in which the first become last and the last become first in Christ. A big challenge for me was how much I can value things in secular terms – things being wise on a purely human level, or impressive, or powerful, or persuasive. This is a big temptation in studying Theology – but also in being part of a church and in Christian gospel outreach. It’s a huge issue and I’d like to work out what some of the implications are for evangelism – I think what Paul is suggesting in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. does imply that the cross needs to inform not only the content, but also the mode of our gospel proclamation.

One of the things that made the conference great was the genuine Christian unity going on across many church boundaries – I met students from a number of different CUs and church backgrounds, and there was a welcome diversity in the official speakers while retaining a real heart-felt commitment to the gospel and the evangelical convictions of the sponsoring organisations. I helped organise the group from NUCU and was glad to see it wasn’t just people who had been last year who came, or people from one church only. I had worried at one point that New Word Alive could just end up being the “conservative” conference while Charismatics felt excluded and went elsewhere, but this didn’t appear to be the case. Don Carson, in his Q&A session during the week (standing room only!) alluded to the growing number of Christians who fall into both the “conservative evangelical” and “charismatic evangelical” camps like C.J. Mahaney (or, in the UK, Michael Green) – he called them “Reformed Charismatics” –  and it was good to meet a number of students who fell into this category during the week too. Carson seemed to be optimistic about the chances of inter-church cooperation in mission and service between “Reformed Charismatic” churches and the more traditionally conservative ones, which would be a welcome development. It’d be a shame if these churches were only meeting together for a week a year and not enjoying fellowship in the sense of working together for the gospel the rest of the time. Likewise for students, it’d be a shame to see interdenominational groups like the Christian Union be replaced or sidelined by competing denominational groups when there is a chance for real partnership based around unity on the essentials.

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