Here are 50 things I noted down from the IPC Catalyst Conference this year. The theme was apologetics with James Torrens, James Eglinton, Dan Strange, and Sinclair Ferguson speaking.
1. Discussing with Paul Levy the blessing reading Spurgeon’s sermons has been and the important question of how many we were behind – he was 2, I was 3.
2. You need to be alive to be at peace.
3. According to their own framework of beliefs, humanists find humanism inadequate in the face of death.
4. Jesus did not cheat death but defeat death. He did it in humanity for humanity.
5. Puzzled by God’s ways? Know that His concern for His glory and His concern for our good are not in conflict. This is good news if you are going through a painful providence. There is not a struggle in God’s heart with His desire for His glory and His love for us.
6. Let us not judge God’s Word by His providence, but rather judge His providence by His Word.
7. There is no room for faith if we expect God to fulfil immediately what He has promised.
8. If someone has defeated death, surely it is worth investigating.
9. I wish I could read Dutch in order to read Voetius’ catechesis of the Heidelberg Catechism. I can’t so will have to patiently wait and see if James Eglinton and Matthew Baines bring out an English translation.
10. Apologetics is the vindication of Christian philosophy of life against various non-Christian philosophy of life. It shows why someone should stop being something other than a Christian.
11. Evangelism says this is what you must believe. Apologetics says this is why you should not believe the alternatives.
12. Apologetics is directed to those who know the truth about God but who suppress it by unrighteousness. They are always looking for God but always looking away from God. They are not unbiased or neutral towards God because of sin.
13. It is common for apologetics to be entirely front loaded with evidentialism. This approach assumes people are neutral and will accept the truth with evidence. It doesn’t address the problem of sin in the hearers who are not Christians.
14. To do apologetics well, we have to think about the role sin plays. Evangelicals are clear on why sin is important, but often muddled on what sin is. A taxonomy of sin that builds on good starting points like, for example, the definition in Westminster Shorter Catechism is useful – Voetius’ catechesis of the Heidelberg Catechism gives an excellent example of how to chart sin.
15. Whereas WSC presents sin conceptually, Voetius presents it as existentially beginning with human misery. Life is hard, we know things in the world not as they should be, there is an inner misery and failure to flourish. We are aware of this by the light of nature, but view is limited. To understand the nature of misery we need Scripture and the Law. Misery comes about because of sin. Voetius then encourages us to step into the chaos of a disordered good creation and see sin as two things. Two tunnels to go down – original sin and actual sin – after which we get a definition which is unrighteousness.
16. Original sin is the inability to do good caused by an affection to all things evil. It conditions what things we will want to be believe. Original sin works itself out in actual sins – the fruit of original sin.
17. Voetius gives lots of categories for actual sins – doing what God forbids or failing to what God commands. There are sins of thoughts, words, actions; sins that dominate, sins that do not dominate; sins against own conscious; sins done in ignorance, in anger, in weakness; sins we participate in; internal sins; spiritual sins, physical sins, sins against the gospel etc. These are all categories you find in the Bible. This is a picture of a human life in detailed breadth.
18. How do you show that original sin is real? Look at your life and the world around you.
19. The doctrine of sin is the lens through which to account for the shape of life outside of Christ in order to vindicate life in Christ. Apologetics shows the compelling shape of life in Christ.
20. God is not hiding – “For since the creation of the world…” We are made to relate to him. His eternal power in Romans 1 points to our dependence upon Him, and His divine nature points to our accountability to Him.
21. “The public square is a battleground of the gods and ‘people will always fight for their idols and gods, their objects of worship.'” (Jonathan Leeman)
22. Idols are to be found at the level of ‘ultimates’: Ultimate explanations; Ultimate authorities; Ultimate commitments; Ultimate loves seen in the lives we live, the homes we make for ourselves, our hopes, fears, and desires, the scripts we follow, the everyday liturgies and rituals that (de-) form us.
23. Culture is the appropriation of revelation. Culture is our godly/god-less response to revelation.
24. Sin is the theological explanation for our misery and our failure to flourish.
25. Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God, loved by God, anointed by the Spirit of God to do the work of God.
26. The reason that Jesus was crucified was that they could not tolerate what His words and works revealed about God – that He saves sinners.
27. It is because of sin that things are sad as well as bad.
28. Is sin like a ball or a butterfly? Does it have a trajectory like the flight of a ball or all over the place, chaotic or erratic like flight of a butterfly? Is it predictable or not? Sin is systemic but not systematic. People are not consistent because of the nature of sin. Sin stops us from being logical like an evil butterfly. Plus there is the doctrine of common grace where God is too gracious to human beings to let us live consistently with our fallen self, so we are not as bad as our worst self.
29. We are out of sync with what we were made to be and what we were made to know.
30. Religion is the worship of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is true religion, anything else is false religion. Religious consciousness is the way we suppress and substitute the truth.
31. There are five magnetic points that are perspectives of one religious consciousness. A helpful framework for understanding eternal power and divine nature in Romans 1:
i) Totality – is there a way to connect? (there is a sense that they are part of something bigger, simultaneously small and insignificant and significant through belonging).
ii) Norm – is there a way to live? (there is a vague sense there are rules to be obeyed, moral standards and codes outside of them to which they must adhere).
iii) Deliverance – is there a way out? (something is not right with the world, there is finitude, brokenness and wrongdoing and they long for deliverance from this).
iv) Destiny – is there a way we control? (they know they are active players in the world but there is a nagging feeling they are passive participants in somebody else’s world).
v) Higher Power – is there a way beyond? (perception that behind all realities stands a greater reality).
32. Elenctics is the science which unmasks sin against God and calls people to aa knowledge of the only true God.
33. Our hope is not in a ‘what’ but a ‘who’.
34. “The gospel of Christ addresses people and rips open their religious consciousness. People want to suppress and push away the gospel in the worst way, just as they have repeatedly done with God. But it can happen that God causes their heart to submit. Then all the engines of resistance are switched off and people listen. Then the King of Glory makes his entrance, the everlasting doors of the understanding are thrown open. And this is what we call the new birth.” (J.H. Bavinck)
35. Jesus is the answer to the magnetic points. We present people a person. Jesus is the way we connect (John 15:5), the way we live (Matthew 5:17), the way out (John 11:25), a way of control (John 10:11), and the way beyond (John 14:6).
36. People say things without knowing why they believe them.
37. Through the law we become conscious of sin if we have grasped the depths of the law.
38. Omnipotence overwhelms impossibility.
39. You will never reason someone to faith in Christ, but apologetics is a way of putting a stone in someone’s shoe and making them feel uncomfortable and face up to their ultimate problem.
40. Theology needs to grapple with what is going on in the hearts and minds of human beings who are always looking for and always avoiding God.
41. Helpful distinction is between world vision and worldview. Everyone has a world vision, very few people have a worldview.
42. World vision is like walking around London and seeing what’s before your eyes. Worldview is like flying over London and being able to see the whole view before you. Most of us are happy to walk around the streets rather than go up in the air and have a view of London.
43. World vision is the view of the world before your eyes. The lens through which we make sense of it. It is totally individual and subjective. A necessary starting point which forms when a person is in their youth – inherited intuition and shaped by community.
44. Worldview is a more lofty elevated view of the world which progresses from world vision. Like a map that gives a more comprehensive view and explains what you are seeing through the lens. It is objective. The map can be to the glory of God or to evade God.
45. The gospel offers a worldview that smashes into pieces every world vision. It is a worldview that is different to every other worldview that has been thought of by man.
46. We are losing in society the ability to be civil to one another. We need to get back to when we can discuss, debate, recognise difference, and do it civilly, with people hearing and being heard.
47. Magnetic points are a framework to offer a distinctly Christian view – a way of listening to one another and to create opportunities to speak of Jesus.
48. Check out Dan Strange’s book ‘Making Faith Magnetic: Five Hidden Themes Our Culture Can’t Stop Talking About…’ when it comes out in October.
49. I can only manage 3 sessions a day at a conference, so again sad to miss Sinclair Ferguson speak on the gospel of apologetics. There’s always the recordings…
50. It was great to be in a room not on zoom!