Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Vacation Re-Cap

We spent most of last week at the annual conference for the Jonathan Edwards Institute, in Annapolis, MD. Our friends Peter and Victoria, whose pastor is also the director of the JEI, invited us last summer, and we had such a great time that we had to return this year. Annapolis is a neat city, with roots stretching back into colonial America. Our hotel/conference venue was within walking distance of the historic district near the city harbor. There were plenty of unique dining options available during our meal breaks, including the quite-enjoyable Fordham Brewing Company. Plus, the city docks provide a great vantage point for watching Annapolis' impressive July 4th fireworks display. We did have a few days of stormy weather, unfortunately, but the rainy afternoons provided good reading time for when we weren't in the JEI sessions.

The conference itself was Monday through Wednesday. I really appreciate what the JEI does, because they truly desire to encourage Christians in loving the LORD with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. This means intense intellectual grappling with the Scriptures is never divorced from deep-seated passion for knowing and serving God. And the end goal is never a mere academic exercise, but rather the true engagement of every sphere of life with the light of the Gospel. The theme of this year's conference was "Citizens of Heaven, Sojourners on Earth: Civic Life in Gospel Perspective," and the speakers addressed a broad range of topics related to how Christians interact with the surrounding world:
  • Os Guinness delivered a plenary address on the rising human challenges posed by globalization. We also attended both of his seminar sessions, which focused more specifically on the American system of government, including its historical moorings and the current issues faced by Christians in the public arena. Guinness was definitely the most polished of the five speakers, and each of his sessions was highly enjoyable.
  • Ken Myers (of Mars Hill Audio) gave a plenary lecture arguing for "A Deeper Disestablishment: Why the Separation of Church and Culture is Even More Important than the Separation of Church and State," in which he discussed the need for Christians to realize the depth to which pagan cultural norms have entrenched themselves in American churches, most specifically in the Modernist notion of religion as private spirituality. In the seminar session we attended, Myers stressed the importance of the church as both a corporate and public entity, slamming the church-less Christianity touted by George Barna's recent book Revolution and commending Peter Leithart's Against Christianity as a needed corrective. Of all the speakers, I think I enjoyed Myers the most, largely due to his combination of intellect and humor.
  • Ron Sider spoke on the development of a Biblical framework for politics. Of the speakers, Sider was definitely the most "controversial," although his actual remarks were pretty good. He emphasized the importance of a Scriptural foundation for public policy, and he briefly sketched the process by which those core values should be applied to specific political issues.
  • Frank Young, a physician with an impressive list of credentials (including Assistant Surgeon General, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Vice President of Reformed Theological Seminary -Washington), discussed issues related to our secular scientific society and the ethics of medical/technological advancements.
  • Keith Pavlischek, currently a colonel in the U.S. Marines and formerly director of a Christian public policy organization, discussed the Just War tradition in Christian theological history, particularly in light of the rise of global terrorism.
  • There was also a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon (July the 4th), featuring all speakers except Os Guinness. (Ken Myers joked that Guinness, an Englishman, was at home mourning the loss of the Colonies.)

    As the conference worship leader quipped, there really aren't many hymn selections that directly address the topics of public policy and worldview discussions. But I definitely appreciated the approach he took in structuring the times of worship during the sessions, as we progressed thematically from Creation to Incarnation to Christ's Death and Resurrection to Pentecost. "The whole church year in just three days!" The song selections and readings were great, and the musical arrangements were well-done yet simple, with just a guitarist, pianist and a guy who alternated between mandolin, bouzouki and dobro.

    Allison already mentioned the conference bookstore, who are quite a class-act and danger to bank accounts everywhere.

    Our homeward journey on Thursday was fairly uneventful. We spent Friday and Saturday running errands and organizing at home.

    Friday night, we went to see the Indelible Grace touring band perform in nearby Conyers, GA. Matthew Smith led the band, accompanied by Cason Cooley and a couple of other talented guys. (We missed the first couple of songs -- cursed ATL traffic! -- and, presumably, any bandmember introductions.) It was a great evening of music, with selections pulled from the four IG albums and Matthew's solo release. The band sounded great, but I especially enjoyed the fact that they projected all the lyrics onto the wall. For me, the re-worked hymn texts carry even more weight when you can read them while listening. Plus, having the words encouraged more of the 100+ folks to sing along, which was very cool. And to top it off, the same church will be bringing Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken in concert next week!

    But alas, Monday signaled an end to vacation and back to work for me. Appropriately enough, the sermon this Sunday was on the value and sanctity of work. Apt words, indeed.
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