Sunday, May 03, 2015

Conference Review: Anabaptist Identity Conference 2015

So this is a little different. I do a lot of book reviews and have done some semi-live blogging of conferences in the past but this might be my first comprehensive, if brief, review of an entire conference. The conference in question is the Anabaptist Identity Conference held this year in Nappanee, Indiana. I wasn't there in person which was kind of a bummer but I learned about it from the blog of Dwight Gingrich who did his own review (he was actually there). I downloaded the talks and listened to most of them on my mp3 player driving back and forth to work. The AIC looks at issues surrounding the Anabaptist community, primarily the more "conservative" groups so it obviously was of interest to me. If you have the time, are interested in Anabaptist history and culture and (this one is very important) have some basic understanding of Anabaptism, you will be largely blessed and challenged by these talks. The good and bad not as good of the conference.

The good

  • This is one of the few gatherings of these sorts of speakers I have heard. The conservative Anabaptists aren't typically much for these kinds of events or at least I haven't run across many of them. To be honest many of these groups tend to be pretty insular and suspicious of others so getting a group like this together was a blessing and hopefully leads to more of these conversations.
  • The talks by Amish farmer/author David Kline were delightful. A little scattered because he was doing more story telling than lecturing but he had a ton of great anecdotes and his talks were sprinkled with great nuggets of wisdom like farming is praying, the need for innovations on the farm that lighten the load without displacing the need for neighbors and the idea that a lot of farming, even among the Amish, has replaced the beauty of farming with comfort. I am actually listening to his first talk again with my wife right now.
  • I likewise really enjoyed the talks by Dean Taylor who lives at the Altona Hutterite Colony in Minnesota. Dean is a former soldier who has turned into a committed Anabaptist (he wrote a book about his experience called A Change of Allegiance). Dean gave two talks on Kingdom communities and I loved his one line about the church is to be what we are to become, in other words living as an example now of how life will be for the church in eternity. He also had some great things to say about the common purse in Acts 2 & 4, specifically that it is not a commandment but rather a testimony. I think it is actually a great idea for a lot of reason but it can also become a source of pride and idolatry if not carefully handled. Dean is a smart guy, well read and versed in Anabaptist history so he has some great things to say. 
  • The round table I referenced in a prior post was also great and has sparked some fascinating conversation elsewhere (see Is A "Radical Lifestyle" A Hurdle For Seekers? at Dwight's blog)

The not so good

  • A disturbing amount of the material seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to the perceived encroachment of fundamentalist Protestant ideas. I can see why this is a concern but the tone taken was kind of jarring and off-putting. It also seemed to paint the entire conference as an "anti-fundamentalist" session which wasn't really the intent (at least I don't think it was). Just as bad was, in my view, a response to a misrepresentation of the very positions they were railing against.
  • I found a lot of what David Bercot and some others had to say about justification to be flat out wrong. Like really, really wrong. For someone who has written a number of books and is pretty widely respected he seemed way over his head in what he was talking about, ill-informed of the positions he was attacking and apparently he hasn't taken the time to think through some of these issues and how they fit with the rest of Scripture. Don't say several times that you can't earn your salvation and then talk about how to earn your salvation! He doesn't get justification by faith, he seems to think that Roman Catholicism was more or less right on justification, he downplays the need for and the radical change resulting from the new birth. The talks that centered on justification made me shake my head and grit my teeth a bit. I really wish I had been able to attend because I would have (hopefully graciously) challenged him on almost every point.
  • Like a lot of conferences it was largely a bunch of people who apparently agree with each other talking about how much they agree with each other, in the same way Together for the Gospel and other Reformed conferences do. This tends to reinforce theological in-breeding.
  • The sound quality was pretty sketchy. Lots of speakers cut in and out, would get really loud sometimes and other times you couldn't hear them at all.  

I hope you get the impression that I found this conference worthwhile to listen to and one I would gladly attend next year if I can get to it although I am not sure how welcome I would be! In spite of some concerns it was a very informative and helpful to my studies.

1 comment:

Aussie John said...


I appreciated your comments, as they bring up an issue I have with most conferences of this kind, which you mentioned. The self assured anti-everyone-else because they are wrong and we are the only ones who have the truth attitude, is "jarring and off-putting".

Your mention of " misrepresentation of the very positions they were railing against" is so common as to be considered the norm.

As to what they "had to say about justification" being "flat out wrong", even those who are declared to be Solas preachers, "say several times that you can't earn your salvation and then talk about how to earn your salvation!"

Then again most of those attending, whether conferences or church meetings,are there to be told by experts what they are to believe, not to measure what is said against Scripture.