Conference affirms idea of universal truth

By on May 1, 1998

“How do we … seek and proclaim … Him who called Himself the way, the truth and the life?” This was the central theme of `The Way of Truth in the Present Age,’ a theological conference held Feb. 18-21 at St. John’s Church in Vancouver. The event was sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of Canada (PBSC), one of the members of the Essentials coalition.

“Universal truth,” said organizer Michael Treschow, “has been widely and forcefully dismissed. “The traditional Christian proclamation of one salvation for all through one saviour is virtual nonsense in the current marketplace of ideas.”

Conference speakers shared Mr. Treschow’s concern. Literary scholar David Jeffrey, author of People of the Book, maintained that scripture clearly proclaims an objective, knowable truth, and that to dismiss this truth demonstrates unfaithfulness to the Gospel.

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The controversy over Bishop Michael Ingham’s book, Mansions of the Spirit, was the focus of a presentation by Regent College theologian J. I. Packer. “The author’s office,” said Mr. Packer, “requires him to uphold Christianity, and that is what he believes himself to be doing. But … what he has actually done is recast Christianity in a postmodern frame.”

Calling Bishop Ingham’s book “incurably problematical,” Mr. Packer said it embodied a “downsizing” of Jesus and “an outright denial and abolition” of biblical Christianity. “The Christ with which Mansions of the Spirit leaves us,” he declared, “is not the Christ of the New Testament, the divine Savior and Lord … Our author’s suggestion that all the world’s great religions be seen … as mediating the same saving grace that Christians receive through Christ, is an idea for which there is neither basis nor room.”

Chief organizer Norah Johnson felt the conference accomplished its goals. “One purpose was to help Anglicans realize that they have a richness to their heritage. When the leaders of the church shift their focus off orthodox theology, the people often follow. There’s a whole generation of Anglicans who have never heard Christianity with a solid creedal teaching.” Emphasizing the need to “weave the Scriptures into the fabric of everyday life,” she cited the Book of Common Prayer as “a well-tested system for maturing in Christ” and expressed concern that such systems were being “eroded” by new liturgies and questionable theology.

George Egerton, editor of Anglican Essentials, called the event “one of the best Anglican theological conferences in years,” and was pleased that the conference highlighted the importance of the Book of Common Prayer. His response to Bishop Ingham’s views was partly tongue-in-cheek.

“I consider Bishop Ingham to be the best friend of Anglican orthodoxy,” he said. “He challenges and inspires evangelicals again and again to rethink the essentials of our faith.” Mr. Egerton stressed the need to avoid animosity. “We want to be friends with Michael and be civil, not to bash him, or be unkind.”

Don Lewis, Regent Professor of church history and liaison for the Essentials Council for General Synod, said the event bodes well for the unity of the Essentials movement as the crucial Lambeth Conference looms. While members – including PBSC, Barnabas Ministries and the Anglican Renewal Movement – were “all coming at the same truth from different angles,” he said, they were “agreed on the core of the Christian message and the core identity of Anglicanism.” David Dawes is a freelance journalist from Vancouver.

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