It was great to see such a good turnout for the Confident Christianity conference hosted by Keswick in Ayrshire, numbers appearing to be back to pre-pandemic levels at last!
Solas had been invited by Keswick in Ayrshire to lead a day conference on persuasive evangelism, to complement their annual Bible-teaching conference. The emphasis of the long-standing teaching conference is to go deeper into the Word, while the emphasis at Confident Christianity is to take the Word out into the world. The two-things should, of course, always go hand in hand!
Folks gathered at West Kilbride Parish Church from across Ayrshire, and heard from three speakers followed by a very incisive time of Q&A/discussion. Our host church, (West Kilbride Parish) welcomed us as their worship group led us in a hymn, and their minister James McNay kicked the day off in prayer and an opening devotional message.
Andy Bannister from Solas, led the first session. His primer on conversational evangelism, is a foundational session for all these events, because all the rest of the content of the day is wasted unless we actually speak to people! One of the keys that Andy focussed on, to help us grow in confidence in developing meaningful conversations is the art of asking good questions – something Jesus did throughout the gospels!
We were then delighted to welcome back Dr Sharon Dirckx to a Confident Christianity platform. (There had been some discussion earlier in the day about how to pronounce ‘Dirckx’ – and the answer is, it rhymes with “lyrics”!) Sharon spoke on the subject of suffering under the title “Where is God in a Broken World?” This is one of the oldest questions in the world, the subject of one of the Bible’s earliest books – and one of the most common questions we are asked by non-Christian friends, family and guests at Solas events. Sharon looked at the way that the idea that all suffering is God’s punishment, is as wrong as the idea that God is uninvolved and disinterested in our suffering world. In contrast she outlined a Christ-centred response to the issue in which God is incarnate within this world and embraced it, in order to ultimately redeem and restore it and the gospel invitation to be part of that.
Dave Hutchings then brought us a session on Science and Faith: entitled, “A New Story”. In this session he debunked the idea that science and the Christian faith are in inevitable conflict – tracing this idea back to two polemicists called John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, whose spurious claims still get quoted in school textbooks, and educational websites to this day. The new story he told was of the Christian underpinnings of scientific enquiry that drove the likes of people like Pascal and James Clark Maxwell, and which provides a thorough explanation for the presence of scientific laws in the universe, and for a humanity that years to understand them.
Andy Bannister then built on his first talk, looking at ways in which we can develop spiritual conversations which land on the gospel, with people who say that are not interested in God. His suggested approach, furnished with some intriguing examples, was to begin with what matters to our friends and then to show the relevance of the gospel to those things. After all, human rights, environmentalism and art make little sense if there is no God and the whole cosmos is but a passing accident. In contrast, knowing God in Christ makes sense of all the things that matter to us most.
Humanity was Sharon Dirckx’ second subject. As a neuro-scientist, she is convinced that the Christian account of humanity made in the image of God, is an indispensable part of the explanation of who we are. Again, the material/naturalistic approach both overreaches the scientific data and falls woefully short of encompassing all the facets of humanity we experience, from beauty to altruism. Dave Hutchins led the final formal session ending with a talk about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in a world of competing religions and truth claims. Looking at the way that Jesus is simultaneously authoritative, as well as gentle and forgiving – Dave commended Christ to us, and spurred us on to share him with others today.