The Convivium Irenicum and Reformed Catholicity


By Jake Meador

Before I came to my first Convivium Irenicum a few years ago I remember wondering what the event would be like. Before getting involved with Davenant, my only experience in a reformed church was in the PCA. I had never been in an OPC church or an ARP church or a CRC church or even any sort of evangelical Anglican church.

That said, even in the PCA I had already found that the reputation Reformed Christians had for polemics and struggling to get on with each other was deserved. Given that, I was a bit nervous as I boarded the plane to fly down to Greenville. If we have fights just within the PCA, what will it be like to throw together a bunch of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, and Reformed Baptists into a single space for a weekend?

Here is the perhaps unexpected answer: A remarkable time of encouragement, conversation, and budding friendships. At one point in the weekend, I remember standing in a group talking and I noted that the group included a member of a CREC church, a CRC church, an OPC church, and myself, a PCA member. But there was no tension to speak of, no unease with one another.

In the past we have talked about making disciples around a table of good food and beer, enjoying the increasingly scarce joy of conversation, and the easy laughter that comes when you’re amongst people you trust. The best picture of that we have is the Convivium Irenicum, I think. It is, in miniature, what we aspire to create more generally—a space where ideas are taken seriously, laughter comes easily, and friendships form quickly.

This year’s theme is particularly instructive in this regard: Reformed Catholicity. There is a sense in which this has been the foundation for all the convivia and, indeed, everything we do at the Davenant Institute. But we should be clear about what that phrase means: It is not a bland pivot toward finding the lowest common theological denominator or a desperate clawing after “unity” at the cost of clarity or principle.

This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Allen of Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando defines what reformed catholicity is in the introduction to the volume he co-authored with Dr. Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation:

Many critiques of Protestantism suggest that if one desires a churchly, sacramental, ancient faith, then one must turn from the Reformation toward Rome or the East. And many have taken to those paths, fleeing what they may perceive to be thin theologies of ministry and of the Christian life in the Reformational world. Others celebrate the Reformed church as decidedly un-catholic and seek to minimize any connection to the ancient shape of the Christian faith. …

But there is another way…. William Perkins, the great source of so much Reformed piety in the Puritan era, penned a treatise entitled Reformed Catholicke to make the point that Reformed identity was precisely a matter of Reformed catholicity. Perkins was Reformed, a Puritan even, but he believed that efforts to see the church purified and reformed did not remove its liturgy, its instruments for discipleship, or its approaches to government; rather such efforts refined them.

If that sort of Protestantism is intriguing to you, then make a note to yourself and try to make it down to next year’s Convivium. It will be in late May 2019. In the meantime, look for local events in your area as a way to get connected to this work before then. And, if you want a good primer in the founding principles of reformed catholicity, pick up Drs. Allen and Swain’s book.

You might also be interested in reviewing our own book shop, including the volume linked just below, Beyond Calvin. Because we value catholicity, it means we value both a broader understanding of what the Reformed tradition is but also a more historically informed understanding of what the Reformed tradition is. In this volume you’ll see both of those things in action.

OVERCOME NARROWNESS AND DOGMATISM

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