A Report from our Pacific Northwest Regional Convivium

On November 4-5 we held our Third Pacific Northwest Regional Convivium in Moscow, Idaho. Though smaller than in years in previous, the event was an immense success, full of academic rigor, charitable debate, and plenty of coffee.

The convivium was kicked off Friday night by a presentation from Michael J. Lynch entitled “The Five Points of Calvinism: Myth and Reality” (listen to it here). In his talk, Lynch dispelled common myths, held by Reformed and non-Reformed, about the 5 points: that they present non-Christians as utterly devoid of good, teach a deterministic system that rules out free will, and allow the elect to “live like the Devil” and still be saved. Drawing on his specific area of expertise, Lynch also showed that the Synod of Dort’s statement on “limited atonement” (not actually called so in the canons) was a consensus statement, allowing for at least three different views current at the time. Lynch, a doctoral student at Calvin Theological Seminary, is currently doing his dissertation on John Davenant’s hypothetical universalism, and anyone interested in the subject of limited atonement should be sure to consider his work.

We gathered again on Saturday morning to hear from four more fantastic presenters. The common theme holding these talks together was Scripture: its inspiration, inerrancy, and translation. Each paper was followed by a time of friendly discussion and debate.

Our first presenter was Timothy Harmon, who spoke on the significance of the doctrines of creation and providence for our construction of scripture’s inspiration. Finding many modern accounts of creation and providence to be distorted, Harmon looked to the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, a key document of 17th century Reformed Scholasticism. A true work of retrieval, Harmon explained not only how the Synopis can aid us in our modern construction of inspiration, but also suggested where some of its concepts are outdated and in need of supplementation. Harmon’s paper was a good reminder that a true work of retrieval is always a critical work.

Our second presenter of the day was Dr. Michael Collender, who shared two papers with us. His first paper argued for the importance of distinguishing singulars and plurals in the translation of the Hebrew Bible. To show the effect this can have on our understanding of the text, Dr. Collender contrasted selections from Psalms and Proverbs from a modern English translation with his own translation. In his second paper, Dr. Collender again found fault with modern English translations of the Hebrew Bible, specifically with their flattening of metaphors in the wisdom literature. As one example of this, he demonstrated the meaning that is lost when Proverbs’ use of “wind” is reduced.

Following Dr. Collender, we heard from Samuel Taylor on the doctrine of inerrancy. Seeking to forge a middle road between inerrancy narrowly conceived and inerrancy abandoned, Taylor argued that Scripture’s truthfulness must be judged in light of Scripture’s purpose. Of course, Taylor admitted, many can agree to this principle, but the devil is in the details; the real challenge is when we come to this or that passage and must interpret Scripture’s intent. That, however, was part of his point. We should, Taylor argued, have a definition of inerrancy that many can agree to, and then within that agreement go to battle on the specifics.

Our final, and quite fascinating presentation was from Bradley Belschner. After a crash course in Mesopotamian cosmology, Belschner argued that the only reasonable conclusion is that this was also the cosmology of ancient Israel. Further than that, Belscher claimed that this was the cosmology of the Old Testament writers themselves. As cosmology is an incidental detail within the message of scripture though, he reasoned that this does not pose a threat to scripture’s inerrancy. Needless to say, Belschner’s paper provoked much discussion.

We plan on having a fourth Pacific Northwest Regional Convivium in the first half of next year, so be on the lookout its date and location.