Saturday, May 31, 2014
What a blessing and privilege it was to attend the European Leadership Forum (ELF) this May! The conference reminded me of Rivendell. The hotel in Wisła, Poland nestles in a stunningly beautiful wooded gorge, and the well-conceived program offered spiritual refreshment for laborers in the vineyard. Over 700 participants from 40 countries met for a wonderful week centered on networking, teaching, mentoring and—most important—mutual encouragement and friendship.
Every morning we all gathered together for worship and John Lennox’s inspiring meditation on the faith of Abraham.
Then we broke off into our networks, dedicated to Apologetics, Bible Teaching, Evangelism, Church Planting, Law, Marriage and Family, Media Relations, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Theology, and more. David Horner and I gave papers for the Philosophers' Network (David defended eudaimonism in Christian ethics, and I defended the soul against materialist critiques).
The Philosophers' Network included participants from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
I was honored to meet Peter S. Williams, one of the most effective Christian apologists in Europe. Here and throughout the conference it was such a joy to see scholars, teachers and ministers so passionate for the faith and dedicated to serving Christ in the church and the world.
This event had many poignant moments for me. The bookends were a sobering reminder of the horrors of godlessness and an inspiring speech on leading with truth, hope and courage.
Some of us took the pre-conference guided tour of the concentration camps, Auschwitz I and II, something I had long wanted (and dreaded) to do. If philosophical arguments do not convince someone of the existence of the soul, this will do it. In Auschwitz human beings were treated like vermin, and this horrifies us not just because of the appalling cruelty, but because the image of God was desecrated. The soul recoils from a hell on Earth where over a million people were starved, experimented on, tortured, hanged, shot, gassed and incinerated as if they were nonpersons. The mountains of suitcases, shoes, spectacles and human hair stand as a grim monument to man’s inhumanity to man.
The next day, our hearts were broken again—by goodness. We watched a section of the movie, Weapons of the Spirit, a documentary directed by Pierre Sauvage. The movie shows how the 5,000 people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France, offered refuge to 5,000 Jews. Proud descendants of the Huguenots, the first French protestants who had endured terrible persecution for their faith, these villagers did whatever they could to keep their wards alive until the end of the war. They knew what it meant to love their neighbors as fellow image-bearers, and with no real plan but a consensus of conviction, they lived out their faith.
The conference ended with a resounding speech by Peter Akinola, former African Primate of the Church of Nigeria. He applied the story of David and Goliath to the present trials of the Christian church. “Who will stand in the gap?” he asked. Of course we knew the answer. We must have faith that God will continue to do what He has always done: when the world sends forth its Goliaths, God raises up Davids, and if God has equipped us with the gifts of leadership, we are called to David’s work. When the medieval church became corrupt, God raised up the Reformers. When some in the Anglican Communion embraced revisionist interpretations of scripture, Akinola himself was called to stand for God’s Word. Even as Europe and the United States flounder in secularism, God is raising a cloud of faithful witnesses to revive the church. The participants of ELF were eloquent testimony to that, and Akinola exhorted and encouraged us all to go back to our various ministries, confident that God was calling us to stand in the gap, to be the instruments of His renewing work.
With God’s help, the ELF is doing wonders for Christ’s church on Earth. To see so many talented, dedicated leaders, focusing their intellect, will, compassion and commitment on building God’s kingdom, was both heartening and inspiring. I hope and pray that the ELF continues to grow in numbers and influence, and urge members of the EPS to be active in supporting the ELF’s important ministry.