I decided to attend Reformation Montana this year. I had never heard of the event prior to this, nor was I familiar with the organization or the particulars of their purpose. I was listening to the Dividing Line one day when I heard that Dr White was speaking at a conference in Montana. As a Canadian living just north of Montana, I was drawn in mainly by the speakers who were there and the relative nearness of where I lived. I do not attend a Reformed Church, there are no reformed people in my life, and the fact that three of the main speakers – Chris Rosebrough, James White, and Phil Johnson – represented three of my top 10 podcasts that I listen to on the daily basis was very significant. While my wife could not attend with me, being how it was “only” 1500 km’s away, and being on a budget, I thought it would be a great road trip. Though I knew little about the event, the fact that these calibre of speakers were willing to attend ensured that it would be well worth my time.
I left Wednesday at 3:00pm. I packed a cooler with food, a bag with all requisite road trip necessities, a phone with a ton of podcasts, and my pillow and blanket. I was travelling on a budget, and I pulled into some small town at night. I curled up in the backseat of my car, slightly cramped, and slept for the night. I woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth, rinsed my face, and kept on driving. I was delayed a bit at the border but finally arrived in Helena, Montana in the early afternoon. I checked into a hotel for that night, hung out a but, then headed down to the conference to hear the debate. I arrived a little early and met up with several other Canadians who had traveled from Saskatchewan.
Before the debate began, people were mingling and talking. It was a smaller event, only about 100 or so people, though less than were there for the pre-conference debate. Note that this picture was taken before the event; things filled up quite a bit more after this picture was taken.
Prior to the event starting I saw Chris Rosebrough and his shiny new glasses along with his wife. A group of us went over to talk to them and say hi. I was trying to keep the fanboy inside of me on its best behavior, but it was difficult. This was a man whose piratechristianradio.com ministry had deeply affected my walk with Christ and who helped develop and mature my discernment capabilities coming out of a bad Church. He was friendly and soft-spoken, and within 30 seconds of saying “Hi” he was talking about the gospel and the faithfulness of Christ. It was surreal to me, and yet amazing. I saw Justin Lee come in. I greeted him warmly and told him I was looking forward to the debate that they were about to have. After about half an hour of mingling, it all started. Oh- and the price of the conference was only 50$, which was a steal.
Thursday at 7:00 The Debate
I was a bit disappointed in the debate, but not in the way one might think. I was expecting a formal debate where Justin could really be grilled on his interpretation of scripture, but it seems that he only agreed if they could have more of a conversation than debate. I think the debate suffered because of this constraint. I was in no way privy to the insider baseball that was going on during the formulation of this debate/hybrid conversation, but it seemed that both were frustrated at the “restrictions”, particularly with Justin wanting to keep it a “conversation”. Later on I learned that while Justin Lee was initially excited to do a formal debate, he changed his mind after doing his research on Dr White and how he dealt with Mathew Vine and his presentation. I got the impression that James White switched gears early on to avoid having Justin leave the table and walking out. After Justin’s opening, which had nothing to do with the format of the debate, but as more in line of having a conversation, James took on a teacher/pastor role, and I think that was the best choice given the circumstances. It was pretty evident to all that James White could have destroyed his argument any time he wished and that he had to adapt to Justin’s reticence to meaningfully interact with the scriptures and with what the Bible says about it.
We had sessions by JD Hall, Chris Rosebrough, and Dr James White. The first session was my first real introduction to JD Hall. I had heard of the pulpit and pen blog but didn’t know anything about it other than it was reformed-ish. He got up and spoke passionately about the life of John Knox and how while John Knox was viewed as contentious by many, he truly sought reformation. I was amused when he mentioned the Knox booklet “The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women,” as I have that on my kindle and had listened to it a weeks ago. A very good talk. Chris Rosebrough spoke on the various chicanery going on in the Church today, and James White spoke on the reliability of the New Testament and how we could trust it.
Dr White was in full on Grandpa mode/remission, and at one point he picked up a little infant and gave part of his talk speaking to him. Very cute and funny :
I enjoyed all these sessions quite a bit, even though I had heard them before or some variation. At one point James White asked the audience how many textual variants there were in the New Testament. Someone said a few hundred; someone said five thousand. I chimed in 400,001, and Dr O. jokingly said that I must have heard this before and said something about me spoiling the punchline. It was a trip to hear him speak, however, as he’s one of the men who gave me confidence to articulate the doctrines of grace, and I was elated the entire time, smiling ear to ear.
I also really liked the worship. We had it interspaced every few hours, pretty much before every session. There was just a guy on guitar and his new wife on the keyboard, but there was really full and robust congregational singing, worshiping with a mix of modern hymns. We did one or two songs 5 times a day, and I was really appreciative for that.
I spent the night sleeping in my car and then went down to the Red Lion for the rest of the sessions. I sat right in the front seat the entire time, and it was nice to see people up close and in action. Chris Rosebrough opened it up for a live sermon review. One of the things he does on his program is that he picks certain churches and “compares what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God”. In this case he reviewed a sermon recently preached by Adam Hushka of Narrate Church, which is a local seeker-sensitive Church. This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I’ve been listening to sermon reviews for years now and am one of the people who listen to them all the way through, and so to see Chris in action was fun to watch, especially with his facial expressions and moments of puzzlement, disbelief, indignation, amusement, and anger. Later someone asked his wife if that’s how he does things, and she confirmed that yes- he sits at his desk with furrowed brows thinking, “what on earth did I just hear?”.
Next was Phil Johnson. I went over and introduced myself to Phil and told him how much I appreciated his ministry. When I first came out of the Charismatic wasteland, he and John MacArthur were two men who help me land on solid ground. I found Phil’s two talks to be fantastic, and really, really enjoyed them.
Right in the middle of those two talks, however, was JD Hall’s barn-burner of a plenary, which I mentioned before. I think his message above all really summarized the heart of the theme, which was “The Compromised Church”. I could not have agreed more with everything that was said, and I really felt the weight of giving such a message. I imagined that there would be plenty of fallout, and his courage gave me courage to speak up when I need to.
As it were, I left Saturday afternoon and made my way back home. I crossed the border a little before midnight, slept again in my car in some little town in a residential zone, and then made my way back up to Fort McMurray, arriving home in the evening.
This was such a phenomenal conference and I am so glad I went. I am definitely attending Reformation 2014, which will be in Billings next year. I found the whole event to be really well-organized and found it to be quite intimate, actually, in that it wasn’t a big event, and there weren’t more than a hundred or so people. This let me approach people who I admire, talk to them, and dialogue about different issues, as well as approach other people that I didn’t know and get to know them. It was comforting to know both that a conference like this exists, and that there are like-minded people. I have many Christian friends and acquaintances who would have hated the event and would view it as divisive and unloving. Yet being there and hearing the message really brought the truth out and confronted people with the question, “Who here is being truly unloving? Who here is being truly divisive?”. It’s not us, and it wasn’t them.
The biggest highlights though were talking to these men for several minutes about some issues that were of interest to me and being with other believers who share the same concerns and convictions I do. If I had one complaint, is that we had too many breaks in between each speaker. I would have preferred more content and teaching with fewer breaks in between, but that’s me. As a whole though- a great time, and I am looking forward to attending it again next year.