Keswick 2017: Great Expectations

I’m looking at the programme for the Keswick Convention 2017. At the top of the page is a picture, the face of a little girl, blonde and blue-eyed, wearing lipstick and mascara - or perhaps that’s just foolish Photoshopping. She is wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and she seems to be staring up at the strapline: “CAPTIVATED hearing God’s Word”.

Underneath, to the right of the page, this is what we read: “In 2017 we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when Martin Luther asserted that his conscience was ‘captive’ to that Word. At Keswick 2017 we’ll see how this powerful Word brings life, reveals Christ and motivates mission. By God’s Spirit it will captivate our hearts and minds, and transform our lives, families and churches.” (My italics.)

What is this, I wonder? Is it a promise? Is it a prophecy? Is it a prayer? Or is it just a pious hope? I am told that there is no admission charge for any of the events advertised, so we need not refer to the Trades Description Act. I see also that some of the speakers are of international repute, well-respected in the Evangelical world, men that I wouldn’t mind hearing. Many of the peripheral events sound worthwhile, and of course, it’s in the Lake District - always an attraction!

But: “it will captivate our hearts and minds, and transform our lives, families and churches.” Will it? In what ways will our lives and our families and our churches be transformed? When will this take place, if it ever does? Who will be held to account if it turns out to be no more than hot air and hyperbole from some Christian copywriter charged with making it sound especially super-spiritual this year?

Is the event anything more than mostly older folk from small and scattered churches getting together in a big tent, to reassure themselves that the Evangelical church of old still exists, if only on the fringes of the Circus church and in amongst the tattered remnants of traditional denominations?

I’ve been speaking to someone who went to Keswick - only for the day, admittedly. “Did you see anyone prostrated upon the ground, fallen on their face in repentance?” “No.” “Was there anyone on their knees in prayer?” “No.” “Did you see anyone in tears, at all?” “No, not one.” Ah, well. “If my people get together for some worship sessions, after an agreeable hour or two of teaching...” That’s what 2 Chronicles 7.14 says, doesn’t it?

Still, the Twitterati seem satisfied. I quote: “It was fantastic last night...the tent was so full of worship! The band led us amazingly well...” “Fantastic start to week 2...Brilliant music, leading more than 4,000 people across all venues into powerful worship!” “Great weekend for claiming your 10% discount to visit Keswick Museum! Loads to do and the coffee’s good!” But then, there’s always one killjoy: “Reminding people to leave the tents as quietly as possible on an evening would be greatly appreciated. Residents trying to sleep.” I like that last comment. It reminds me that it isn’t just the residents who want to enjoy unbroken slumber, it’s us, as well.

I’m sure that there are many good things to be said about such events; but let’s avoid the fraudulent claims and the unrealistic expectations. Better by far to be like one of my recent correspondents. He had the opportunity to take part in a challenging Christian witness recently, but he didn’t manage to make it. This is what he said, in the next day’s email. (Quoted with his permission.)

“Sorry I wasn’t there...I found myself getting up late and then dawdling around (not very zealous for souls) and it was too late to set off.” Fair enough. I admire him. His honesty makes him one in ten thousand, today - and that’s just in the so-called Christian church.

I know what you’re thinking: “There he goes again, always exaggerating!”

No. You just don’t get out enough, do you?