My college roommate and I were torn. Purdue football was in a season of rebirth in 1997 under new head-coach Joe Tiller; the team had opened the season 6-2. We had just returned from a blast of a road trip with friends to Iowa City’s Kinnnick Stadium the prior week – a blast even if the Hawkeyes had snapped our six-game winning streak. Next, Nick Saban’s Michigan State Spartans were coming to West Lafayette, Indiana on November 8.
Simultaneously, Dr. Roy Blackwood arranged for Dr. James Montgomery Boice to speak in Indianapolis on November 7-8. Dr. Blackwood had long prayed and labored to bring reformed theology to Indiana – a state that was most influenced by the Restoration Movement, frontier Methodism, Cumberland Presbyterianism, and dispensationalism. Very little that could be considered reformed existed by the mid-twentieth century in Indianapolis. Dr. Blackwood had successfully recruited others in the 1980s like Dr. John Gerstner to come and speak, but interest was not widespread in the city. As in many places in the late twentieth century, interest reformed theology began to gain attention in the area through church planting and the influence of ministries like Ligonier. Blackwood taught some seminary-level classes himself over the next decade, and he welcomed other retired professors to teach occasionally as well in an effort to encourage men to consider pastoral labor and theological study. We had taken some of the classes, even as high school students who were part of the same presbytery. Interest in reformed thinking was slowly growing in Central Indiana.
Barry York had welcomed Boice the previous year to preach in Kokomo, Indiana as Barry has recounted. In 1997, Dr. Blackwood, layman Bud Wilson, and others brought Dr. Boice to speak on the theme of his new book Here We Stand; A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation. The conference, of the same name as the book, was to be held at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church. He urged people to come to the conference, and he twisted our arms pretty hard – even from an hour away. He wanted a solid showing from young people. More than that, he wanted to see Jesus’ church reformed.
Dr. Boice had a year earlier helped author the Cambridge Declaration, an affirmation of the five solas of the reformation in response to the weakening theology of the evangelical church broadly and the ecumenical effort of Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1994. Here We Stand flowed from the work of those in the newly formed Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals who had authored the Cambridge Declaration.
We really wanted to go to the football game, but we also knew that we wanted to be part of what Jesus was doing to change his church. So, somewhat reluctantly, we drove to Indianapolis Friday evening for dinner with Dr. Boice and others. There we stood, taking it in. On Saturday, we attended the conference – admittedly checking our watches to see if we might get done in time to dash back to West Lafayette for the end of the game.
The conference title said everything about content. It was a call for fidelity to truth. It was a call for leadership in the church. It cast further vision for what we already knew Christ wanted us to be involved in for the rest of our lives. By meeting men like Dr. Boice and Rick Phillips, our horizons were stretched and we were strengthened.
The conference ended. We jumped into the car and sped off for Ross-Ade Stadium; Joe McConnell gave us the play-by-play over the radio. With three minutes remaining in the game and the Boilers down 21-10, McConnell noted that the crowd headed for the gates as we neared Lafayette on the highway. Michigan State lined up for a field goal; we knew our only hope was a block returned for a touchdown. And, it happened. Roosevelt Colvin returned the blocked ball 62 yards for the score. Purdue recovered the onside kick on the ensuing kick-off, and we could not move fast enough up the highway. McConnell noted from his perch atop the press box that departing fans were sprinting back across the parking lot to re-enter the stadium. We identified with their urgency. A quick touchdown strike for Purdue and a missed field goal attempt for Michigan State as time expired sealed the deal on a Boilermaker victory. We arrived to join the celebration on the field just after the team had exited. We watched the game highlights and interviews on the Jumbotron from about the 20 yard-line.
Was it disappointing to miss the game live? Sure. But, anyone familiar with Purdue football knows that the rebirth of the program in 1997 was short-lived, especially after the Rose Bowl run in 2000. On the other hand, the work of reformation in Central Indiana has gone forward, and I do not regret attending that conference one bit. Relationships with other men I met then have continued to this day. The point is that conferences and seminars are tools the Lord uses to slowly change us and advance his work. They are worth attending, even though they rarely change everything at once. The detail of what has happened since in our city is a story for another day – but it is an exciting story. This year alone, there are no less than six reformed-themed conferences in Indianapolis. Jesus continues a work of rebirth in the hearts and minds of people that will never die again.
The Reformation Society conference of today developed out of the original Here We Stand conference in 1997. I am thankful to help organize this year’s Reformation Society conference on Growing a Heart for Mercy with Drs. Philip Ryken and David Apple as our speakers. As we look at what God has done over the last seventeen years and also plan for this year’s conference on Friday and Saturday, I pray that the Lord will raise up the next generation to stand for truth for years to come.
And, for my Purdue-student friends, the Boilers play an away game this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The conference here ends just after noon.