I was very much blessed on Friday at the Wales launch of Dewi Arwel Hughes’s new book ‘Power and Poverty’ (IVP); I was also very honored to be invited by Tearfund Wales to lead the worship at the event. it was a modest but a deeply profound meeting. Many people will know Dewi from his current role as theological advisor for Tearfund; previously he was Wales’s first Tearfund co-ordinator and before joining Tearfund he was a lecturer in Religious Studies at Wales Polytechnic College, now know as the University of Glamorgan.
Tearfund Wales decided to hold the launch back in Dewi’s native Bala; a small town in the heart of the very Welsh old county of Meirionydd. Despite being a small town today, historically Bala is of great significance. Many great Welsh Christian leaders come from or have been based in Bala. Thomas Charles, having been refused Ordination by The Church of England in 1784 joined the Methodist, and gathered the poor children of Bala into his house for instruction, and soon there were so many that he had to use the chapel. This was the origin of the Welsh Circulating Schools – first one man was trained for the work by Charles himself, then he was sent to a district for six months, where he taught the children and young people reading and Christian principles. Writing was added later. William Wilberforce was among the philanthropists who contributed to Charles’s funds. But the scarcity of Welsh bibles was Charles’s greatest difficulty in his work. it was in 1800 that a 16-year-old girl, Mari Jones, walked 26 miles from her home to obtain one of his Bibles, and she was seen as a shining example of Christian devotion, an inspiration to Charles and his colleagues. Thomas Charles gave her his personal Bible. To this day some Christians celebrate the remembrance of Thomas Charles and Mari Jones by retracing her 26 mile walk every year.
The second most distinguished Christian leader to be associated with Bala would be Principal Lewis Edwards who established and lead Coleg y Bala the Calvinistic Methodists North Wales Seminary. Edwards may fairly be called one of the makers of modern Wales. Through his hands there passed generation after generation of preachers, who carried his influence to every corner of Wales. By fostering competitive meetings and by his writings, especially in Y Traethodydd, a quarterly magazine which he founded in 1845 and edited for ten years, he did much to inform and educate the Welsh on literary and theological subjects. His chief publication was a noteworthy book on the doctrine of the Atonement, cast in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil. Today there is heated debate about Lewis Edwards influence with some Evangelical theologians like Prof. Bobi Jones arguing that the Liberal Theology tide of the Twentieth Century which did great damage to Christian witness in Wales can be directly blamed on Edwards because of his approach towards systematic theology and the place he gave to Hegelian and Kantian philosophy in the Traethodydd. Despite being the Calvinistic Methodists quarterly many would argue that it did nothing but erode the Calvinistic mind in Wales and to great detriment. Others such as the the Barthian Prof. D. Densil Morgan, one of my teachers here in Bangor, would argue that Bobi Jones’s theory is unfair. Personally I sit on the fence. Having read Edwards work on The Atonement there is no doubt that Lewis Edwards himself was very much a Calvinist; but I would have to agree that his naivety led him to give way or at least to give too much air time (or column width as it would have been then!) to Hegelian and Kantian thoughts in Wales and that, I would argue, was a bad thing that we today are left to pick up the pieces.
I’d better get back to Dewi Arwel Hughes then. It was at Coleg y Bala, Lewis Edwards old Seminary and now the Presbyterian Church of Wales’s children and youth work centre, that Tearfund held the book launch. Dewi recalled being allowed as a six former in Bala School in the late 1960s to come up to the College to read at the library; the college had just closed it’s doors for the last time and the library stock was about to be sold. It gave Dewi great joy to return to the very same building 40 years later to see the place full of song and praise to God once again. There was no hope to be found as the building closed its doors as a Seminary 40 years previous but now God had been faithful and had sent his Spirit to revive his work in that little corner of Wales again.
Coleg y Bala is one of the very few ministries in Welsh Wales seeing God blessing in a big profound way and seeing lives turn around to walk with Jesus. Dewi, of course, did eventually come around to talk about his book too. After i read it over Christmas I’ll return to say a word about the book itself.