Monday, May 27, 2013

The 2013 Christian Scholars' Conference

Next week in Nashville, Tennessee, Lipscomb University is hosting the annual meeting of The Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference. This will be my fourth time to attend in the last five years, and it never disappoints (as I've written previously).

This year's theme is "Crises in Ethics: Theology, Business, Law and the Liberal and Fine Arts," and the plenary speakers include Charles Mathewes, John Dean, and David Miller. Further, the annual meeting of the Church of Christ Theology Students will feature an address by Yale's own John Hare. Finally, there will be two performances of the controversial David Mamet play Oleanna, and a one-night-only performance by my personal favorite, TOKENS, led as always by the inimitable Lee Camp.

I have a packed schedule in terms of my own responsibilities this year.

First, I will be delivering a paper in a session on Thursday afternoon dedicated to "Ethical Teaching in the Petrine Epistles." The paper is titled "Patiently Awaiting the Death and Resurrection of the Universe: Eschatological Memory and Ecological Ethics in 2 Peter 3:1-13." It should be fun—we'll see what the text folks make of a theologian reading the Bible! Here's the abstract:
This paper considers the (in)famous passage of the earth's “burning up” in 2 Peter 3:1-13. It proceeds in three steps. First, an exegetical reading that situates the image of God’s coming judgment in relation to the flood—which purified, not annihilated. Second, a theological explication that connects divine judgment to the wider scriptural notion of longed-for divine justice as well as the christological shape of God’s eschatological liberation-through-judgment. Third, a proposal regarding the content of the church’s witness in a world of unabated ecological destruction, finding in this text a resource rather than a hindrance for faithful care of creation.
Second, I will be moderating a session on Friday afternoon titled "Faith in Public: A Conversation Between John Hare and Charles Mathewes on Religious Commitment, Christian Ethics, and Political Engagement." This should be a blast; I basically get to facilitate two brilliant theological-ethical minds discussing Christians and politics. In other words, a nice way to spend an afternoon. Here's the abstract:
This conversation between Professors Hare and Mathewes will focus on the often volatile intersection of “religion” and “politics.” Specifically, the session will reflect on issues relating to public political engagement on the part of Christians in the American context. Some of these include: the role of religious commitments in political advocacy; the relationship between ecclesial communities and public policy; the contribution(s) which formal Christian ethics has to make in this realm; potential limits on Christian political engagement; abiding disagreement among Christians on matters of principle or strategy; the current state of politicized Christianity and hopes and fears for its future.
Finally, I will have the pleasure of introducing John Hare to the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Church of Christ Theology Students (previous guest scholars include Bruce Marshall, David Bentley Hart, and Gregory Sterling). His address it titled "Three Arguments for the Dependence of Morality Upon Religion," to which Lauren Smelser White, a PhD student in theological studies at Vanderbilt, will offer a response. Here's the abstract:
This paper gives three arguments for the dependence of morality upon religion, "the argument from Providence," "the argument from Grace," and "the argument from Justification." The first argument is that morality becomes rationally unstable if we do not have a way to assure ourselves, through belief in God, that morality and happiness are consistent. The second argument is that we are born preferring ourselves to the demands of morality, and reversing this priority needs assistance from outside ourselves. The third argument is that we need some answer to the question "Why should I be moral?". The religious answer to this question is that God calls us to it.
There are about a thousand other things happening during the conference, not least of which is the sheer proliferation of brilliant scholars presenting original research or responding to others'. Just a few include—and many of these are friends—Joe Gordon, Spencer Bogle (whose theological Padawan I am), David Mahfood, Mark Lackowski, (Yoderian master) John Nugent, Matt Tapie, (force of nature) Richard Beck, Shaun Casey, Joel Brown, James Thompson, Carl Holladay, (the one and only) Jimmy McCarty, Branson Parler, Ron Clark, Richard Hughes, (renowned shortform man of letters) Chris Dowdy, Vic McCracken, (all-around superwoman) Jennifer Thweatt-Bates, Trevor Thompson, Gregory Sterling, John Willis, John Senior, Vadim Kochetkov, Joe Kauslick, Jarrod Longbons, Leonard Allen, Royce Money, Carson Reed, Stuart Love, Thomas Olbricht, Rodney Ashlock, Larry James, M. Eugene Boring, David Scobey, (the delightful) Tracy Shilcutt, Ken Cukrowski, Mark Powell, John Mark Hicks, Eric Magnusson, Mark Cullum, Paul DeHart, Ron Highfield, Mark Wiebe, Lauren Smelser White, Justin Barringer, Randy Harris, John Barton, Steven Kraftchick, and more.

That's a lot of good people. See you there.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Conference: Karl Barth in Dialogue

I'm late with this, as I've been mostly away from the blog this spring, but I still wanted to make sure people heard about it who may not have yet. The annual Karl Barth Conference this year is being held at Princeton Theological Seminary on June 16-19, with the theme of "Karl Barth in Dialogue: Encounters with Major Figures." You can register at the website here or contact those running the conference here. The lineup of speakers includes Nicholas Healy, George Hunsinger, D. Stephen Long, and Paul Molnar, among others. Thinkers put into conversation with Barth range from Catholics like Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs von Balthasar to Orthodox like Georges Florovsky and Sergei Bulgakov to the wildly diverse mix of James Cone, Joseph Ratzinger, Paul Tillich, T.F. Torrance, and Elizabeth Johnson. I'm sorry not to be able to make it myself, but I'm sure it's going to be a wonderful gathering.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Julian of Norwich on Avoiding Thoughts of Other People's Sins

"The soul that wants to be at peace must flee from thoughts of other people's sins as though from the pains of hell, begging God for a remedy and for help against it; for the consideration of other people's sins makes a sort of thick mist before the eyes of the soul, and during such times we cannot see the beauty of God unless we regard the sins with sorrow for those who commit them, with compassion and with a holy wish for God to help them; for if we do not do this the consideration of sins harms and distresses and hinders the soul."

—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (trans. Elizabeth Spearing), ch. 76

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Karl Rahner on the Words We Say in Prayer and the Single Word God Says in Return

"In the final analysis, talking about prayer doesn't matter; rather, only the words that we ourselves say to God. And one must say these words oneself.

"Oh, they can be quiet, poor, and diffident. They can rise up to God's heaven like silver doves from a happy heart, or they can be the inaudible flowing of bitter tears. They can be great and sublime like thunder that crashes in the high mountains, or diffident like the shy confession of a first love.

"If they only come from the heart. If they only might come from the heart. And if only the Spirit of God prays them together also. Then God hears them. Then he will forget none of these words. Then he will keep the words in his heart because one cannot forget the words of love.

"And then he will listen to us patiently, even blissfully, an entire life long until we are through talking, until we have spoken out our entire life. And then he will say one single word of love, but he is this word itself. And then our heart will stop beating at this word. For eternity.

"Don't we want to pray?"

—Karl Rahner, The Need and the Blessing of Prayer (cited in Kevin O'Brien, SJ, The Ignatian Adventure [Chicago: Loyola Press, 2011], 247)