There’s a sense in which Christmas came early for me in 2017. That’s how blessed I was to represent Vanguard University this past November at an important academic conference in Virginia, Beach, VA.
SOME CONFERENCE PARTICULARS
The academic gathering I was privileged to participate in was the Reformation 500 Conference sponsored by Regent University.
As this banner indicates, the conference, was designed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Specifically, the theme of the conference was “The Holy Spirit and the Reformation Legacy.” In other words, the call went out for papers that would:
- Consider the Reformation, its predecessors, and its effects through the present day.
- Discern and highlight the move of God’s Spirit in the Reformation’s development, formation, and continued expression.
- Explore “What hath God wrought?” in the Reformation by examining the Reformation’s effects – past, present and/or future in:
- Faith and the Church
- Society and Culture
- The World and Nations
Some readers of this blog may be aware that this past summer I participated in a similarly-themed conference conducted at the Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. Convinced that the paper I read in Cambridge would contribute nicely to this subsequent conference in Virginia, I proposed an updated version of that paper for it. I was delighted when I received news that my proposal had been accepted by the conference organizers, and that my application for travel funds had been approved by Vanguard’s Faculty Development Committee.
THE CONFERENCE VENUE
Though this wasn’t my first visit to Regent University, it was a special one. As many of my students (and the readers of my book Christ’s Empowering Presence) know, my custom is to begin each day with a prayer-walk. As the pictures presented here indicate, I was able to do this on the first morning of the conference. Since the accommodations for the event were located adjacent to Regent, I was able to walk the university grounds, prayerfully drinking in the beauty of its wooded setting.
The combination of the beautiful setting, and my sense of anticipation regarding the presentation I’d be making later in the day, caused this early morning prayer-walk to be quite inspirational. My experience at this conference was off to a great start!
The building in which the conference meetings were conducted is known as Robertson Hall. Here’s a photo of Robertson Hall, taken early in the morning, from the plaza located just in front of it:
Later in the day I made my way to Robertson Hall, with my presentation materials in hand. Here’s a photo of the signage which welcomed participants to the conference:
After a plenary session which commenced the conference, I presented an updated version of my paper titled “From Sola Scriptura to the Sacramental Sermon: Karl Barth and the Phenomenon of Prophetic Preaching” at a well-attended parallel session. Here are some pics taken as I was being introduced, and during the first moments of my presentation when the room was still filling up:
For those interested in looking at the paper, here’s a link to my personal website and the updated version of the paper I presented at the Regent conference:
For those not inclined to wade through a forty-two page theological essay, and who haven’t read the blog related to my Cambridge trip this past summer, presented below is an overview of the paper
Several prominent evangelical scholars have drawn attention to the pneumatological deficit at work in post-Reformation Protestant theology. Moreover, some have suggested that certain evangelical takes on the Reformation theme sola Scriptura are at least partially to blame for this Spirit-devaluing dynamic. This paper addresses the question: Is it possible to support sola Scriptura while at the same time affirming the practice of a particular type of prophetic preaching: Spirit-empowered sermons that are genuinely transformational precisely because they are sacramental (encounter-facilitating) in their effect?
The first section of the paper explores the connections that do indeed seem to exist between two overly restrictive takes on sola Scriptura and a marginalization of the Spirit in contemporary evangelical theology and ministry. A second section examines the evidence for the thesis that a pneumatological realism implicit in the Scripture-based Reformed theology of Karl Barth, when combined with his distinctive takes on the nature of revelation and the three-fold form of the Word of God, provide some rather impressive (even if tacit and ironic) theological support for the type of prophetic preaching referred to above. Bringing the paper to a close is a succinct, yet substantive, Barth-sensitive reflection on what a pneumatologically real approach to the preaching task entails.
From two evangelical understandings of sola Scriptura that have proved to be Spirit-marginalizing in their effect, to an eager engagement in a Spirit-empowered form of prophetic preaching: this is the ironic, important possibility this paper will explore.
As at the Cambridge conference, the paper was very well received, perhaps even more so because of the way the theme of this conference focused on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Reformation then and now. Truly, it was a joy to have conferees want to engage with me about the paper throughout the remainder of the convocation!
Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to find that several of the conference staff members and attenders were fans of my some of my previously published books and articles. Thus, I was also able to interact with several academic colleagues and Ph.D. students regarding the themes of those works as well. How very encouraging it was for me to discover that my scholarship has been noticed and is having an impact!
THE CONFERENCE AND MY SCHOLARSHIP
Of course, my scholarship also benefitted from my fellowship with other scholars and the papers they presented. For example, I very much enjoyed my interaction with Dr. Daniel Gilbert of Regent University School of Divinity, and, for obvious reasons, the paper he presented on the second day of the conference titled “The Theologian of the Holy Spirit: An Overview of John Calvin’s Pneumatology, the Charismata and the Gift of Prophecy.” How exciting to find that John Calvin, a theologian Barth himself admired, seems to have been a proponent of the type of “anointed” preaching I’ve become an advocate for. Even more support for my thesis. Yay!
THE CONFERENCE AND THREE FUTURE PUBLICATIONS
Going forward, I’m pleased to report that the paper I presented in Virginia Beach may be included in a published volume of essays deriving from the presentations making up this conference.
I’m also pleased to indicate that the paper will, for sure, be included as an appended essay in my soon-to-be-released book Getting Real: Pneumatological Realism and the Spiritual, Moral, and Ministry Formation of Contemporary Christians (Cascade Books, 2017).
Finally, I’m very happy to announce here that early in 2018 PreachingToday.com will publish an article adapted from this paper. This 2,000-word article focuses on the possibility of and need for preaching that’s transformational in its effect. It’s my hope that this article will make a difference in the way many preachers across North America and around the world approach the preaching task.
I’ll bring this blog to a close with a brief word of thanks. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to have been able to represent Vanguard at this important academic conference. I did my very best to bring some positive attention to the university in the process. My sincere thanks to the Provost’s office and Faculty Development Committee for their trust and support. I absolutely love being able to spread the news far and wide that VU is at a good place in its history, and that its future is filled with wonderful prospects!