Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wesleyan Theological Society

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  Though I have been a member of the Society since my days in college, I only occasionally have the opportunity to attend the meetings, since they are held at various colleges and seminaries across the country.  It was the 2009 meeting at Anderson University where I presented my paper on Wesley's criteria for authentic Christian worship.  Thankfully, this year's meeting was held at my alma mater, Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee (just a few hours away).

Trevecca Nazarene University
While at the meeting, I had a wonderful time getting to see some of my former professors, as well as colleagues.  It was great to be with Dr. Ray Dunning (my Systematic Theology and Holiness Theology prof. at Trevecca), Dan Spross (my New Testament prof. at TNU), Tim Green (my Old Testament prof., who is now the Dean of the School of Religion at Trevecca), and Dr. Dan Boone, who was my pastor and field mentor at College Hill (now Trevecca Community) Church of the Nazarene and who is now the president of Trevecca.  I saw, but did not have the opportunity to talk with two of my seminary professors (viz., Al Truesdale and Harold Raiser) from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and it was good to catch up with Michael Pasquarello, one of my doctoral profs. from Asbury.  -  Then there were other friends and colleagues:  Brent Peterson, Brannon Hancock, David Busic (newly elected president of NTS), Mark Lindstrom (a fellow Order of the FLAME member), and Thomas Oord.  It was also good to meet a Wesleyan/Anglican facebook friend, Carl Campbell and the Director for Trevecca's Center for Worship Arts, Heather Daugherty. -  As a cousin of mine would say, "good times!"

Nazarene Theological Seminary
The topic of the meeting this year was "On Faith(s): The Wesleyan Tradition and the World's Religions."

The first section of papers that I attended was Systematic Theology: The Conditions of Salvation.  Thomas A. Noble, who teaches at Nazarene Theological Seminary and (I believe) has been commissioned to write a new, mult-volume Systematic Theology for the Church of the Nazarene, presented a paper called Only Exclusivism Will Do.  -  The paper looked at Gavin D'Costa's change of mind concerning exclusivism.  The paper explored exclusivism (concerning salvation) from the position of solus Christus, on the one hand, and sola fide, on the other hand.  In other words, does one hold that only those who have faith (in Christ) shall be saved, or does one hold that those who are saved will only be saved through Christ

Noble concludes that we Wesleyan's would hold much in common with the Catholic theologian, D'Costa, and he puts together a "firm Trinitarian base for a Christian theology of religions" within which we can develop a position "which holds firmly to the exclusivism of the solus Christus but which holds a carefully modulated inclusivism with respect to the sola fide.  -  Yes, I know, this is much more academic than what I usually present, and this blog is not a good place to flesh all of this out.  Suffice it to say, I agree with much that Noble said as he presented a position that really does mediate between those who think "all will be saved" or "all religions lead to God," on the one hand, and one must be a creedal Christian to be saved, on the other hand (even those who hold the latter, often have to make room for infants, mentally challenged people, etc.).

Dr. Noble's paper can be contrasted with the next two papers in this section.  The first was by William Curtis Holtzen from Hope International University.  It was titled, Universal Love - Particular Knowledge: In Search of an Open and Inclusive Theology.  Dr. Holtzen is an "Open Theologian," and believes that God does not know the future, but only that which is "knowable."  This is in contrast to classical Christian theology which holds that God does "foreknow," but does not predetermine or cause everything (at least that would be an Arminian version of it).  Or, one might say that God does not "foreknow," but only "knows," because God exists outside of the time-space continuum, so everything for God is in the present.  (Much like the "prophets" or "worm-hole aliens" in Stark Trek: Deep Space Nine!)  -  Anyway, Holtzen argued from God's desire that all be saved that God will continue to work until all are saved.  I do not believe that he concluded that all would be saved, but I believe he thinks all most likely will be saved because God desires such and will not give up.  -  I disagreed with him from the beginning, because I hold to the more classical Christian view concerning God's knowledge.

The next paper in this section was given by Mark Bird of God's Bible School and College.  It was titled Mere Christianity: What is the Bare Minimum that One Must Believe to be Saved?  -  Dr. Bird's paper really seemed to be coming from a very different position than the other two.  With the exception of infants and the mentally-disabled, Dr. Bird, to use Dr. Noble's terms, would fit firmly in the sola fide exclusivist position.  Actually, one might say that Dr. Bird's position (much like the first two lines in the Athanasian Creed) insists that we are not simply saved by faith, but we are saved by knowledge.  That is, we have to know certain things and believe them in order to be saved.

As I said, of these three papers, I resonated much more with Dr. Noble's.

I will refrain from talking about each paper in the way that I have, above, but I will mention them. 

The Plenary Address was given by Amos Yong from Regent University School of Divinity.  He is a Pentecostal "cousin" to the Wesleyan tradition.  His paper was titled, A Heart Strangely Warmed on the Middle Way? The Wesleyan Witness in a Pluralistic World.  -  In it, he talked about dialogue between Wesleyan Christians and other faiths.

The Presidential Address was given by Elain Heath, a United Methodist elder who serves as Associate Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  Her paper was titled, I Believe: Creedal Evangelism in a Pluralistic World.  -  I enjoyed the way that she spoke about the lived out faith of the creed and her statement that "I believe" meant for the early Christians "I love and trust."  It was about becoming a "living icon."

The next section of papers I attended was in the area of Science and Theology, on the topic of Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Critical Thinking.  In this section, there was actually only one paper presented.  It was by Kenneth Collins from Asbury, but responses to Ken were given by Thomas Oord of Northwest Nazarene University and Maynard Moore of the Wesleyan Nexus (which sounds like a cool Star Trekish kind of name, doesn't it?!).  -  Interesting in all of this is that all of the presenters (I believe this is the case with Maynard Moore, and I know it is the case with the other two) accept the concept of evolution.  Dr. Collins struggled with much of what Theistic Evolutionists have argued, though.  It was pointed out that he is, by definition a Theistic - Evolutionist.  He recognized that, but he disagrees with those "in that camp."  -  He is struggling (as best as I could understand it) with the question of what God actually does in the evolutionary process.  -  As a side note, I would surmise that the vast majority of those who were at WTS (with the exception of Mark Bird from God's Bible School!) would have little problem with (at least) the possibility of Theistic Evolution.  (Which, by the way, is not at all inconsistent with the position of the Church of the Nazarene in its Manual.  A fact that has caused some in the church much frustration.)

I attended two sections on the last day.  The first included a paper by Karen Strand Winslow of Azusa Pacific University on The Fathers on Circumcision.  The second paper in this section was done by Scott Dermer from Saint Louis University and Stephen Riley of Northwest Nazarene University.  It was titled, Interpreting Idolatry: Reading Scripture with the Fathers, Wesley, and Contemporary Exegesis.  (This paper was timely in that I am currently reading Christopher Hall's Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers.)  The final paper in this section was by Frank Spina from Seattle Pacific University.  It was called Joshua in the Lion's Den: God's Elect and the 'Other' in the Old Testament's Most Theologically Inconvenient Book.  -  I found this paper to be interesting, because it placed the biblical book within its own context and highlighted the themes which the book, itself, highlights.  Thus, it served as a corrective to those who have tried to read it with an emphasis on aspects which the book, itself, diminishes.

The final section that I attended focused on the future of Theological Education.  It included a presentation by David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary, The Future of Theological Education.  Next, Jay Akkerman and Thomas Oord from Northwest Nazarene University presented a paper titled, Seeing Is Believing: Lessons Learned from Online Theological Education.  And, finally, Michael Pasquarello from Asbury spoke about God is our Teacher: a Wesleyan Vision of Theological Education (a theme that I recall him talking about in one of my doctoral classes at Asbury).

This year's meeting concluded with worship lead by Trevecca's Tim Green.

Next year's meeting will be a joint meeting between the Wesleyan Theological Society and the Society for Pentecostal Studies.  The theme is Holiness.  The meeting will take place March 21-23, 2013, at . . . Seattle Pacific University . . . which is highly unfortunate for me!  I think that this would be a great meeting, and I already have an idea for a paper.  However, Washington State is a bit too far (and expensive) for me  (unless God decides otherwise!).

For readers of this blog who are not currently a member of the Wesleyan Theological Society, I would encourage you to check out the site (linked above, or on the side bar) and consider becoming a member.

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