National Convivium Irenicum 2017 Report

By Joel Carini


Earlier this month, thirty-seven scholars, pastors, professionals, and students gathered at the Davenant House for the fifth annual Convivium Irenicum. The event’s theme was “To All Generations: Teaching the Doctrine of God in the Life of the Church,” and Dr. Fred Sanders, of Biola University, was the plenary speaker.

After an introductory cookout Wednesday night, the Thursday opened with morning prayers, a Convivium favorite (and an anomaly among academic conferences). Dr. Sanders gave the first paper, “The Strong Name of the Trinity: Expanding, Extending, and Deepening the Knowledge of the Triune God in the Church.” His paper diagnosed contemporary errors concerning the Trinity as confusions of the several ways the church gains knowledge of God. The doctrine of the Trinity is the type of teaching that is passed down from generation to generation within the church, not one still requiring development or further revelation. Dr. David Haines followed with a paper arguing not only that natural theology has a place within Reformed orthodoxy, but even that it is essential to orthodoxy.

Thursday afternoon featured a panel discussion with and debate among Dr. Paul Nedelinsky, Joseph Minich, and Joel Carini about the truth and confessional status of the doctrine of divine simplicity. Then, Dr. Alastair Roberts offered a theological and exegetical answer to the recent evangelical debate concerning the eternal subordination of the Son. Evening featured dinner and conversation at a local pub and a discussion of the role of creeds and confessions in Protestant theology, led by Andrew Fulford. The night concluded with evening prayers and late night conversation.

Many of the first day’s papers focused on the role of metaphysics in maintaining the classical doctrine of God and the Trinity. Friday morning brought these threads together as Rev. Ben Miller and Drs. Sanders and Brad Littlejohn discussed the role of biblicism in contemporary theological debate, especially concerning the doctrines of eternal generation and divine impassibility. Dr. Christopher Dorn next presented on the place of the doctrine of the Trinity in Reformed Eucharistic liturgy. Joseph Minich’s paper, “Divine Absence and Classical Theism in a World Come of Age,” situated the present secular age in the context of history and challenged, in an hour, the Western world to return to the rock from which it was hewn. Dr. Alastair Roberts then led a final discussion on the crisis of authority that the Internet brings to theological discourse.

As Dr. Littlejohn, president of the Davenant Trust, anticipated in the opening evening’s presentation, the Convivium Irenicum is like an academic conference in offering high level intellectual presentations, but it is unlike other conferences in that it occurs in a spirit of friendship, not competition. Like other years’ events, this year’s occurred as much in the conversations between and after the papers as during them. Dr. Scott Pryor, professor of law at Campbell University, reflected on the conference: “Contemplation and adoration is one of the principal applications of the doctrine of God.” Matt Siple, staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Athens, GA, summed up the event: “I was up late talking every night with people I’d never met before. I had conversations about jazz, parenting, multiculturalism, the Lord’s Supper, pursuing formal higher education for pastors, the Reformed seminary landscape, gender/nature, R. L. Dabney, Donald Trump, Allan Bloom, and David Lynch. Can’t imagine another conference where that could’ve happened.”

For those who were unable to attend, the Convivium’s proceedings will be published by Davenant Press next spring as a book.

Joel Carini is a Master’s student at the University of Chicago, studying philosophy, and a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and Wheaton College. He and his wife Anna live in Wheaton, Illinois.


Click here to learn more about the National Convivium Irenicum.