This is a report on Teaching Fellow Colin Chan Redemer’s debut event for the Davenant Institute in San Luis Obispo.
I worshiped God last week in San Louis Obispo with a small group of leaders from the University of the Pacific Intervarsity chapter. If you looked in on us it wouldn’t have looked like worship; our instruments were books, paper, a whiteboard, and pens. The sheet music was mostly the letter of Ephesians. But we worshiped. We had met to look deeply into three questions, to help them get ready for the next season of ministry on their campus. What is the relationship between Justice and Evangelism? What is distinctive about the Christian understanding of Justice? What is the role of the life of the mind in the life of a Christian? They had chosen the questions, I chose the music.
I was struck that of all the things that we could have been studying to steady the leadership team these were the three things they wanted to cover. These questions are telling. Perhaps it is just California evangelicals but I believe they touch a broader nerve in the American zeitgeist. The number of people who openly affiliated with Christianity is dropping at the moment and has been for some time. In response nearly every Christian community I know of is thinking about how to re-evangelize the post-christian world. Meanwhile there is a sense that the church, like the country at large, has made mistakes in the past which we must not fall into regarding our treatment of our fellow man, and that the church needs to get on board with the culture’s broadly defined work of justice.
All this has left the average Christian lay person a bit bewildered. Evangelism sure looks a lot like a marketing and sales strategy. Justice looks a lot like picking sides and playing politics. These are activities we already do in our roles as employees and citizens. What does Christianity have to offer this lay person? Even assuming it has something distinctive, heaven, perhaps, which even the likes of Google can’t offer its citizens, then if the particular lay Christian also has a collegiate affiliation the insistent call for action, to share the gospel or care for our brother man, sure seems like it would require a whole lot less studying. I’d not blame them for wondering if they should drop out of school entirely.
What is missing from all this is the particularity of worship.
In worship we catch a glimpse of God and share that glimpse with the rest of the church. We are ennobled and lifted out of our petty lives at least enough that we might go out and offer what little we have to a neighbor who is suffering. It doesn’t much matter, from the point of view of worship, if that suffering is spiritual, mental, or physical. It is the worship of the one true God that has promised to set the world right again that sets us apart from a people that plan to set everything right themselves. It is worship that helps us see a God compelling enough that we can’t but share about Him to whomever we run into. And worship opens our heart and connects our intellect to our actions through our sentiments.
At the start of the weekend with these students I told them that this weekend, even though I’m far from a gifted musician, we would be worshiping together as we studied. And by the end it was clear to everyone that through worship we can finally achieve the right ordering of our loves which set us free from the incessant demands of our days. I sent those leaders back to their campuses and I prayed over them that there would be a flowering of conversions and a rising tide of justice, but that these things would come clearly from the God they were worshiping, and that they would worship Him who died that they might live.
Ultimately that is what the church needs, perhaps what it has always needed, to return to the altar and worship. When we do this the God who has promised to bring justice to earth, and to provide the workers, the words, and the converts, will act, and we will see Him act. And in seeing we will be compelled to return to the altar to offer praise, thanks, and worship.
The Davenant Trust has changed its name to The Davenant Institute.
On June 1, the Board of Directors authorized The Davenant Trust to change its name to the Davenant Institute beginning in the 2017-18 fiscal year. After a couple false starts due to gremlins in the interwebs, the change took effect today and will soon be reflected not only here on our website, but on our Kindful donation portal, our Facebook page, and our Youtube channel. In a statement today, Brad Littlejohn, Director of the Institute, said,
“As Davenant has grown and developed as an organization, so has our clarity about our mission and vision, and the avenues of ministry the Lord has called us to. Our new name, The Davenant Institute, better reflects our commitment to re-invigorating the legacy of the Reformation by providing training and resources, and building networks, that bridge the gap between the church and academy. Rather than waiting for promising project proposals to come along, we are proactively seeking out needs that the Lord has equipped us to address, and creating tools and opportunities to help today’s Protestants grow in wisdom and serve their communities.”
We look forward to announcing very soon some of the new projects and initiatives that we will be undertaking this fall under our new name. Read our full mission and vision statement here, and please consider donating to support our endeavors.
We are pleased to announce the most recent changes to our Board of Directors, Susannah Black and Ian Clary are joining us, and as Chairman, Scott Pryor will be succeeding Steven Wedgeworth. Read about them below.
Susannah Black received her BA from Amherst College and her MA from Boston University. She is a freelance editor and writer, editing for Plough Quarterly and Plough Books, Providence Magazine, The Philos Project, and elsewhere; she is also an editor of The Davenant Institute’s journal Ad Fontes, and is a founding editor of Solidarity Hall. Her writing has appeared in First Things, The Distributist Review, Solidarity Hall, Providence, Amherst Magazine, Front Porch Republic, Ethika Politika, The Human Life Review, The American Conservative, Mere Orthodoxy, and elsewhere. She blogs at Radio Free Thulcandra and tweets at @suzania. A native Manhattanite, she is now living in Queens.
Ian Hugh Clary (PhD, University of the Free State) is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Colorado ChristianUniversity, Lakewood, CO. Previous to his coming to CCU in 2017, he was Assistant Pastor at West Toronto Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario, and lecturer in history at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario. Ian is the co-editor of The Pure Flame of Devotion (2013) and Pentecostal Outpourings (2016), chapter contributor to a number of books, and has published articles and reviews in periodicals such as Evangelical Quarterly, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and Mid-America Journal of Theology. He and his wife Vicky live in Lakewood, CO, with their four children.
Peter Escalante and Rick Littlejohn are rotating off from their previous positions. They have both been a great blessing to the Davenant Trust, and the Board gratefully acknowledges their fine service.
Scott Pryor steps up as Chairman, taking the baton from Steven Wedgeworth.
C. Scott Pryor (J.D., University of Wisconsin; M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) is currently a member of the faculty of Campbell University School of Law. He previously served on the faculty at Regent University School of Law from 1998-2015. He has also been a visiting professor at Handong International School of Law in Pohang, South Korea and has taught as a Fulbright Scholar at the National Law University in Jodhpur, India. See his writings on the relationship of the Christian faith to the law of contracts, the influence of Puritanism on contract law, Indian contract law, natural law, human rights, and other matters at his SSRN Author page. You can follow Scott’s occasional thoughts on his blog, PryorThoughts.
By Jake Meador
This article appeared in the 10th issue of Ad Fontes magazine.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day that I actually began to understand some of what Reformed theology means on a day-to-day basis. I was a sophomore in college, living near campus in a small one bedroom apartment by myself. One rainy evening I was sitting in my living room reading Far as the Curse is Found by Michael Williams. Williams was talking about the value of the physical creation to God, arguing that God isn’t simply saving human souls or even human individuals, but will actually, one day, restore all of creation. It was something I hadn’t heard before, having grown up in an old school dispensational church where it was simply a matter of common agreement that all of creation would one day be destroyed by God and, therefore, evangelism and Bible study was really all that mattered. “Only three things are eternal,” we were told, “God, his Word, and human souls.”
Williams’ book was dismantling that idea in front of me in ways that both disoriented and delighted me. It disoriented me because it seemed to reject, explicitly or tacitly, so much of the theology I had known as a child. It delighted me because it meant that the delight I took in created things was, in fact, a good thing. Indeed, thanking God for those things and the joy they gave me was suddenly an act of worship rather than the simple indulgence of weakened flesh. As I finished the chapter, I put the book down, put a kettle of tea on the stove, and grabbed Ted Kooser’s Delights and Shadows off my shelf. I had long been interested in poetry but had struggled to justify that love as a Christian. “Shouldn’t you be reading the Bible or some devotional book instead?” – people had asked me. I had asked myself the same question a time or two. But Williams was helping me to understand something about my love for poetry. And so I went out to the front porch to watch the spring rain. It seemed like the right thing to do.
The question of how the institutional church should relate to civil society is, of course, one of the oldest in Christian theology. In the contemporary West, a few separate schools have emerged. Several see the contemporary liberal order as being unsalvageable and thus in needs of some sort of fairly dramatic repudiation. Others want to work within the order to promote the common good, believing that liberalism is no better or worse than any other way of organizing society.
Let’s begin by defining liberalism and then we will briefly sketch out the various schools before developing the magisterial Protestant approach at greater length. A liberal social order sees each individual person as being a free, unattached, and self-defined whole. The true and just society is the society that allows or enables the maximal amount of freedom to each individual person. Consequently, liberal social orders will generally be suspicious of institutions that claim to have some level of authority to bind individuals or curtail individual freedom. Part of this is epistemological in nature—we have lost faith in our ability to know things about the world and especially about morality, metaphysics, or the supernatural with any confidence. Thus public claims that are based in those disciplines are viewed with suspicion. This epistemological uncertainty also means that, so far they go, our ethical deliberations cannot really progress beyond the “do no harm” principle because we simply do not trust claims about things like a human individual’s proper end, let alone the proper ends of human society.
The strength of liberalism is that it generally does resist most forms of social injustice or tyranny. The fierce individualism of the order causes its members to be sparked to action when something occurs which is seen as violating an individual person’s right to freedom and self-definition. Even this strength can be overstated, of course, as one glance at the number of aborted babies since Roe v Wade will demonstrate. But it is true that as America has become more deeply liberal, it has also become less tolerant of a number of social evils – racism most particularly. And that is not an empty point.
That being said, the weaknesses of liberalism are many. T. S. Eliot made the point well in The Idea of a Christian Society when he said that liberal democracies are defined less by a fixed central point and more by a trajectory. Liberal democracies accumulate a great deal of energy and wealth, but then have no means for telling its members what to do with that wealth. It is centrifugal rather than centripetal. Thus we see the sort of social decline and breakdown lamented across the political spectrum today by thinkers like Bob Putnam and George Packer on the left and Rod Dreher and Yuval Levin on the right. Liberalism does not really have a strong mechanism for shaping social life and so liberal orders tend to develop communal norms through a parasitical relationship with whatever order came before it in a given place.
With that introduction out of the way, we should review six distinct approaches to this question. We’ll describe the first five briefly before developing the final version, which will be magisterial Protestantism, in much more detail.
There are three distinct post-liberal strategies which all agree on one basic point: Liberalism has failed. The first school, Catholic integralism, would follow the lead of traditional Roman political theology and argue that the just society is a society ordered toward its proper spiritual ends and thus is a society existing beneath the authority of the Roman church, which is the instrument by which people can realize their proper spiritual end.
The second school, Radical Anabaptism, descends from the 16th century Radical Reformation and embraces a strict biblicism, a simple lifestyle, some form of Christian non-violence, and often some kind of shared living arrangement which sometimes goes so far as renouncing all forms of private property. For radical anabaptists, to borrow from their preeminent theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “the church does not have a politics, it is a politics.” The church is the true and complete society and so we commit our lives fully to the building up of that society. We are only involved in society outside of the church to the extent that necessity requires us to be.
The third post-liberal school is post-liberal retreatists. This category is something of a catch-all for Protestant Christians who basically share the Radical Anabaptist critique of civil society and perhaps even aspects of Radical Anabaptist ecclesiology, but do not embrace other aspects of their theology, such as their biblicism, non-violence, or denunciation of private property. For the post-liberal retreatists, the church might not be a complete society unto itself, but it is the safe society we have today and it is the refuge out of which the new post-liberal order will emerge. Thus we must commit ourselves to its life and well-being and mostly scale back our ambitions for society outside the church. If we must participate in that society, then we are best off to do so in purely defensive ways that will carve out as much freedom for Christians as possible so that we can better ride out the storm.
In addition to these three systems, there are two systems which hope to retain aspects of liberalism. These two groups are the Liberal Protestants and Liberal Revanchists. These two groups are similar in many ways. They both affirm liberalism as a social order, valuing the freedom it affords from previous oppressive regimes. Where they drift apart is, for the most part, generational. The older members of this group tend toward revanchism, which is to say they think that the West has lost its way in recent years, but that we can and should take back the ground we lost and embrace a civil society that basically affirms the core tenets of liberalism, perhaps with a few slight handbrakes included to ward off the most pernicious forms of liberal self-expression. The liberal protestants are younger and probably are more comfortable with the current order as is, provided said order does not become much more hostile to religious faith than it already is. For liberal protestants (and this is classical liberalism, not theological liberalism), the current order is mostly a good and healthy thing which protects individual rights by weakening the social institutions that can cruelly and unjustly abuse individual people. The responsibility for Christians, then, is to participate in the existing institutions of civil society on all levels, working for the good of all people by strengthening the institutions that shape our social life. (I have written in more detail on each of these approaches at Mere Orthodoxy, which you can read more about here.)
The final school, which we will now spend the remainder of this essay discussing, is the Magisterial Protestant answer. For the Magisterial Protestants, none of these schools get the answer quite right, although the Catholic Integralists come the closest. Magisterial Protestant political theology and ecclesiology begins with a simple idea: There are two separate governments or realms by which Christ mediates his rule over his people and over creation. Significantly, however, these realms are not “church” and “state” or the “public” and “private” spheres. The answer is more complicated than that and does not neatly map onto contemporary debates about the role of religion in public life.
The two kingdoms of the Magisterial Protestant school are the temporal or visible kingdom and the spiritual kingdom. If we are to understand how Magisterial Protestants relate church to society, we must understand this distinction rightly. In order to do that, we need to trace the distinction back to one of the core ideas of the Reformation: sola fide. When Luther said that man was justified by faith alone, his opponents were quick to accuse him of essentially destroying moral order. If our works have nothing to do with our salvation, why should we do good? Luther responded with his famous claim in “On the Liberty of the Christian” that, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” What is often missed by readers is how this teaching relates to social order. For Luther the two halves of that statement lay quite neatly atop the two realms he articulated elsewhere. In the spiritual realm, man stands before the face of God and, by faith, is justified. “Christ reigns mysteriously and invisibly over the kingdom of conscience, and no human authority may dare to interpose itself as the mediator of this rule.” The temporal kingdom, in contrast, is the realm in which the Christian is a servant to all as a member of the Christian commonwealth and as a person called to love his neighbor as Christ has loved him. This realm covers all human institutions, including individual local Christian congregations and denominational institutions.
The trouble many of us have in understanding this idea is that there is a natural inclination here to ask, “So if membership in the church has nothing to do with our justification, then what is the church for?” When we try to answer that question, there is a desire to sneak some sort of Romanism in through the back door. So you might hear congregationalists talking about the institutional church as an embassy for the Kingdom to come or Anabaptist radicals talking about the church being a polis. But these are simply muted versions of the same Roman error which elevates the institutional church to a place it was never intended to fill—as the center of the Christian life and a pivotal agent in the salvation of souls. But this cannot be the case—Christ is the center. The institutional church is one means, amongst many others, for helping to further his work in creation. It is a unique means in that as the institution entrusted to preach the Gospel we might say it is in some sense closer to the invisible kingdom, but it still part of the visible kingdom.
There are three ideas which follow from this basic insight into the true nature of the institutional church.
First, the institutional church becomes apostolic in the original sense of the term—being “sent out.” The church does not simply gather Christians into its bosom and shelter them from the storm nor does it somehow elevate those who belong to it toward a higher order of existence. The church largely exists to send people out into the world. Here reflecting on the traditional three marks of the church as defined by the Reformed tradition can be of help. The institutional church is defined by three traits: the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the practice of church discipline. Rightly understood, all three of these marks serve the purpose of equipping the saints to be sent out into the world to witness to the love and grace of God as they go about their daily lives. The thought of 16th century reformer Martin Bucer is especially instructive on this point. Bucer saw an intimate relationship between Christian love and Christian discipline. (I have written about Bucer on this point in particular in Beyond Calvin.) We might even paraphrase John Piper’s famous line, “Missions exist because worship does not,” and say that, for Bucer, discipline exists because love does not. The purpose of Christian discipline is to help shape us in such a way that we are capable of living in Christian love with our neighbors both in and outside Christ’s covenant community. Church discipline, thus, simply becomes an institutionalized form of Christian discipline to be used in emergency situations, as it were. Moreover, our reflection on the sacraments and particularly the Eucharist might be enriched by a closer attentiveness to the missional nature of the meal. The reformed tradition generally has held that the Supper is not simply a memorial, but that there is some real sense in which it unites us to Christ. Because he is spiritually present in the Supper, we are united to him. Indeed, you may even reverse the normal way we tend to think of movement happening in the Supper. Rather than Christ coming down to us, we are caught up with him in a foreshadowing of the world to come where we partake with him of the Supper of the Lamb. Having feasted with him, we are then sent out, strengthened, at the close of public worship in order to witness to the glory of God amongst our neighbors.
Second, the other institutions of the temporal realm take on new significance. There is not some sort of unique quality that the institutional church possesses which elevates it above other human institutions. It has a role to play in the Christian commonwealth, but so too do other institutions. This means that our work matters, not simply because it provides an income to support us and our families, but because it is a means by which we fulfill the divine command to fill and subdue creation. Likewise, vocation matters. The unique callings we are given carry enormous significance and should not be deemed as being less valuable simply because they are not formal, full-time ministry work. These realms become practical ways of showing love to neighbor and, by extension, love to God. In other words, there is no sacred/secular split in the way this term is often used.
Third, we recover the idea of the Christian commonwealth rather than a sort of hierarchically structured society existing under the church or a secular society in which freedom of religion is respected, thereby leaving “a place” for the church (but little more than that). This is a central idea in the history of reformed thought. Indeed, the legacy of this idea can be found in the official names of several American states, such as the Commonwealth of Virginia. Briefly stated, the idea is that human beings are inextricably social and so human societies must be understood as a shared enterprise amongst all the members of a community. Moreover, because all the institutions that shape society are part of the visible rather than the spiritual kingdom, society should not be understood as a hierarchical structure in which the church sits atop the rest of the social institutions. Rather, social power is diffused across a variety of different institutions and groups. There are roles within a society properly given to the institutional church, but also roles properly ascribed to the family, to schools, to the market, and to the magistrate. All these different social bodies together comprise the Christian commonwealth.
This idea of a Christian commonwealth, which clearly is not the same thing as an ecclesiocracy (as you might have in Roman Catholic states or even in Puritan New England), is a difficult thing to convey since the entire notion of a Christian commonwealth has been forgotten not only in the contemporary American republic generally, but even within much evangelical reflection on social order. This is not surprising—the notion of a Christian commonwealth is by definition a pervasive criticism of the way American social order is often defined and discussed. The American liberal order rests largely on the assumption that human beings are essentially private, self-enclosed individuals. At his most basic level, man is solitary. Thus the system of government exists to facilitate and enable that individual freedom as we have already said. But it also rests on an assumption that man is not an intrinsically political creature given to societies and communities he has not chosen. This, of course, is nonsensical. We are all born into a multitude of communities which we have not chosen but which will, nevertheless, do a great deal to shape and define who we are as individual people. A political system which fails to reckon with this fact will prove to be brittle and unsustainable, as we are seeing quite clearly in the contemporary United States. Understanding society not as a group of individuals knit together by a tacit social contract, but instead as people belonging to a shared commonwealth, helps us to understand concepts like solidarity more clearly – as well as why specific Christian teachings work in the way that they do. For example, Christian sexual ethics make far more sense if man is a rooted member of a commonwealth than they do if he is a detached and autonomous individual.
The relevance of this point in particular to contemporary American political disputes should be abundantly clear to anyone who pays a passing attention to the circus-like atmosphere that prevails in our nation’s politics. As the recent election of Donald Trump made plain, there is a large portion of our nation’s electorate which, whatever else you might say about them, desperately longs for someone in power to stand with them. The typical Trump voter supported President Trump not least because he believed, almost certainly falsely, that Trump would represent him and his interests in Washington. This is why so many of the people who flocked to Washington for Trump’s inauguration spoke of how they’d never been to Washington before. Trump was tapping into something real, a felt longing amongst a certain class of Americans to be seen. Of course, on the other side of the spectrum there is a similar sort of fear we might call solidarity anxiety: Consider the underlying fear that explains movements like Black Lives Matter. The fear for African Americans is that they will do everything America tells them to do and it won’t matter. They will still not belong, still will not be treated as a normal member of the American republic. The same concern drives a great deal of the activism from pro-LGBT activists. One friend of mine framed the debate about bathrooms and transgenderism as a debate about a person’s right to exist in public. You can (and should) disagree with that assessment of the debate, but the framing is suggestive. Once again, the longing is to be seen and recognized as one actually is. The irony, of course, is that in matters of sexual ethics in particular, we demand both the freedom to define ourselves however we wish and that society recognize whatever identity we land on – regardless of the costs to society entailed in such an act. It is incoherent, but in a way that tells us something about the base difficulty with liberalism. There is, in our deeply individualistic society, an undeniable longing for solidarity, for communal membership and recognition – for roots. A Christian political theology will recognize this longing and identify it as a function of living in a state that functionally denies those needs.
The magisterial Protestant vision of a Christian commonwealth is particularly equipped to do this work for the simple reason that belonging and social capital are diffused more broadly than they are in other social orders precisely because single earthly institutions are not privileged over others in such a way that the laity are second-class citizens or that one loses all rights as a citizen if one is under church discipline. The institutional church does not control social capital, nor does a small Christian community become a social body unto itself, removed from broader civil society. The magisterial Protestant approach sees a missional church integrated into the basic structure of a society, equipping people to love and serve their neighbors. This focus on outreach and the common good, as well as the proper placement of the institutional church relative to civil society, should all help to militate against totalitarian tendencies that could emerge in a movement.
Here we might return to that experience I had during a spring storm while reading Far as the Curse is Found. The reason I smiled, made some tea, and then sat on the porch to read some poetry is simple: As I began to understand what the reformed tradition teaches, I realized that my work as a student was valuable in itself. The university where I was studying was not simply a convenient tool for rounding up all the godless youths into a single place to facilitate easier evangelistic outreach, as many campus ministries seem to believe on a functional level. Studying literature and history (I was an English and History major) were worthwhile pursuits in themselves. In studying these subjects, I was learning about wisdom and virtue and politics and beauty and a host of other things which make life worth living and help communities live well together. This work was good because it equipped me to be a better neighbor, citizen, and churchmen and so it was work that God smiled upon. These interests of mine, then, were not simply personal proclivities that might be made into a career, as many of my peers in these programs believed, but were actually intimately related to the work God had given me to do in the place where he had put me. What better way to celebrate such a realization then by watching a spring storm and thanking God for the rain while reading a magical description of the storm like this? “I sat in the cellar / from six to eight while fat spring clouds / went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured, / a storm that walked on legs of lightning, / dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.” That image, playing out before my eyes as I watched the storms roll in helped me see God’s creation more clearly and to delight in the goodness of God all the more.
Critics of the magisterial tradition might charge that it so dramatically curtails the power of the institutional church that the church loses its significance as a social body. But the reality is quite the opposite: It elevates the life of the commonwealth such that every honorable vocation is now glorious and worthy of pursuit. It makes accessible to all people the contentment and sense of eternal purpose in one’s work that the western church has far too often limited to only ministers and missionaries. Magisterial Protestant ecclesiology does not diminish the church; it exalts the commonwealth.
Therefore, in closing, we return to Luther: A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one. The first step in building a Christian commonwealth is a simple one: We look for opportunities to serve the places in which we live by promoting common life and, when questioned as to why we serve in these ways, “giving an account of the hope that is within us.” Such a payoff may perhaps seem too modest: “So you’re telling me that the first step toward social transformation is volunteering with a refugee resettlement group, starting a business to provide employment for local people, or leading a Bible study at the homeless shelter? That seems… small?” Answer: It is small. But we serve a king whose kingdom, by his own admission, is upside down, who tells us that the first shall be last and the last first. The first step to cultivating a Christian commonwealth is becoming a more thoroughly Christian citizen. And the first step toward that is serving faithfully in the “small” matters of life.
Jake Meador is the Vice President of the Davenant Trust and editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. His writing has also been featured in First Things, Books & Culture, Front Porch Republic, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, and The University Bookman. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife and two children.
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.
Click here to learn more about the National Convivium Irenicum.
This report was written by William Hugh Scott, a Master’s student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who attended this year’s DLI Summer Residential Course.
On May 22 The Davenant Trust opened the doors of the Laureldale Cabin to host the inaugural offering of “Residential Intensive Introduction to Theological Latin.” This was a one week intensive that served as an immersive experience, for learners of all levels, to begin a journey of reading, speaking, and composing Latin.
This initial group of students were a diverse bunch. Nick and Kyle are brothers from Wisconsin, though Nick is currently in Louisville preparing to start his studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Alyssa, a Latin teacher at a Classical Christian School, drove in from Ohio. Christian, a PhD student, arrived from Virginia. Angelia and Bill are both students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Charlotte campus.
Our fearless leader for the week was Professor Michael Spangler, with some assistance from one of his advanced Latin students, Michael Grasso. Professor Spangler is incredibly passionate about Latin and made the week a wonderful experience for all there. We began each day opening Scripture followed by a prayer and/or a hymn/creed recited in… you guessed it… Latin. He did a wonderful job of encouraging all of us of the vast amount of materials at our disposal once we had successfully learned the language. He was a fantastic encouragement through the whole week, as was his assistant.
The meals were wonderful times of serving as teams took turns cooking and cleaning the kitchen for the group. Mealtimes also enabled Professor Spangler with the opportunity to have creative exercises that assisted in our learning of Latin.
The Laureldale Cabin was the perfect location to partake in the week intensive of learning Latin. The location is stunning and secluded. Our evenings and breaks between lectures were used to take in the beauty from the porches or stretch our legs down the walking path. We felt just removed enough from society to have a time of limited distractions so to fully immerse ourselves into the language.
The week was spent working through the first part of Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina. At first glance flipping through the text, it can be slightly overwhelming. Thankfully after an explanation of Orberg’s method, it was a pleasure to work through the first eight chapters of the text. This text, the psalms and creeds recited multiple times a day during the week and acting out scenes from Orbrerg’s Colloquia Personarum enabled an atmosphere where we successfully began to learn Latin.
The beauty of the location and the beauty of a rich language with such a wonderful history in the life of the Church made for a wonderful week of building relationships with brothers and learning another way to interact with our brothers and sisters from ages ago. It was an amazing learning experience and hopefully one that will allow scores of others to experience the joy of learning Latin that this initial group of six were able to enjoy.
Click here to learn more about the Davenant Latin Institute.