A write-up of the 2021 National Convivium Irenicum on “Education and the Kingdom of God”
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.
Click here to learn more about the National Convivium Irenicum.
There are few areas where the discrepancy between the contemporary church and the Protestantism of earlier eras looms so large as in the field of political thought. For the Reformers, their 17th-century successors, and thoughtful Protestants right up through the last century, the vocations of minister and magistrate may have been strictly separate, but the accomplished theologian was usually a master of jurisprudence and political philosophy as well. Read more…
June is not so far away anymore, and it is time to announce the theme and Call for Papers for our Fourth Annual Convivium Irenicum, to be held, as usual, at Laureldale Cottage (now Davenant House) in the SC Blue Ridge mountains. The theme of this year’s conference will be “Confessionalism and Diversity in the Reformed Tradition” and our plenary speaker will be Dr. Carl Trueman, who holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Trueman is an eminent historian of the Reformation and early modern Protestantism, and also a witty and highly-regarded commentator on contemporary ecclesiastical and cultural issues.
As with previous Convivia, this is not your normal academic conference, but equally a retreat/fellowship time, that will be characterized by paper presentations, organized and informal conversation, food, drinks, and fellowship, and worship together. We will have room for a slightly larger attendance this year (and should be able to accommodate nearly all attendees in lodging provided on-site), but attendance will still be limited to 30, so register soon. Also, as with previous Convivia, we encourage not merely scholars and students, but pastors and theologically-interested laypeople to attend.
We welcome 250-500 word abstracts for papers related to the theme. Papers may investigate both historical and contemporary aspects of the theme; here are a few ideas, though others are welcome:
- highlight a figure or movement in the Reformed tradition that falls outside of what we have come to consider the mainstream, but nonetheless lies within confessional boundaries (i.e., “deviant Calvinism”)
- explore the process of confessionalization and the role that confessions played in shaping early Reformed faith and practice. Were they intended as irenic or polemical documents? What status were they intended to have?
- explore the role that confessions have played within the lives of Protestant churches and the challenges of maintaining their relevance in changing times
- argue what the role of confessions should be in the life of the contemporary church. How tightly should they regulate doctrinal freedom? How can they help govern the life of a particular communion without severing fellowship with others outside the confessional tradition? Do older confessions need to be amended or replaced?
Papers, as presented, may be from 30-45 minutes in length (leaving an equal time for Q&A); please stipulate whether you would like a shorter or longer slot. We also welcome proposals for guided discussions on a set of readings. All papers will be eligible for submission to an edited volume of conference proceedings which will be published by the Davenant Press (see previous published proceedings here). Paper abstracts should be submitted to Dr. Brad Littlejohn ([email protected]) by March 14th.
For full details about the Convivium, including the registration form, see here.