From June 6th through 17th this year, seven students gathered from four countries to participate in Davenant’s first ever Intensive Protestant Wisdom Summer Program (a shortened version of last year’s Five-Week Program).
Taught by Dr. Alastair Roberts, a leading evangelical blogger and writer from the United Kingdom, this program sought to help train Christian undergraduates, grad students, and seminarians in Christian wisdom so that they can be equipped to lead as servant heroes within the church and their local communities. By all accounts, it was a great success.
Although certainly intensive, students found the lineup of readings on Bible and Core Dogmatics, Principles of Philosophy, Natural Philosophy, Ethics, and Politics and Faithful Citizenship to build on each other nicely, helping students to reflect on the central principles of the Christian and Protestant tradition that undergirded more practical questions. One grad student who attended remarked that she felt “much better equipped to understand/interact with the Protestant tradition now (especially as it relates to natural law). It puts certain current debates in context.” Students particularly enjoyed the opportunity to read eminent English writers such as C.S. Lewis, John Ruskin, and Oliver O’Donovan.
As last year, students found the beautiful property at Davenant House to be an integral part of the experience. A beautiful log home situated in the foothills of the
Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, Davenant House is surrounded by rich woodlands adorned by wildflowers and bubbling streams. Graham Sommers, an amateur musician and Latin enthusiast from New Saint Andrews College, commented on the “absolutely wonderful facilities,” and remarked, “I felt very at home in the beautiful house. It was fun to traipse around the woods looking for turtles and mushrooms.”
Of course, at the heart of the program were Socratic discussions into the meaning and implications of the texts, ably led by Dr. Roberts. Andrew Hall, a graduate student from the University of Arkansas, enthused, “Alastair was fantastic. He was both magisterial and approachable. He made the work of theology something much less abstract than had been taught to me before.” Perhaps one of his greatest virtues as a teacher, and the reason we were so thrilled to have him this summer to lead the program, is his remarkable modeling of charity that does not sacrifice precision, something that seems so rare in Christian discourse today. Another graduate student praised this quality, saying that “during discussions, he handled contentious topics with a level of nuance and fairness that I’ve rarely seen, and accurately represented opposing viewpoints.”
For his part, Dr. Roberts remarked to us that he felt that the greatest strength of this summer’s program was what the students themselves brought to it. “In addition to the discussions and readings being rewarding, the program was marked by lots of laughter and by the development of great friendships. We even ended with a dance party, which was a hoot and a half! The success of the program was in no small measure because we had a wonderful group of engaged and thoughtful students, who bonded and interacted very well over the course of the fortnight.” Graham agreed, calling it “two weeks of almost constant laughter.”
Their experiences reflect one of the chief goals of the Davenant Institute, and Davenant House in particular, which is not merely to convey ideas but to build communities of conversation and rich friendships which will sustain long-lasting collaboration in the work of the Kingdom. To this end, our summer programs are designed to build such friendships through worship together, meals together, and manual labor together. The meals, organized by Grace Gardner, the hostess from the program and a student at Westminster Theological Seminary, and prepared together by the students, were a particularly central part of the experience. Graham remarked, “I loved the daily routine and rhythm. . . . Dinner was my favorite time everyday because it was a chance for us all to fellowship together and enjoy one another’s company.”
For free time, the group was able to relax at nearby Lake Lanier, reading and conversing against the beautiful backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Our aspiration in the coming years is to continue to expand our summer programs to give more and more students the opportunity to share in such experiences of growing in wisdom, knowledge, and friendship with one another. Next week, students in the Pacific Northwest will have the opportunity to participate in a one-week condensed version of the program, the Primer in Protestant Philosophy, Ethics, and Politics. And next summer, the Protestant Wisdom Program will be offered in both South Carolina and California. Stay tuned for more details in the months ahead.