The Davenant Institute began in the spring of 2013 with a group of friends and a question. As friends, we were united by a common concern for the retrieval of classical Protestantism in an age in which it had grown increasingly unfashionable, by a simultaneous passion for history and for the contemporary church, and by a sense that, without looking to the past, our churches and our public witness would not have much of a future. And we knew from talking to people that many others felt the same. Our question was this: Were there any institutional settings where such a vision of retrieval and engagement was fostered? It didn’t much look like it.
Part of the problem was the separation of church and academy that has taken hold especially over the last century: most of the settings for doing serious historical work in the Christian tradition—research universities—have few if any ties to orthodox Protestant churches, and are often more interested in fostering dialogue with secular scholarship than with the congregations and traditions many of their students come from. Students in such programs often emerge from their research unsure how to communicate its value to pastors or laymen, and afraid of being treated with suspicion by their own churches.
Another part of the problem, of course, has been the sterile feud between “confessionalism” and “evangelicalism,” with advocates of the former taking refuge in the past to escape messy engagement with the present, and the latter plunging themselves into contemporary cultural work in order to avoid what they fear is the straitjacket of the past. In the midst of such a rift, it is no wonder that those calling for theologically-serious but open-minded and dynamic retrieval of the past for the sake of the present have often felt like voices crying in the wilderness.
Since the answer to our question didn’t look too encouraging, we decided to be bold and try to create such an institution, and the Davenant Institute was incorporated in September of 2013. At first, we weren’t entirely sure what it was we were trying to create, but the enthusiastic responses we started getting confirmed to us that we were onto something, and there was a gap that needed filling. We began by organizing an annual symposium for pastors, scholars, and interested laymen (the “Convivium Irenicum”), by sponsoring the launch of a new Reformation translation graduate program at a Reformed liberal arts college, and by helping organize a public conversation at Biola University on “The Future of Protestantism,” which drew thousands of viewers worldwide and sent lots of people knocking at our door and asking what we were all about. In November of 2014, we got into the publishing business, printing a book, For the Healing of the Nations, based on the proceedings of our annual conference, the Convivium Irenicum.
In 2015, we launched a program of online courses in theological Latin, and in 2016, we established a residential study center. We look forward with excitement to what the years to come have in store, and we invite you to join with us in this great work that the Lord has called us to.