Report on Portland Convivium — January 5-6, 2018

On January 5-6, 2018, The Davenant Institute held a small Regional Convivium in Portland, OR. Below is Andy Lofthus’ summary of the event. If you are interested in attending a future Convivium or other Davenant events, sign up for updates of our projects and events here.

Last weekend, Davenant held its fourth Pacific Northwest Convivium Irenicum, hosting it for the first time in Portland, Oregon. An encouraging and enlightening time of fellowship and scholarly presentation, the event drew in participants from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Pennsylvania.

The Covivium began on Friday night with a public lecture from Davenant President Dr. Bradford Littlejohn. Taking place at Western Seminary, Dr. Littlejohn presented a paper entitled: “Free to Serve: The Meaning and Task of Christian Citizenship.” Using Martin Luther’s paradox of the Christian as free lord of all and servant of all for a template, the paper discussed the Christian’s dual citizenship in heaven and on earth, and the implications that this has for our political and social life. This lecture was followed by an insightful response from Dr. Brian Williams, Dean of the Templeton Honors College and Assistant Professor of Ethics & Liberal Studies at Eastern University. Though in substantial agreement with Dr. Littlejohn’s paper, Dr. Williams posed a number of helpful clarifying questions.

Reconvening Saturday morning, we met together in a lovely downtown residence. Before hearing from four excellent presenters, we said morning prayer, filled up on coffee and biscuits, and enjoyed time connecting with one another.

Our first presenter was Blake Adams, who discussed the early church’s appropriation of pagan piety. His paper demonstrated the early church’s conviction that Christ was not only the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures but also the expectation of the nations. Because grace does not destroy but perfects nature, the truths which pagans were able to grasp—of which Christ was the telos—were not abolished at the coming of Christ, but were engrafted into the church’s thought and speech and employed as a means of understanding God’s revelation.

The second presentation was by Derrick Peterson, whose paper critiqued the oft-repeated narrative of modernity arising in opposition to and divorced from theology. This narrative has influenced both non-Christians and Christians to think of theology as irrelevant to everyday life—a mere add-on. Whatever we may think of modern science and the way of life it has helped bring about, Peterson argued that an accurate account of modernity must be attentive to the theology that was at play.

Next, we heard from Patrick Schreiner, who presented a spatial view of God’s kingdom. Using key concepts from the field of spatial studies as an exegetical tool, Schreiner reasoned from Matthew 12 that Christ’s kingdom includes the taking over and reordering of spaces, most importantly of the human body. This perspective has important and wide-ranging implications, both for the church and commonwealth.

Finally, we heard from Matt Peterson. Arguing against a common conception of the body as simply a means of self-expression, Peterson sought to show that even mathematicians, when working together, use their bodies in a particular way to enable them to accomplish a common task. Peterson then drew a parallel between this and the way that Christians employ their bodies in the Sunday liturgy to help them accomplish the common task of worshipping God.

God willing, this will be the first of many Davenant events in the Portland area.