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Wrap-up from the Wesleyan Theological Society

I’ve been a member of the Wesleyan Theological Society (WTS) for several years but only attended the annual meeting of the Society for the first time over the weekend. We met in Nashville on Friday and Saturday. I had a great time renewing old friendships and making new ones. I was also glad to meet in person several people with whom I’ve only had electronic or social media communication. It was a fun and memorable weekend. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Noble quotes – One person who made it a memorable meeting is Dr. Thomas Noble, who presented a very interesting paper in one of the Systematic Theology sessions. At the conclusion of the session, after a discussion on, among other things, whether God can truly desire something that he knows will never be, Dr. Noble stood up and admonished us all that these discussions of how God knows things, while interesting and valid as an academic interest, are entirely beside the point. “We simply do not know,” he said, and suggested that such speculation was not all that helpful in the ongoing all-important task of doing theology for the Church. His comments were well said and appreciated by many.

Dr. Noble was at it again in the plenary session later that morning. Dr. Amos Yong of Regent University presented a paper called, “A Heart Strangely Warmed on the Middle Way? The Wesleyan Witness in a Pluralistic World.” The paper was largely a comparison of the Wesleyan emphasis on Christian perfection with some strands of Buddhism. The paper fell in line with typical calls for inter-religious dialogue and listening and was not terribly impressive, not least in its misuse of the term “middle way.” The best part came in the Q & A time when Dr. Noble stood, walked to the microphone, and simply asked, “Did Elijah come on too strong on Mt. Carmel?” He was referring to Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Laughter emerged from several sections of the room, and Dr. Yong appeared somewhat taken aback. He gathered himself and answered, “Yes.” Yong further said that the biblical and historical traditions often came on too strong. A telling answer, indeed. As an aside, I’d be very interested in hearing a paper sometime on the topic: “Elijah and the Prophets of Baal: A Biblical Model for Inter-religious Dialogue.” Sounds like a winner to me. What do you think?

2. Shelter from the storm – Another memorable moment came in the midst of a rather severe storm that ravaged the region. I am grateful that we were safe throughout. The tornado sirens sounded during the afternoon session on Friday while I was in a session listening to a fascinating paper by Mark Olson. When the sirens went off, we were instructed to move into a hallway for safety and shelter. After we gathered in the hall, having nothing else to do, Mark continued his paper and took questions on it afterwards; all right there in that hallway. I’ll not soon forget the experience.

3. Paper presentation – I delivered a paper in one of the sections on Biblical Studies entitled, “Did Paul Think he was Perfect? Christian Perfection and Its Eschatological Context in Philippians 3:15.” The paper was aimed at offering some exegetical grounding for the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection (or Entire Sanctification). I was pleased that the paper was well received. The Q & A time provided some fascinating conversation, and a few people even stayed around after the session to discuss the paper and its implications further.

4. A warm heart – Several times throughout the conference, I was struck by how many participants approached their work as a spiritual discipline and a service to the Church. Several of the papers that I heard and many of the conversations I had contained elements of this concern. Academic meetings don’t always have this feel. It warmed my heart and encouraged me deeply.

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