After a couple of years off (more on this another time!) it has been a blessing to be at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky for the 2018 Society of Vineyard Scholars (SVS) 2018 Conference. We’ve already been blessed by some amazing hospitality from Great Commission Fellowship, a Vineyard church that meets in a building on campus, and it has been a personal blessing to connect and reconnect with some great folks. I’m looking forward to presenting a couple of papers today (Wednesday), but wanted to capture some thoughts on day 1 (Tuesday) before they fell out of my head.
Following worship and welcome (great to have such a gifted and humble band with us) the first ‘all-together’ Plenary session got underway. In a kind of panel, we had 5 seven-minute talks on different issues under the theme ‘Entangled in Babylon, Free in Christ’. Mary-Catherine Brown opened us up with a barnstorming presentation on race and ethnicity – I could have listened to her all day. Key quote, “The pride of humanistic Babylonian thinking has been infused into our foundational understanding of how to interact with other ethnic groups“. Brown beautifully rooted her Kingdom response in being made in the Image of God. Matt Croasmun follows Brown with a fascinating reflection on technology, education and capitalism. He challenged us that, if we have to see a ‘product’ of education, we should be seeking for “a human being able to flourish and discern in the Kingdom of God“. Hannah Lehman, a doula, then reflected on technologies of birth. This was a beautiful talk – with gems including “we cannot let our institutions teach us to be human” (amen!), “we need more people to be in place proximate to suffering – I cannot take away your pain but I will not let you suffer alone” (preach!) and a generally very robust and patient approach which I found really helpful. My friend (And fellow Brit!) Steve Burnhope then spoke on ‘evangelicalism’. He was provocative and prophetic, careful and challenging in equal measure. I loved how how he wove stories and critical reflection into a short talk. Finally, and perhaps slightly ironically, Jared Boyd spoke on ‘Hurry’. This was a really valuable reflection, with a key challenge for busy leaders that “we must be aware that the way we are working for the kingdom may undermine our work if our soul is not at rest“.
I enjoyed two very different panel discussions. Firstly, ‘moving in marginalised spaces’, a packed out room hearing from Matte Downey on ‘Notes from the Margin: Doing Theology from the Edges of Culture, Society, and Church’, Wes Wilson on ‘Topophobia: Encounter and Formation in Places that Repulse’, and Christian Anderson on ‘Cleansing instead of Combat? Janet Warren’s Temple-Cosmos Model for Counteracting Evil, and Implications for Charismatic Missiology’. These were three fascinating papers that I’m looking forward to reading. The second panel I went along to (after a one-on-one prayer session which was awesome) was a ‘Book Forum’ on the magisterial new The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism by Michael McClymond. This was an interesting exchange, and served as an encouragement to get the book!
After a lively dinner with friends old and new, we gathered for the first evening plenary, by Caleb Maskell, the guy who leads SVS. Caleb spoke passionately and personally – partly from his perspective as a church historian, and partly from his experience as a follower of Jesus, church planter, pastor and worship leader. This talk was a brilliant breath of fresh air – Caleb invited us to consider ‘tradition’ as a vital word for Vineyard theology. Drawing on David Steinmetz, Simon Chan and evangelical Quaker history, Caleb challenged us powerfully about our role as ‘scholars and leaders’. I’ll probably reflect more on this in the future, for now I’d point you towards Graham Kings’ ‘Canal, River, Rapids‘, Luke Geraty’s ‘Traditioning in the Vineyard‘, and my own ‘An Unintended Tradition‘, for three ways that might get the conversation going. We had a good time of q+a and some ministry, before breaking for wine and cheese at an awesome farm/barn, watching the sun set over a fire and some glowing bugs.