The 16th annual Wheaton College Theology Conference begins today. This conference, originally the vision and dream of the late Timothy Phillips and former-Wheaton College theology professor Dennis Ockholm, has become a first-rate event for those who care about serious theological discussion and learning. This year’s theme is: "Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future." Speakers include D. Stephen Long, Brian Daley, Christopher Hall, Christine Pohl, D. H. Williams, Alan Kreider, Tony Jones, John Witvliet, Kathryn Greene-McCreight and Ray Anderson. These speakers represent an interesting blend of emergent leaders and ancient church scholars.
The conference is built on the premise that one of the more promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent rediscovery of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasure to be found within the early church. The event will focus on the life and thought of the early church and ask a number of pressing questions: How do we appropriate the riches of the early church in ways that are faithful to its own world and relevant to our own? In what ways do the ancient practices of spiritual life and devotion inform and sustain a vital contemporary spirituality and practice of reading the Bible? What does emergent Christianity hope to find in ancient faith and how does it represent a vital catalyst to the development of faithful community and witness? Is the ancient church the first example of emergent Christianity?
I debated attending a fantastic Calvin studies event at Notre Dame the next few days but my personal schedule, health struggles, and the ministry pressures of the moment, all forced me to choose the Wheaton event. And, I can attend the Wheaton event for free as a faculty member so this made the case for staying home, and sleeping in my own bed too, even easier.
The Wheaton event can be looked at online at www.wheaton.edu/theology/theo_conf. InterVarsity Press (an event co-sponsor) will publish a book from the papers given at this event, which usually appears before the next Wheaton conference in April of 2008. I fully expect the book to be a worthwhile addition to the growing literature in this important area of study. The emergent movement needs theology, serious theology. The Church needs to listen to the voices coming from the emergent movement. Those who can keep the two together will make a lasting contribution. Those who don’t will only offer ephemeral "movement" driven fadism. I have lived through enough fads for a lifetime so I am hoping for something more substantive, not a passing eruption of emotional reaction to what the Church has been doing wrong. Real community invites process and learning. I am going to the Wheaton event with this prayer in my heart.