Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wheaton Theology Conference 2013: Christian Political Witness

The annual Wheaton Theology Conference has just come to a close. This year's topic was Christian Political Witness. I enjoyed stimulating lectures by Peter Leithart, Stanley Hauerwas, Mark Noll, and David Gushee and a lunch discussion with retired Anglican Archbishop of Kenya, Rev. David Gitari (in conjunction with our monthly Global Theological Education Discussion Group meeting).

Leithart's message was provocative: God is never violent and never condones violence. The key to his message was learning to define violence the way the Scriptures do: "Violence is unjust and sinful use of force." Leithart called the church the "one true polity and God's main instrument against violence."

Hauerwas made us laugh, groan, and gasp with his profound analysis of the problems facing the church in America (and, yes, with his colorful language). He imagines an ecclesial alternative to power, that is, a church so convinced that "Jesus is Lord" that peaceful non-resistance is the only option. His provocative lecture concluded with these words: "I believe Christendom is finally coming to an end. . . . Let's make the most of it."

Noll spoke about the use of Scripture by Christians in politics, cautioning us that the use of Scripture does not guarantee the "Christianness" of a political endeavor. He called us to a way of reading Scripture marked by comprehensive discernment of biblical theology that takes into account cultural, contextual, and theological issues (as opposed to proof-texting). My fuller report of his lecture may be found on the Wheaton Blog.

Gushee had the delightful task of getting into the "nitty-gritty" of Christian political witness by speaking prophetically on the issues that confront the church today. He took this job seriously, addressing a whopping 10 hot issues in 45 minutes: abortion, creation care, the death penalty, modern capitalism, gay rights, guns, immigration, torture, war-making, and women's issues. His exhortation to us was clear and unequivocal: "We must remain calm and steady in engaging public and political issues, believing that the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ."

These lectures should be available for viewing on the conference website in the near future, and they will be released in print by IVP later this year. In the meantime, summaries of many of the lectures will be available on the Wheaton Blog (written by Wheaton PhD students). I've just posted my notes on Mark Noll's lecture here. You can read about Gitari's lecture here. Check back for more lecture notes written by other Wheaton students. It's been a lively conversation!

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