I just returned from Providence, and though I have more than I can share and not enough time to say it–as there is a stack of papers and writing projects to attend to, here are some personal highlights.
1. Papers–heard a very good one on the latent universalism in Brian McLaren and (I forget his first name) Young, the author of The Shack (the professor who gave the paper, James DeYoung from Western Seminary, said that he is personal friends with Young and so knows whereof he speaks). DeYoung claims that the editors of The Shack attempted to scrub it clean of its universalist tendencies, though he asserts that they were not entirely successful.
2. Friends–every year I make friends with more people, and though I won’t divulge our personal conversations, catching up with the successes and trials of colleagues in distant places is becoming a treat. The highlight here was a Thursday evening meal with my fellow members of the Dead Theologians Society. But I have already said too much.
3. My paper, entitled “Machen on McLaren: A New Kind of Liberal?” was well attended. The point of my paper was that while McLaren differed significantly from classical liberals, he is saying many of the same things that the liberals were saying in 1923. The Q/A time that followed was interesting, as some conservatives wanted me to say that McLaren was going to hell, while some of his fans wanted me to say he was a saint. I tried to side with Machen, who said that the liberals of his day were teaching something other than historic Christianity, yet they themselves may be genuine Christians (only God knows the heart). Later I thought that I should have raised my hand like a barometer and invited each side to applaud for their view. “Who thinks Brian is going to hell? C’mon, let me hear you! Who thinks Brian is a saint? C’mon, move the needle!”
Afterward I had an interesting and too brief conversation with R. Scott Clark Smith, a professor at Biola, who said that he has found evidence of an emerging panentheism in Brian’s writings (and even more clearly in Pagitt). If true, this would eliminate their belief in the supernatural, as panentheists do not believe that God is ontologically separate from his creation. Scott’s paper on this topic went a long way toward proving his point. I’m sure that if you contact him he would be more than happy to email you the paper.
4. Friday after the conference my colleague John Duff and I walked to “The First Baptist Church in America” founded by Roger Williams. Now I know why every Baptist church in any city must declare itself to be the first there. We get it honestly.
The church also posted a handwritten note describing the transfer of pew rights from one family to another. The note was dated 1778, which means that even during a war Baptists were concerned about who sat where during church. Again, not much has changed.
5. I also had a chance in Providence to speak briefly with John Witvliet. If you have been following the comments of my Peter Rollins post, you know that John respectfully asked me to redact my paragraph on Rollins’ return visit to Calvin’s Worship Symposium. I told him that I would be happy to do it, as I did not wish to cause trouble for him or Calvin. He shared his concern that the repeated mention of Rollins’ visit to the Worship Symposium might cause people to get the wrong idea of what they were up to. While I think the easiest way to not give people the wrong idea is to not do the thing that plants that idea, I understand that he is in a difficult position and am more than happy to not pile on.
6. The ESV Study Bible booth had a large screen television with a running ad promoting the new Bible. I was taken aback and then laughed when I saw that the “personality” on the screen was my new friend, Tullian Tchividian, complete with, (if Justin Taylor can be trusted on this delicate issue), a spray-on tan. If the pastorate doesn’t pan out for Tullian, I suppose he can use his talents on QVC (which would be a sad waste of the Graham genes).
There is lots more, but that is the stuff that sticks out that I am able to share.