Annual Meeting in Review: ETS 2015

Last week I made my usual pilgrimage to the place where all the evangelical seminary geeks converge: the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. This year was the second time Atlanta has hosted since I began attending, and it was fun reliving early autumn just before the snow arrived back home.

Over the years I developed a strategy: make plans to attend nonstop papers, then throw out those plans when relational opportunities arise. This year the program was a bit light, but thankfully the people made up for what was lacking.

When reflecting on the meeting I was reminded of just how good last year’s meeting had been. This year had none of the same “aha!” moments, but I did enjoy many rich times of reflection after various papers.

Familiar Faces

As is my usual habit, I attended a number of friend’s papers (e.g., Ford on Ignatius, Roeber on historiography, Svigel on the Didache). But then I also stalked a few of the theologians I’ve come to admire in recent years: Al Mohler, Carl Trueman, and Anthony Bradley. Of course the problem there is that once you begin following someone you have the ever-increasing experience of anticipating what they are going to say on a given subject. This is especially true of Mohler, whose two podcasts have been my intellectual lifeline this year in times when babies and house projects and service commitments have prevented deeper study.

Analytic Theology

What came as an outright disappointment was the afternoon I spent in the Analytic Theology section. For those of you who don’t know, “analytic theology” is a recent movement to apply the tools of analytic philosophy to the questions of theology. I’ve been thrilled about this from the moment I heard of it, but what I saw really didn’t reflect what I think the movement is capable of. The thinking seemed lackluster and the questions unhelpful. Crisp and especially Rae were there asking insightful questions, but I think being overly kind to the presenters. I suppose you can’t be too inhospitable if you want guests to come back next year.

Avoiding the Marriage-and-Family Theme

The theme this year was “Marriage and Family” but it’s clear the real interest was continued discussion of how to deal with LGBT-related doctrines. In the past year I’ve read numerous books, taught two classes, and delivered a regional paper on the subject. That was enough for me. Maybe there were some missed opportunities here, but I’m ok with that.

Reflection on 2015

One of the things I’ve been forced to do each year—and rightly so, I think—is to reevaluate my purpose and progress in the intellectual community. This occupied much of my reflection in private, some with friends, and significant portions of the drive time from Michigan.

Here are a few conclusions I reached:

  1. Even though I can’t justify a doctorate for my career, I am coming to the conviction that I can justify one for ministry. It may even be something I must do.
  2. Even though I have the tools for self-study, I can accomplish much more with a cohort of like-minded individuals. I need to find a group of theologians I can run with or I will fall behind.
  3. Even though I feel as though I’ve hardly studied this past year, (I recall reading only two theology books!), I’m reminded that I’ve still accomplished quite a bit with my LGBT studies, weekly Sunday School prep, church doctrinal formulations, and ministry strategizing. It’s different work, but I haven’t been as lazy as I feared.
  4. Even though I have been working to be useful to our local church congregation and open to correction about my academic bent, the fact remains that right beliefs are a crucial part of our walk with Christ. Theology matters.

I used to journal incessantly, but have cut back quite a bit this year to focus on getting stuff done. All that to say the time was ripe for some reflection.

Lately I’ve referred to my calling as a “ministry of ideas.” As I chart a course for 2016, the question of what that ministry looks like looms large. The plans are still up in the air, but my time in Atlanta this year has been enormously helpful in the process.

See you next year in good old San Antonio, TX!

2 thoughts on “Annual Meeting in Review: ETS 2015”

  1. Seeing how I don’t go to many of these, I was wondering if my assessment of lesser quality than the last Atlanta one was accurate. But it seems your thoughts are at least similar. I also resonate with your conclusion #2. That is what I have been keenly feeling for the last couple of years. Don’t see any end in sight to that here, and I’m not sure how to remedy it. A once-every-five-year ETS certainly won’t do it, but neither would a once-a-year one. This summer I read Calvin’s Company of Pastors. What it intrigued me most was the theological sharpening that went on in Geneva. Calvin did not operate in a bubble. While certainly the body of Christ is supposed to function in community, I also think pastors are as well. An elder board is supposed to be that, I believe, but when there’s no one interested…

    1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to find people interested in disciplined thinking, especially when you can’t point to immediate, tangible results. What’s more I don’t know how hard to push people in this direction since not everyone is called to this, even though I think they would benefit from it.

      I just started reading Mark Noll’s Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind…hoping that will give me some ideas for how to clear a path for lay people. I have the benefit of living in a city with lots of activity waiting to be tapped into, but it would be great to find a way to support pastors in more rural areas.

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