From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 15:18:58


                          by Alexa Smith 
PITTSBURGH--Theology from what participants call the center of the church 
was the focus of a Christology convocation attended by more than 500 
Presbyterians here, many of whom say they are weary of wrangling over 
controversial theologies coming from the left and right fringes. 
     "We Believe in the One Lord Jesus Christ" was a series of plenaries, 
prayer groups and seminars sponsored by theTheology and Worship Program 
Team of the Congregational Ministries Division and planned over the past 
three years. 
     The life, death, Resurrection and Second Coming of Christ were the 
subjects of lectures delivered by the Rev. Thomas Gillespie of Princeton 
Theological Seminary; Elder William Placher of Wabash College, 
Crawfordsville, Ind.; the Rev. Roberta Hestenes of Eastern College, St. 
Davids, Pa.; and Dr.  James D.G. Dunn, University of Durham, England, 
     "Maybe this is a time for listening," the Rev. Fran Hayes of New 
Alexandria, Pa., a conference participant, told the Presbyterian News 
Service.  "I've been very concerned about the divisiveness in the 
denomination ... people who are on either pole theologically, who don't 
really listen to one another. ... 
     "It's time for something like this, where we don't disintegrate into 
shouting matches," she said. 
     In a plenary titled "Became Truly Human," Gillespie told Presbyterians 
the church is a confessional community that confronts differing popular 
opinion, now as throughout centuries past, on the question, Who is this 
itinerant Jewish peasant Jesus? 
     "When everybody has a different opinion about who he is, let the 
church be clear," said Gilliespie, citing Peter's testimony in scripture: 
"You are the Christ, the son of the living God."  The seminary president 
said the church continues to confess Christ promised to build the church 
"in every generation, including our own." 
     Placher took on the phrase "suffered death" and argued the Crucifixion 
was not a victimization to appease an angry God, but an act of powerful 
love that refuses to use force even when love is betrayed. 
     "We've been dodging the meaning of the cross for a long time now," 
said Placher, starkly outlining the "greatly distressed and terrible" death 
of Jesus and its meanings: 
     * solidarity with those who suffer 
     * reconciliation through forgiveness with those who betray 
     * redemption by a God who refuses to stop loving despite human sin. 
     "Death is not the last word and evil does not have the victory. ... 
God has won and is winning" is how Hestenes summed up her interpretation of 
the Resurrection in the phrase "rose from the dead" -- a lecture that drew 
     "There is evil, and pious moralisms and vague religion are not 
sufficient to stand against it.  But God has raised him up and made him 
both Lord and Christ.  Our preaching must not be timid," she said, else it 
"erodes the very confidence we have in the gospel." 
     Hestenes told pastors and laypeople that theological students are not 
coming to seminaries these days with knowledge of scripture or the faith. 
She said the church cannot build a superstructure if its foundations are 
not adequately laid, while insisting "our church needs a time of building 
and rebuilding." 
     Dunn closed the lectures by unpacking symbolic language within 
scripture that conveys hope and attempts to depict the end of time. 
"Christ will come again," said Dunn, pushing listeners to not lose sight of 
the deeper signficance of biblical language.  "The imagery is not the 
reality.  The reality is far greater than the imagery. ... 
     "[But] we already know the character of the end because we know the 
character of Christ," he said, stressing that both Easter and Pentecost 
were experiences of the new creation by the first Christians, the power of 
the age to come. 
     Coordinator for Theology and Worship the Rev. Joseph Small told the 
Presbyterian News Service the conference was organized by focusing on what 
Presbyterians hold in common, not what separates them. 
     Citing the often quoted "Theology Matters" theme from the Wichita 
Assembly, Small said, "Faith matters.  And because our faith matters, we 
need to reflect upon it, have some conversation about it. ... 
     "[We need to] probe as pastors, as a church.  And we need to get at it 
in a deeper way," he said, insisting that "duk[ing] it out" between the far 
right and the far left does not create unanimity. 
       The Rev. Greg Callison of Columbus, Ohio, concurred, describing the 
convocation as an opportunity to look at the central affirmations of the 
faith in a uniquely Reformed way. 
     Seminar subjects included preaching about Christ, teaching children 
about Christ and implementing Reformed spiritual disciplines. 
     Small said another convocation may be held in another three years, 
perhaps sending a panel of speakers to regional gatherings.  A theological 
theme has not yet been determined. 
     A theologial convocation will also be held prior to the General 
Assembly in Cincinnati in July. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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