From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
THEOLOGICAL CONVOCATION ON JESUS CHRIST
05 May 1996 15:18:58
95134 THEOLOGICAL CONVOCATION ON JESUS CHRIST
DRAWS FROM THE CHURCH'S CENTER
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
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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