Day 2 of the Reading Scripture Through Other Eyes theology conference featured Mary Gordon and Gerald O. West. Gordon had irritated me in a panel discussion the first day when she made the off-hand remark that “In the 21st century we can’t say there is only one way. We all know there can’t be only one way.” Really? We do? We all know? It was such a silly, glib thing to say, and I wished that G.K. Chesterton had been on the panel. He would have turned that statement to a fine powder without even ruffling his mustache. Trying to embarrass people into agreeing with you by assuming that modernity = progress = truth is not the same thing as presenting an intelligent argument on soteriology. Teresa Okure replied by saying that she would not “mortgage away” the uniqueness of Christ, but “how God uses Jesus to bring men to God is God’s business, not ours.” Right-O, Sister.
Having said that, Gordon’s talk yesterday (“Has Not God Made Foolish the Wisdom of the World?”) was not bad. She was looking for themes in scripture, particularly the New Testament, that are pervasive enough that we can’t misread them. The three that she settled on were these:
1) Intimacy with God/a rejection of the remoteness of God
2) The value of the individual to God
3) The meaningfulness of suffering
I don’t disagree with her about those themes, though she lost me again when she said that the historicity of the resurrection doesn’t matter to her. For her, Jesus living on in the memories of his followers would be enough. Blech. Again, I appreciated the push-back from Sister Teresa, when she said that we need to remember that for the disciples, it was the resurrection that “did it”. The teachings and acts of Jesus seemed to baffle His followers in his lifetime, and it was only after and in light of the resurrection that his mission and message made sense to them – and were worth dying for. That sounds like more than memories to me.
Gerald O. West (“Can Two Walk Together”) led us in a Contextual Bible Study of Mark 12:38-13:2, and it was fantastic! The format was deeply engaging, and the conversation with my small group partners brought so much more to the scripture than I would have found on my own. We really are supposed to be walking and learning together, and the American emphasis on individuality impoverishes us when we bring it into our spiritual lives. I will never hear the story of the “widow’s mite” in the same way again.
I had a funny little encounter with a woman originally from Michigan who was mortified to hear that my husband’s parents had worked at Spring Arbor College. “It’s very evangelical,” she said, wrinkling her face in distaste. “Is your husband normal?” I replied that I, too, am an evangelical and so perhaps the wrong person to ask. I dislike the label “evangelical”, but I’m far more likely to embrace it when I’m outside the camp, if you know what I mean. The same woman approached me later and said, “So you are a fundamentalist?” I may have visibly flinched at that question, but it led to an opportunity for me to explain the difference between fundamentalist and evangelical, and it was a reminder that our stereotypes of other Christians are often flawed (including my own stereotypes).
It was a rich two days at the Trinity Institute Conference. I was determined that I’d attend again next year, but it turns out that after 41 years they’ve decided to take a break and not hold a theological conference in 2012. Bad timing for me, but I’m still grateful for what I’ve received. And thank you to the dear friend who made it possible. You know who you are, and you are a grace in my life!