Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Church, Leadership, Pastoral Theology


Every year in the Fall, evangelical theologians gather from around the world to present instructive and challenging papers on a variety of important topics. This week, it was fitting to meet in Providence, Rhode Island on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Here, Roger Williams (not to be confused with the sentimental songwriter) planted a free church to protest the idea of an official state church.

Several hundred papers were presented, and I must say, as the following examples reveal, it was hard to decide what sessions to select. So little time and so many choices—and which papers to receive the awards: 

1-Towards a Pedagogical Taxonomy for Worldview: Or, What do Seinfeld, Morpheus, and Yoda Teach Us?

2-Spirituality, Suffering & Hope in a Serious Video Game: Theological Themes in That Dragon, Cancer

3-Satan is Not Bound by a Bungee Cord: Cohesion in Revelation 19:1-20:3

4-You are Fundamental

5-Where are the Milkmaids? Revisiting Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation from a “Gig” Economy

6-Smell the Sulphur” I Timothy 2:13-15 as Analogy

7-Bathsheba’s Responsibility in Light of Narrative Analysis

8-Non-Doxastic Prayer: Exercises in Faith or Mischievous Madness

9-God Playing Dice Without Gambling: Can We Reconcile Unguided Evolution and the Divine Decree?

10-Amos 4:3b: Casting Aside Pomegranates

You can imagine the mind explosions that occur at these events. I am already thinking hard about the paper I want to propose for next year’s meetings in Denver. Here are some working possibilities that come to mind as I am flying back—

-Is God Really God?

-How an Understanding of the w-qatalti Form Can Impact the Opioid Crisis and Colorado’s Passage of Amendment 64

-Why Moonlighting at McDonalds Can Transform Your Pastoral Ministry

-Tom Brady’s TB12 Diet Method and Its Effect on the Longevity of Pastors

-Falling Asleep in the Will of God and Falling Asleep in a Sermon: Is There a Difference?

It’s a start, but as you can see, the neurons are not all firing. Midway through a six hour flight from Boston may not be the best time to come up with titles.

With a bit more reflection, I wonder if evangelical scholars and leaders should give more time to more pressing issues and write papers that address some of the following questions–are evangelicals really making a difference? Can we recover an influence we once had? Will we look back and find we were spending too much time straightening chairs on the Titanic?

It can sometimes feel like the evangelical ship is going down.

What if the Thursday evening banquet speaker gave an address entitled: “How to Escape from Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism”? It was a paper presented—not by any of us—but ironically by a writer in the New York Times the next morning. Molly Worthen, a history professor, wrote the article out of a concern that conservative media is having a greater influence on ideas in the church than by messages from the pulpit. “A new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies—a nightly consumption of news.” Quoting from a Dallas seminary student, Worthen noted that the challenge for church leaders today is to rediscover “ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.”  If we don’t, evangelicalism and its identity will be coopted by other forces, some political, that will alienate rather than attract people to Jesus. Not bad for a secular paper-and certainly more timely.

It’s a reminder that we should actually be considering some of these as future topics–

-Enough with Passivity: Waking Up the Church to Its Call to Be Today’s Prophets

-Guarding Against Resurrecting Christendom: The Dangers of Political Alignment

-Restoring Serious Reading in a Culture That No Longer Thinks

-Developing a Passion for the Great Commission

-Making the Practice of Ephesians 4:11-16 the Rule of Church Life—Not the Exception

-Rethinking Wesley’s Band Societies: Replacing Small Group Fun with Rigorous Communities

-Living in Light of an Open Heaven—Instead of Living as if it is Closed (what a great idea for a book!)

-Why Every Pastor Needs to be a Theologian—and Every Theologian Needs to be a Pastor

If we don’t, than one paper that was presented on the last day may have its answer—“Should Seminaries and Formal Theological Education Go the Way of the Dodo Bird?”

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