By Micah McIntyre
Today, Apr. 4, biblical scholars and theologians from around the world converge on the Billy Graham Center (BGC) for Wheaton’s 28th annual Theology Conference.
The conference is titled “‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’ — Why the Humanity of Jesus Matters.” The goal of the conference is to better define the relationship between Jesus’ humanity and saving faith. According to the description of the conference on Wheaton’s website, 12 speakers will each explore “how the reality of the Incarnation challenges and redeems our broken social structures, including racial and ethnic divisions, economic systems and sexuality.”
Last year’s conference brought in the second most attendees in the conference’s history when Marilynne Robinson came to discuss her book, “Gilead.” This year, Office Administrator and Conference Coordinator Krista Sanchez expects there to be about 75 registered attendees from outside of campus and a couple hundred members in total when combined with Wheaton faculty and students.
Fleming Rutledge, one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, is a keynote speaker this year. Student workers and conference committee members expect her lecture to draw in the most people.
“I am especially looking forward to hearing [her] give a lecture on Thursday evening and preach in Friday’s chapel,” said Caroline Lauber, one of the student coordinators for the conference. “She has been one of the most important and influential preachers in the U.S. in the last four decades. We are fortunate to have her on campus to speak to students, faculty and the greater Wheaton community.”
Not only is Rutledge a premier preacher in the United States, she is also recognized around Canada and the UK as an accomplished teacher and Old Testament scholar. She has published numerous books that deal with the intersection of theology and modern culture. The faculty and administration believe that her contributions to the conference will aid in communicating a message that they feel needs to be shared.
Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies and the Conference Committee Chair, David Capes, proposed the theme to the administration because he and his colleagues feel that the humanity of Jesus is overlooked in the church today.
“There are a lot of evangelicals that have a sense of the divinity of Jesus that trumps his humanity,” said Capes. “A part of what we wanted to do was to address that failure or fault I think that a lot evangelicals have.”
Capes feels that the subject of Jesus’ humanity has many implications for the way Christians live out their faith and confront major issues. To help evangelicals better understand the incarnation, he and the other faculty chair of the Conference Committee and Professor of Theology, George Kalantzis, brought in speakers with different areas of expertise. There are a number of New Testament scholars, as well as scholars in Christian art, who will explore various aspects of Jesus’ humanity. There will also be speakers who focus more on culturally relevant applications of the topic.
“We have two scholars coming from South America who are working on a project … dealing with migration patterns and displaced people. [We want to ask,] what does the humanity of Jesus say to displaced people,” explained Capes. “We’re going to have a variety of people coming in and addressing various issues. It could be endless — what does the humanity of Jesus say about how we treat our planet? We could add chapter after chapter … dealing with contemporary issues.”
Student workers who have been involved in promotion and advertising are excited to explore a topic that they feel is relevant.
“If we neglect the humanity of Jesus, we have a diminished view of the the salvation that he achieves,” said Lauber. “This conference is a wonderful opportunity to explore and emphasize this topic.”
But for Lauber and Capes, this conference is not only for scholars and theologians.
“We do this for the students,” said Case. “People will come in from the community to hear Fleming Rutledge and Ryan Daley and some of the other speakers, but we primarily do this to enrich the lives of our students.”
“I want to encourage students to attend because they will hear outstanding theologians and biblical scholars on these topics,” said Provost Margaret Diddams. “I would like students to take advantage of all the opportunities that they can for biblical and theological literacy while they are here at Wheaton.”
Lauber believes that students need to take advantage of the opportunity to attend such timely lectures and hear nationally recognized speakers.
“We are not only able to hear some of our own professors, we are also able to hear people who are leaders in the academy and the church,” said Lauber. When else will you have another opportunity to listen to amazing theologians speak on the humanity of Jesus for free?”