After a great first day of the 2018 Society of Vineyard Scholars conference at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky (read my first thoughts here) I surprised myself by bouncing out of bed and going for a short run. Shower later, brief obeisance at Walmart and Starbucks done on the way, I was excited about another packed day of thinking theologically. A brief note – the hospitality extended to us by GCF, our host church, has been superlative. I’d prepared to pay for three meals a day – today breakfast was provided (apparently just ‘snacks’, but these were serious snacks) and we had an amazing community lunch of delicious traditional Kentucky food. As embodied image bearers, we are being very well looked after.
The first slot on the program, following some worship led again by a great band, was a plenary talk from Eleanor Mumford, who with her husband John coordinate the Vineyard International Executive. By way of history, Ellie and John planted the first Vineyard in the UK (The South West London Vineyard, where my wife and I currently worship and serve) and led the UK movement until 2015. I believe this was Ellie’s first time at SVS, and I was excited to hear from her. Ellie opened her talk in her usual winsome style, engaging and winning over the packed auditorium. She chose as her topic, intending to encourage and charge the SVS community at this stage in our journey, ‘What We’d Go to the Stake For’. Inspired by the martyrs of Oxford and St. Andrews (After all, our conference theme is ‘location’, broadly conceived) she walked us through 1) The Centrality of the Scriptures, 2) The Preaching of the Gospel, 3) The Theology of the Kingdom, and 4) The Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Ellie’s talk was an encouraging and wide-ranging call to arms – challenging the potential for pride and schism in the academic context, and inviting us back to our first love. It was, personally, deeply helpful, wonderfully biblically charged, and a breath of fresh air.
The first panel, following Ellie, was one in which I happened to be presenting a paper, so I had a clear choice of which to go to. ‘Locating the Vineyard’ featured myself on a theology of place, Kyla Morgan Young on ‘Living Liturgies’ which recovered convincingly the contemplative spiritual tradition of the Vineyard movement, and Corey Farr on ‘Christian but not Catholic’. We were really blessed to have a thoughtful response from Michael McClymond, who’d read our papers carefully and encouraged the good and pushed back where he felt we hadn’t been clear. This was one of the best-natured and most united panels I’ve been a part of or attended – there was a really warm atmosphere in the room.
The second panel of the day was another in which I was presenting, alongside my friend and fellow Brit Steve Burnhope. Speaking on ‘Vineyard Evangelical Identity’, we delivered quite different papers from very different perspectives. We were blessed with a packed room, a great mix of leaders and thinkers, and an excellent host in Bud Simon, a member of GCF and PhD candidate at Asbury. The conversation that followed was fantastic. I’ll need to check with Steve, but I’m looking forward to sharing our papers in various forums and keeping the conversation going. The questions and comments made to us were a really powerful mix – reflecting the emotive importance of the word ‘evangelical’, a passion for mission and clarity, and a challenge to us all to consider pushing further up and further in.
The third parallel session (Feel exhausted? I was, but really exciting!) that I went to was a Book Panel, on Brad Christerson and Richard Flory’s The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape. The panel had all read the book, from a range of perspectives: Tori McGraw-Rowe with an interest in systems, Caleb Maskell from a Historical perspective, Kyla Morgan Young from a slightly different historical perspective, and Matthew Croasmun from a _ perspective. This was a really helpful panel – four different careful readings drew out some teaching from both the strengths and weaknesses of the book. A particularly powerful sound note – that boiled my blood – is that some of these Independent Network Christianity(/ies) folks are, bluntly, guilty of ‘the monetisation of miracles‘. A good conversation followed these four well prepared and thoughtful speakers. I’m definitely going to go away and read this book!
Following dinner, we came together again to worship. As well singing, we were led in a specially written liturgy for our SVS Gathering – which was great. I’m going to chase down a copy, I hope. Following worship we gathered again expectantly for an interview – Jason Duncan, Lead pastor at GCF, interviewed Craig and Medine Keener, ostensibly on reconciliation and race. The Keeners have an amazing story. I can’t share what they said – it is their story, and available in various places including the book Impossible Love – but it was immensely vulnerable, deeply theological, and very powerfully. It set us up for a really precious time of prayer ministry – again, you kind of had to have been there. (Sorry!)