Wesleyan Theological Society scholars joined scholars from the Society for Pentecostal Studies at Duke University for the largest meeting in the society’s history; a record of more than 600 scholars participated. Pictured: Thomas Jay Oord, Jýrgen Moltmann, and Amos Yong.
WTS joins with Society for Pentecostal Studies to examine science and theology
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Durham, North Carolina
By Thomas Jay Oord for the Wesleyan Theological Society
Wesleyan Theological Society (WTS) scholars joined scholars from the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) at Duke University for the largest meeting in the society’s history. The March 13-15 event was titled, “Sighs, Signs, and Significance: Wesleyan and Pentecostal Explorations of Science and Creation,” and a record of more than 600 scholars participated.

Guest theologian Jýrgen Moltmann took the conference theme as the structure for his keynote address. Moltmann said that interpreting creation involves understanding the natural world and the revealed Scripture as ultimately in harmony. This does not mean that various creation stories in the Bible should be regarded as good contemporary science. But, according to Moltmann, Genesis does tell us the fundamental truth that God is Creator.

Moltmann also said that nature can be interpreted as offering signs of its Creator. “By virtue of the presence of the creative, life-giving Spirit, the presence of God will be perceived in all things,” said Moltmann. There are traces of God in the history of nature and civilization, and these traces “are the correspondences between created beings and their Creator.”

WTS Conference Chair Thomas Jay Oord called the meeting groundbreaking. “This was the first time so many theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, and historians in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition have met together to think deeply on issues of science and theology,” said Oord. “The result was that scholars affirmed that God is Creator, but they explored a myriad of theories and hypotheses related to how God creates. This conference is an important step toward a deeper understanding of creation and our Creator.”

Society President Diane Leclerc gave the conference concluding keynote address. Leclerc drew from theology, neurobiology, and her own experiences to reflect on the imago dei (Latin: image of God) in light of mildly and severely disabled people.

Leclerc said that holiness is about God’s kenotic love for us even in our weakness. “Under the conditions of human existence,” said Leclerc, “our pain and our suffering show us all as needy.” She told her audience that God looks with eyes of kenotic love, and we ought to look at each other with eyes of kenotic love. “As we pour ourselves out,” Leclerc said, “we are made holy together—not out a position of power, but precisely because of our position as weak.”

The society handed out several annual awards. The Life-Time Achievement award was given Rob L. Staples. Staples was a charter member of the society and also served as a past president. He taught theology at Southern Nazarene University and finished his professional career as professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Staples’ influence upon the Wesleyan-Holiness movement has been profound, including his landmark book on the sacraments, Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality.

When presenting the award to Staples, Steve McCormick recounted the debate over the baptism with the Holy Spirit that dominated the society two decades earlier. “Staples responded to that debate with the faithful care and rare Noah-like wisdom of protecting the ark of the Wesleyan tradition in both the Academy and the Church.” But not all agreed with him, and Staples suffered personal attack in what he would call his “fiery ordeal.” McCormick said that “because of Staples’s faithful service and wise counsel, countless students and ministers would be ‘saved’ from slipping into destructive cynicism and leaving the Wesleyan tradition that he faithfully served.” Staples’ faithful scholarship blazed trails within the holiness movement for young scholars of the Church to work faithfully at their own task of fulfilling and sometimes correcting the tradition.

Robert “Bob” Luhn, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Othello, Washington, was awarded the Pastor-Preacher-Scholar prize. Luhn has pastored the Othello church for nearly 30 years. He has been a trail blazer in pushing his local church, district, and denomination to think creatively about ministry and theology.

The Smith-Wynkoop Book Award was presented to Charles Edwin Jones for his recent four-volume bibliography of the holiness movement, a work of nearly 2,900 pages that constitutes the most ambitious and thorough bibliography ever published on the holiness movement and churches. The first two volumes, titled The Wesleyan Holiness Movement: A Comprehensive Guide, contain the most complete bibliography of the Church of the Nazarene currently in print. Jones, raised in Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene, was the head librarian at Nazarene Theological Seminary in his early career.

WTS officers were elected at the Duke meeting. Oord moves to the society president position, and Thomas Noble becomes first vice-president. Rob Wall of the Free Methodist Church, a new Testament scholar, was elected second vice-president. The society reaffirmed Barry Callen as editor of the Wesleyan Theological Journal.

The next WTS meeting will be March 5-7, 2009, at Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana. Noble has chosen Christology for the meeting’s focus. Paper proposals are due September 1, 2008 and should be sent to WTS session chairs. Information on the meeting and the call for papers will soon become available on the society website: http://wesley.nnu.edu/wts.

The Duke WTS-SPS meeting was preceded by a number of affiliated Wesleyan society meetings. The Society for the Study of Psychology and Wesleyan Theology and its conference chair, Kathy Armistead, invited Don Browning to be its keynote speaker. Browning discussed issues of theology and family structures. The Wesleyan Philosophical Society and its conference chair, Robert Thompson, explored contemporary issues in philosophy and science. The Hispanic Wesleyan group, Sociedad Wesleyana, also met at Duke University.
--Thomas Jay Oord for the Wesleyan Theological Society (Slideshow available)