Historical theology was the theme of the second annual Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Colloquy, which was held on May 8 via Zoom.
The colloquy, which is a theological forum for MBTS’s doctoral students to present topics aimed at further scholarly discussion and hosted by Midwestern Seminary’s Residency Program, saw 14 presenters and over 60 people attending via virtual format from across the country and even overseas.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the colloquy, which ordinarily would be held at Midwestern Seminary’s Kansas City campus, was presided over by Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Residency Program at MBTS. He opened the event by encouraging attendees that during this season when many are fighting to survive and exist, that “at Midwestern Seminary, we are not only trying to exist, but to thrive theologically, academically, and institutionally.”
Strachan charged the presenters to keep pushing intellectually and theologically, and he expressed that great leadership is a key component to thriving in “God’s kindness.”
“I want us to revel in the life of the theological mind,” Strachan said to the group of doctoral students. “A colloquy on historical theology lets us do just this. In a season when so much is unsettled, we have the joyful privilege of studying the work and doctrine of God in history. What better pursuit than this when we feel tempted to drop back and ease up? We want to think with excellence unto the glory of God, and we believe this is valuable in any season, easy or hard.”
He added that the seminary’s prime focus is to take students deep into the Word of God so that they can minister the grace of God to the church of God. “We believe in scholarly excellence, but it is all submitted to the all-conquering, all-ruling Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
After Strachan’s introductory comments, each of the 14 presenting students was given two minutes to provide a summary of his or her paper. Afterward, other students, along with Kidd and Strachan, took time to further the dialogue on the varied subjects and give the presenters an opportunity to further elaborate on their conclusions.
Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and distinguished professor of church history at Midwestern Seminary, assisted in evaluating the presentations and was also the keynote speaker, presenting on the topic, “Who is an Evangelical: The History of a Movement in Crisis” from his recent work which carries the same title.
Following the student presentations and discussions, Kidd’s lecture offered a flowing narrative of the timeline of Evangelicalism in America. He charted how the term evangelical went from denoting one who believed in a born-again experience tied to faith in Christ to a social-political affiliation and even became tied to racial culture.
This change in the term’s meaning was, according to Kidd, due to a fight within evangelical Christianity against theological liberalism, which embraced arguments against the inerrancy of the Bible and scientific thoughts such as evolution. This would all manifest itself in the ties between Evangelicalism and politics, as exemplified in partnerships between Billy Graham and U.S. presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Today, Kidd said, this phenomenon can be seen in the connection between the term evangelical and those who support current president Donald Trump.
Kidd closed his argument with a charge to reclaim the term back to its roots of belief in Christian conversion, the inerrancy of the Bible, and God’s presence in the world as defining those who are evangelical.
Doctoral students who participated in the event spoke highly of the overall experience as well as the adapted format in light of social distancing measures.
Travis Montgomery, Ph.D. student and member of the Residency Program, who presented on the biblical-theological foundations of Abraham Kuyper, said, “It was a great relief in the midst of the stay-at-home order to enjoy some digital academic fellowship. This year’s colloquy was certainly unusual, but it presented a great opportunity to learn and grow. Our students are excellent, and the benefit of the interdisciplinary vision of the colloquy and the Residency was on full display.”
Another Ph.D. student and Residency member, C.J. Moore, addressed the group on “the dangers of presenting Christ as our ‘ancestor,’ which can lead to issues of heresy and promoting the African ancestor mythology.” He explained that the unique format of presenting in two minutes afforded him the opportunity to hone and craft a concise summary for his paper’s argument.
Moore also appreciated the thoughtful interaction from Strachan and Kidd saying, “When it comes to historical matters, Christian or otherwise, Dr. Kidd is surely considered one of the best historians of our time. To be able to present my paper before him, Dr. Strachan, and fellow MBTS students, was a blessing that I do not take lightly, and it made me even more diligent to do the most excellent work I could do.”
The Residency program has been offered at Midwestern Seminary since 2016 and combines the best aspects of the American Ph.D. program and the traditional U.K. doctoral model. The goal of the Residency, according to Strachan, is to merge independent advanced theological research with cohort-based mentorship and oversight. This is all done via regular, intensive engagement with faculty and other theological leaders within the normal rhythm of the unique on-campus ministry culture of Midwestern.
Strachan further noted, “The Residency is a unique program that offers students an intellectual community sparked by sound doctrine and a commitment to fellowship. We want it to have a Shire-like feel, and in some ways it does.
“Our weekly gatherings allow us to hear from faithful Christian leaders of varying vocations, deepening both the faith and practice of our students.”
The Residency plans to hold its third colloquy in May 2021.
For more information about The Residency, visit https://www.mbts.edu/degrees/doctoral-studies/the-residency/, or Midwestern Seminary’s doctoral program, visit https://www.mbts.edu/degrees/doctoral-studies/.