About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Conference Summary: Colin Gunton Lecture Day

Here’s my brief report on the inaugural Annual Colin Gunton Lecture Day, held on 20 September 2011 at King’s College London. It’s not my style to attend conferences and make extensive notes on presentations, so please do not expect any detailed analysis. But I do hope to give a flavour of what the day was like.

Lincoln Harvey and Alan Spence
Eight papers were presented. Lincoln Harvey, a former Ph.D candidate of Gunton’s, opened with a semi-autobiographical account of the importance of Jesus’s humanity for the daily struggle of living as a Christian. The eternal Son didn’t just assume flesh, he assumed fallen flesh. This entails the idea that God doesn’t do something to us to change us, but does something with us through the flesh of Christ. Thus Christ’s flesh is the real battleground where sin and fallenness are overcome. Lincoln has a knack of putting potentially abstract ideas into clear language. It’s a pastoral trait that I wish every theologian would strive to develop.

Next up was Alan Spence’s critique of Gunton’s acceptance of monothelitism (the doctrine that there is only one will in Jesus) or, as I would put it, qualified dyothelitism (Gunton’s qualified version argues that there are two wills at work in the life of Jesus [the Father’s will and the Son’s will], but not in the person of Jesus, which is traditional dyothelitism). Spence, the author of Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed, is always good value, and is a very animated communicator. So while the issue of dyothelitism is undoubtedly arcane, Spence transformed the subject into thoroughly absorbing stuff.

After lunch, Professor Oliver Davies presented a paper that seemed concerned to outline the dynamics of divine action in the life of Mary. To be honest, I didn’t catch much of this as I missed the opening five minutes or so, and I found it difficult to tune in for the remainder. But what I did process was very interesting; I need to get hold of a copy of Professor Davies’s paper so that I can read it for myself.

After this, two current Ph.D students at King’s took the floor: Ray Yeo and Trey Medley. Ray’s paper briefly outlined his research into the relation between a theological psychology of transforming grace and Jonathan Edwards’s notion of spiritual perception. Trey’s paper looked at Wolfhart Pannenberg’s use of field theory. Both papers were interesting and encouraged good question and answer sessions.

Alan Torrance
And then a surprise: I presented a paper! At the beginning of the day, Jeremy Ive (another current Ph.D student at King’s) and I were asked if we had anything to contribute to the day. So I managed to dig out a paper I wrote back in 2010 on divine action on the Day of Atonement. I’d presented it before at Spurgeon’s, where it went down like a lead balloon. At King’s, over a year later, I was pleased to receive generally positive feedback. It’s now my intention to tidy things up and submit the paper for publication. And in his paper, Jeremy outlined some of his research on Herman Dooyeweerd and (I think; my hearing developed a blind spot on this name) Dirk Vollenhoven.

(There are two morals to this story. First, never give up on a paper, even if its first draft appears to stink! And secondly, when attending conferences, always make sure you have a paper on you, or have remote access to a paper, just in case you’re asked at the last minute to step in.)

In the evening, Alan Torrance presented a paper in which he argued that a trinitarian vision of the person is as a matchmaker, seeking to promote forgiveness at the heart of human community. And during the course of his presentation – which included a brief tribute to Colin Gunton at its beginning – Torrance conveyed exactly how radical is the notion of forgiveness. I’ll never look at the story of the Prodigal Son in the same way again!

Jacob Phillips and Oliver Davies
As implied at the beginning of this post, the Colin Gunton Lecture Day is intended to be an annual event. Oliver Davies and Jacob Phillips (another Ph.D student at King’s) are to be commended for organising such an excellent day. My hope is that all the presentations will be made available in some way, though my guess is that at the moment, any such availability would have to be made through contact with each individual speaker.


  1. Is Torrance's lecture available via video/audio recording? Sounds sweet; would like to hear it.


  2. I'm sure there was mention of AV being used for his lecture, but I don't know how or when it'll be made available.

  3. Hi there - firstly thanks Terry for this summary. And also a huge thank you for stepping-in to give a paper!

    There will be audio streaming of Torrance's lecture, and some others from the day, at some point in the coming weeks. It is as yet undecided which Kings /v Kings-affiliated website these will be uploaded to - but, as soon as they are uploaded, this will be announced on the KCL Research Institute of Systematic Theology blog: http://ristnews.wordpress.com

    Thanks, Jacob