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.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Conference Summary: Colin Gunton Lecture Day 2

Here’s my brief summary of this year’s Colin Gunton Lecture Day, which took place at King’s College London on 19 September 2012. As with my review of last year’s inaugural event, please don’t expect any detailed analysis. I go to conferences mainly to imbibe the atmosphere!

The morning slot was taken up with Susannah Ticciati’s paper on Augustine and Oliver Davies’s look at cosmology and anthropology. Although clearly both papers were self-contained, Davies made it equally clear where the overlaps lay. Indeed, I was very impressed by Davies in general: his presentation was dynamic, and, whatever you think about it, he demonstrated his commitment to pushing Transformation Theology. A lot of what he said – in effect, arguing for the need to recognise the whole person, body and mind, as a subject in dialogue with others – resonated quite deeply with me, not least because it made me reflect on the way in which God stands in relation to God’s world through Jesus. And Susannah’s paper? It’s one of those I suspect I’d appreciate more if I read it. It was dense, and the acoustics in the lecture room didn’t aid comprehension, even though I was sitting in the front row.

Another Transformation Theologian...
During the afternoon, eight current King’s College London doctoral students presented short papers. In practice, this meant having two streams of four papers running concurrently. One stream appeared to focus on more artistic or literary themes; the other addressed more general theological issues, and it was this stream I attended. Stephen Burnhope presented a clear and interesting paper on the necessity of understanding the Old Testament’s covenantal framework for developing an account of atonement, though I didn’t think that he was saying anything especially novel. Allison Saunders compared Kant and Augustine on evil, showing how similar they are in many places. I appreciated what she said; in fact, it reminded me that we can’t just automatically assume that someone is not worth listening to if we don’t accept their wider positions. (I’m thinking of Kant here in particular). And Karsten van Sander looked at the relationship between providence and personhood in Schleiermacher (actually, that was the title of his paper!). It was an interesting paper, as I know next to nothing about Schleiermacher; but once more, this was an occasion when the acoustics in the lecture room hindered. As far as I recall from a quick five-minute chat with Karsten, his wider project is on divine agency in Schleiermacher, so I might try to get him to write something for this blog. There was another paper on Descartes, by Corinne Williamson; but I left before she started, as I needed to give myself some headspace.

The real star of the day, though, was Christoph Schwöbel, formerly of King’s and the Founding Director of its Research Institute in Systematic Theology. Although I found Oliver Davies’s morning paper the most stimulating, Schwöbel provided many helpful comments during the Q&A sessions following the papers, and delivered a thoughtful paper of his own in the evening on Colin Gunton’s theological anthropology and John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Again, for me (and I apologise for sounding like a skipping CD), the environment affected my appreciation of what Schwöbel was saying. It’s true that we were in a different lecture room with far better acoustics, but I felt cramped in my seat (minimal legroom) and a little too warm. Still, with someone such as Schwöbel, I do feel that even a little exposure is better than none at all.

So pros and cons… Well, I needn’t really state the cons, as the discerning reader will already have picked these up. And one major positive factor I noted was the balance of men and women: pretty much equal. At many conferences I’ve been to, men usually outnumber women quite considerably; here, that wasn’t the case.

Many thanks to Jacob Philips for organising the day, and I’m looking forward to next year’s one already.

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