2013 Convivium Irenicum: Reforming Public Engagement
The theme of the 2013 Convivium (originally called the “Convivium Calvinisticum”), held on June 12-15, was “Reforming Public Engagement.” Our special guest and plenary speaker was W.J. Torrance Kirby, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at McGill University, Director of McGill’s Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR), and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He delivered a paper on “Apocalyptics and Apologetics: Religious Identity in Elizabethan England and the Formation of the Public Sphere,” and also led a seminar discussion of Richard Hooker’s Learned Learned Sermon on Justification, as well as participating actively in discussions throughout the two-and-a-half day gathering. Other sessions (including both paper presentations and guided roundtable discussions) were led by Peter Escalante, Steven Wedgeworth, Brad Littlejohn, and Alastair Roberts on topics as diverse as natural law, C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, and “Polemics and Irenics in the Digital Age.” There were 18 men in attendance, coming from different denominational and ecclesiastical backgrounds from the broader Reformed and Evangelical theological culture, including the American, British, Canadian, and Chinese communities.
You can read a full summary of the event here.
2014 Convivium Irenicum: Creation, Redemption, and Neo-Calvinism
The theme of the 2014 Convivium, held on June 4-7, was “Creation, Redemption, and Neo-Calvinism.” Dr. James Bratt, Professor of History at Calvin College and a leading scholar of Abraham Kuyper and of American Christianity, was our plenary speaker, addressing the group on “An Introduction to Abraham Kuyper: What he said, and why, and why it matters” and “Kuyper’s Political Theories.”
Thematically, this year’s event sought to build on the foundation of a “Reformed culture of persuasion” that was laid out in our first Convivium. There, Prof. W.J. Torrance Kirby drew on the theology of Richard Hooker to illuminate the mediation of Protestant theology into the public sphere and political life. Other presentations, on Reformed two-kingdoms and natural law thinking, as well as aspects of contemporary politics and discourse, sought to sketch out a blueprint for a principled yet generous Reformed engagement with contemporary political life. This year, we sought to fill out that blueprint a little further, beginning with the spotlight Dr. Bratt shined on the life and work of Abraham Kuyper, perhaps the most famous and influential example of Reformed political engagement in the modern age. Other historical examples, both good and bad, were provided by Andrew Fulford, a Ph.D student at McGill University, who presented a paper on John Calvin and early Calvinist resistance theory, and Dr. Brian Auten, an American historian and federal intelligence analyst, who narrated the historiography of R.J. Rushdoony and “Christian Reconstructionism” in contemporary political discourse.
Other papers sought to frame these questions within the broader context of the recurring dualities between Christ and culture, church and state, spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular that have structured much of Christian and particularly Reformed theology. Dr. Eric Hutchinson of Hillsdale College explored the motif of “plundering the Egyptians” in the early Church, and the complex relationship between the pagan classics and Christian theology at that time. Laurence O’Donnell of Calvin Seminary mounted a withering critique of modern Van Tillian critiques of the “Reformed scholastic” epistemology of Herman Bavinck, and the biblicistic rejection of nature that underlies such critiques, while Ben Miller, an uncommonly learned pastor from Long Island, offered a similarly decisive dissection of the exegetical and Christological missteps underlying modern “Reformed two-kingdoms” theory. Both of these essays not only constituted potentially groundbreaking contributions to ongoing internecine North American Reformed debates, but highlighted recurrent mistakes that have afflicted Protestant attempts to describe the theological status of the created order. Matthew Tuininga, who is completing a Ph.D on John Calvin’s two-kingdoms thought at Emory University under the supervision of John Witte, presented portions of his dissertation, highlighting the rich, polyvalent, and eschatological dimensions of Calvin’s concept of the “two kingdoms.” Finally, Joseph Minich, pursuing a Ph.D in the History of Ideas at the University of Texas at Dallas, led the group in a focused and intellectually demanding discussion on the visibility and invisibility of the church as it relates to other theological concepts such as nature and grace, body and soul, and to practical questions such as infant baptism.
The complete conference proceedings were published as For the Healing of the Nations: Essays on Creation, Redemption, and Neo-Calvinism. Audio from many of the sessions is available for download from WordMP3.com.
2015 Convivium Irenicum: The Trans-Atlantic Legacy of Protestant Political Thought
Continuing the broad focus on distinctly Protestant forms of public engagement that was central to our first two Convivia, the 2015 Convivium was dedicated to investigation of the theme “The Trans-Atlantic Legacy of Protestant Political Thought.” Our plenary speaker was Dr. Glenn Moots of Northwood University, a scholar of Protestant political thought, particularly in the 18th century, and author of Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology. Dr. Moots delivered a fascinating lecture entitled, “Searching for a Christian America.”
He was joined by a strong lineup of paper presentations by Drs. Eric Hutchinson and Miles Smith of Hillsdale College, plus graduate students and independent scholars from the US, Canada, and the Netherlands:
“Divine Law, Naturally: Lex Naturae and the Decalogue in Two Works of Niels Hemmingsen” (Dr. E.J. Hutchinson, Hillsdale College)
“Witherspoon’s Enlightenment in Light of the Reformed Tradition” (Stephen Wolfe, Louisiana State University)
“The Legacy of Protestant Thought in Loyalism” (Andrew Fulford, McGill University)
“Views from 19th Century Europe: How the Separation of Church and State was Seen from Abroad” (Steven Wedgeworth, Christ Church Lakeland)
“‘The Manhood of the Southern Saxons’: Normanization and Presbyterians in the Antebellum South, 1830-1865” (Dr. Miles Smith, Hillsdale College)
Guided Discussion: “Protestantism and ‘the Benedict Option'” (Jake Meador, Mere Orthodoxy)
“Abraham Kuyper vs. Philipp Hoedemaker: Rival Models of Reformed Political Theology” Ruben Alvarado, Independent Scholar
“Protestantism and Political Liberalism” (Joel Carini, Westminster Theological Seminary)
Most of these papers will be published in our forthcoming volume from Davenant Press, For Law and for Liberty: Essays on the Trans-Atlantic Legacy of Protestant Political Thought.
2016 Convivium Irenicum: Confessionalism and Diversity in the Reformed Tradition
The theme of the 2016 Convivium, held June 1-4 at our Davenant House property, was focused on understanding and celebrating the breadth of the Reformed tradition without sacrificing its confessional boundaries. We also explored how to understand the role of confessional boundaries in defining the tradition both historically and in contemporary churchmanship. Our plenary speaker was Dr. Carl Trueman, who holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an eminent historian of the Reformation and early modern Protestantism, and also a witty and highly-regarded commentator on contemporary ecclesiastical and cultural issues. He presented a lecture entitled “Reading the Reformers After Cardinal Newman.”
He was joined by our strongest-yet lineup of paper presentations by scholars from Canada, the UK, and the US:
“Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as Testament to and Program for Reformist Humanism” (Dr. Eric Hutchinson, Hillsdale College)
“‘That No One Should Live For Himself, but for Others’: Love and the Third Mark of the Church in the Theology of Martin Bucer” (Jake Meador, Mere Orthodoxy)
“Pagan Theology and the Reformed Scholastics” (Joel Carini, Westminster Theological Seminary)
“George Carleton’s Reformed Doctrine of Apostolic Succession at the Synod of Dort” (Dr. Andre Gazal, University of Northwestern Ohio)
Roundtable Discussion: “The Role of Confessions Today” (Carl Trueman, Peter Escalante, Steven Wedgeworth)
“Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith” (Michael J. Lynch, Calvin Theological Seminary)
“Libertarian Calvinism Need Not Be Deviant” (Paul Nedelisky, IASC, University of Virginia)
“A Reformed Irenic Christology: Richard Hooker’s Account of the Person of Christ in Sixteenth-Century Context” (Brad Littlejohn, The Davenant Trust)
“‘Reformed Baptist’: Anachronistic Oxymoron or Useful Signpost?” (Matthew Bingham, Queens University Belfast)
“Francis Turretin on the Possibility of Pagan Virtue” (Stephen Wolfe, LSU)
Most of these papers will be published in a forthcoming book, Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition.