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'Prophetic Voices' conference to consider future of theology

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Laurel Hanna

‘Prophetic Voices’ speakers.

Some of the best minds in theological education are gathering at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology this month to consider the future of pressing theological issues facing the world. As part of Candler’s yearlong Centennial Celebration, the school is hosting a forward-looking academic conference, “Prophetic Voices: Confronting Theological Challenges of the Next Century,” March 18-20. Registration ends March 9.

“Prophetic Voices” brings together a dozen renowned theologians from Candler and beyond, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson (author of "Gilead" and "Lila"); Janet Soskice, chair of the faculty of divinity at the University of Cambridge; and ecologist Norman Wirzba of The Divinity School at Duke University, among others. The conference is co-sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation.

Despite the common definition of the word "prophecy" as forecasting the future, conference organizer and Candler professor Luke Timothy Johnson explains that this event is not an exercise in prognostication, but in truth-telling.

“By prophecy, we don’t mean predicting the future, but speaking a vision to the present,” he says. “We’re speaking of prophecy in biblical terms, as discerning in the complex circumstances of everyday life a Word from God, and speaking that Word to a world most desperately needing to hear it.”

Johnson, who serves as R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins and chair of Candler’s Centennial Celebration, opens the conference on the evening of March 18 with the keynote, “Meeting the Theological Challenges of the New Century.”

Over the next two days, four other Candler faculty members will deliver major presentations on the themes outlined in the keynote:

  • Theological imagination and the issue of secularization,
  • The image of God in contemporary society,
  • Creation and care of the earth, and
  • The kingdom of God and global pluralism.

 Candler faculty presenters include:

  • Ted A. Smith, associate professor of preaching and ethics, who will consider questions about secularization through the lens of the sermon story;
  • Ellen Ott Marshall, associate professor of Christian ethics and conflict transformation, who will explore the theological, political and rhetorical power of "imago dei," the concept that humans are created in the image of God;
  • Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, who will reflect on threats to the environment in biblical and theological terms; and
  • Jehu J. Hanciles, D.W. and Ruth Brooks Associate Professor of World Christianity, who will examine elements of global pluralism and its expanding religious dimensions, including its implications for western theological education in the 21st century.

Following each presentation will be two shorter talks by guest panelists. In addition to Robinson, Soskice and Wirzba, panelists include:

  • M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College;
  • Steven J. Kraftchick, Candler;
  • Sally G. Bingham, Interfaith Power and Light and The Regeneration Project;
  • Dana L. Robert, Boston University; and
  • Daniel Jeyaraj, Liverpool Hope University.

Candler faculty members Elizabeth M. Bounds, Ian A. McFarland, Jonathan Strom and Elizabeth Corrie will serve as moderators.

Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, and Teresa L. Fry Brown, professor of homiletics, will preach at two worship services during the conference. 

The conference themes were carefully crafted by Candler’s Centennial Committee and are being integrated into classroom instruction at Candler throughout the school year. During the conference, students will gather in formal discussion groups with faculty to reflect on the ideas being presented.

“These four themes were identified as issues that are distinctive to our age in a way that they weren’t when Candler was founded 100 years ago,” says Johnson.

And the hope is that “Prophetic Voices” will encourage dialogue about these themes far beyond the walls of Candler, long after the conference has ended.

“Thinking through the Christian reality in light of these pressing concerns is what we want to initiate in a formal fashion, and make this a signature statement as we move forward into the next century.”

 Who Should Attend

“Prophetic Voices” is designed for theologians and church leaders who want to engage in conversation with renowned scholars and activists about the critical issues facing the future of theology and theological education.

About the McDonald Agape Foundation

The Honorable Alonzo L. McDonald founded the McDonald Agape Foundation to encourage distinguished scholars and scholarship for Jesus Christ. Prior to forming the Foundation, he enjoyed distinguished careers in business, government, and academia. An alumnus of Emory College, McDonald served for many years on the Board of Trustees of Emory University.

About Candler School of Theology

Candler School of Theology, Emory University, prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. An intellectually vital, internationally distinguished and intentionally diverse university-based school of theology, its mission is to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries in the world. Candler is dedicated to expanding knowledge of religion and theology, deepening spiritual life, strengthening the public witness of the churches, and building

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