Presbyterians have always been a people of theological conversation. We have built it into our polity, gathering in councils to take counsel with one another. We gather in other settings to engage one another in theological conversation: small groups, Sunday School classes, lectionary study groups, support groups, and other settings. Theological conversation is central to our principles of governance: in the councils of this church those called to serve in leadership gather to reflect together, in order to discern what is faithful.
The Theological Conversations Series is a tool to help those seeking such theological conversation. It is particularly designed to help those serving in leadership to engage in theological reflection. Each conversation provides a reading that can be distributed in advance or read (silently or aloud) when a group gathers. The reading will explore a topic that invites conversation. There will also be a set of questions along with the reading, offering conversation starters.
2017 Theological Conversations
As Reformed churches across the globe start a yearlong observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation—precipitated by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the doors of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517—the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has entered both the celebration and the conversation. In 2017, Theological Conversations will celebrate Reformation 500 with conversations about the PC(USA)’s heritage of Reformed theology. Each author in the 12-part series will explore what the Reformed tradition in the Presbyterian Church has to offer the church and the world in the next 500 years.
Theological Conversation 2017-7: “Seeking a Correctable Conscience” by John L. Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary. Michelle Bartel, coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations, writes, “The role of conscience is integral to the start of the Reformation. It wouldn’t be much of a stress to say that the Reformation began because of those who saw that consciences, within the Christian church, had become compromised. So what is it that guides the conscience? For Martin Luther it was the Word of God. For Presbyterians, still, it is the Word of God understood in the context of community.” 한국어|| Español
Theological Conversation 2017-6: «500 años y contando» es un excelente artículo para organizar nuestros pensamientos sobre la tradición reformada, así como también para ayudarnos a reflexionar sobre nuestro pasado y futuro. Esto es, después de todo, el objetivo de la serie teológica de este año por el 500º aniversario de la Reforma: ¿Qué puede ofrecer la IP (EE.UU.) a la iglesia y al mundo mientras comenzamos los próximos 500 años? English || 한국어
Theological Conversation 2017-5: “A Legacy of Faithful Dissent” by Christine Hong, assistant professor of Education Ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. By linking faithful dissent, the Confession of Belhar, and baptism, Dr. Hong gives us a grounded and accessible Reformed theological context for taking apart white privilege — and glorifying God in and by the process. 한국어 || Español
Theological Conversation 2017-4: “Three Fulcrums for Reform” by Tom Trinidad, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Pueblo Presbytery, identifies streams of worship, what has changed and what has stayed the same. He lifts up the rhythm of grace and gratitude in the hymns we sing, our liturgy, our theology and our diverse sacramental practices and celebrations. Trinidad believes that one of the marks of the church in the next 500 years will be deepened sacramental worship to help heal our divisions. 한국어 || Español
Theological Conversation 2017-3: “Words Matter” by Mary Beth Anton, a PC(USA) pastor in the Presbytery of Tres Rios. As Anton points out, it’s hard to get away from the way words have become used in new and careless ways as weapons. We also know that our use of words can sometimes be sloppy and careless. As she points out, the Reformers took words very seriously because they took the accessibility of the Word seriously. How can we deepen our faith as individuals or communities if words don’t matter? She asks the hard question: how can the Church be the Church if words don’t matter? How can we bear witness to Jesus Christ, the Word, without expressing the gospel to others? Anton challenges us to think about our speech and communication since we in the Reformed tradition are powerfully aware that words matter. 한국어 || Español
Theological Conversation 2017-2: ‘”The First 500 Years” by Jerry Andrews, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, San Diego, Calif. Writes Michelle Bartel, coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations: “We cannot underestimate the liveliness of faith we gain from conversation and study. What Jerry Andrews provides is a discussion of why conversation and study are the same thing—we get a chance to listen to those brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone before us. This reminds us that we have never been alone in the faith. But Andrews gets even more specific—what can we learn about Christian discernment and formation from reading the thinkers that John Calvin read? How can people like Augustine help us move forward in uncertain times? By studying thinkers who also lived in very uncertain times—Augustine was on the run for a while, trying to avoid being ordained as a bishop—we gain unique and invaluable wisdom, as well as companionship.” 한국어 || Español
Theological Conversation 2017-1: “Theology and Bravery” by Laura Mariko Cheifetz, vice president for Church Relations, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, Louisville, Kentucky. Writes Michelle Bartel, coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations: “How often do you think of bravery as an element of the Reformed tradition? I must admit, I hadn’t until I read Laura Cheifetz’s paper. Reformation 500 marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church, and yes, it was an act of bravery. He needed courage to stand up to the powers of the church and state. As Cheifetz points out, what he bravely opened up was new streams of theological thought, and he did it grounded in the faith shared by people like Queen Esther and us today. Consider the changes and events of our current society: what resources does our Reformed faith give us for discerning our participation and response? What resources for making us brave? What do we need to be brave for? Laura Cheifetz helps us reflect on these questions as we consider our own Christian lives.” 한국어 || Español
2016 Theological Conversations
Theological Conversation 2016-6: “Covenant Living in a Contractual World” by Wes Avram, pastor/head of staff, Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, Scottsdale, Arizona. It might seem like there is no civil—let alone Christian—way to talk about the various dynamics at play in our American society given this current election cycle. Wes Avram has written a thoughtful and timely article for reflection, and an appropriate one for completing our first Theological Conversations series. Here, he focuses on the gift of covenant theology for Presbyterians, not only for us as a community and as disciples of Christ, but as a gift we can offer to society as well. As he notes, the issues we are facing will last long past this particular election. The questions at the end can serve as conversation starters, discussion questions, or questions for personal study.
Theological Conversation 2016-5: “Polity Matters” by Charles Wiley, Coordinator of the Office of Theology & Worship. We both treasure and chafe at our polity. Ranging from theological reflection to practical wisdom, “Polity Matters” points us to the gospel of Jesus Christ that undergirds and shapes our polity, suggesting ways we can live our polity today better to serve as witnesses to the gospel.
Theological Conversation 2016-4: “The Nations Will Bring Their Glory” by Kevin Park, associate dean for Advanced Professional Studies and assistant professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.
Theological Conversation 2016-3: “The Rivers Flow: Transformation, Leaders, Congregations” by Karen Russell, a Teaching Elder and Program Manager for the Company of New Pastors. Russell invites us to explore change and transformation, to imagine leadership – pastoral and congregational – through the lens of pilot and crew guiding a towboat and barges carried by river waters.
Theological Conversation 2016-2: “Our ‘Presbyterian Virtues’” by Dean Thompson, a Teaching Elder, President and Professor of Ministry Emeritus, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Thompson reflects on distinctive characteristics of the Presbyterian way of being part of the church, inviting us to claim and ever better live our distinct identity.
Theological Conversation 2016-1: “Mary, the Magnificat, and Race” by Cindy Cushman, a Teaching Elder, Interim Pastor of Chapel Hill United Church of Christ, and Coordinator of the Small Church Residency Program (currently winding down) in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Cushman reflects on Mary’s song of hope and change in the context of our nation’s on-going struggle with racism.
Read the Presbyterian News Service story about this new initiative.
Further Theological Conversations will be available on an occasional basis.
To provide feedback on any of the papers in the Theological Conversations series—what you have learned and how you are sharing these papers with others—please email Michelle Bartel.