By Corinne Causby
After a long day of travel, our ragtag group of Scholars, Fellows, pastors, clergy and lay people gathered for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Leadership Institute as part of the 2015 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas.
David E. Wilhite, associate professor of historical theology at Truett Seminary at Baylor University led us in a lecture and discussion of the incarnation of Jesus, asking what it is that the heretics of the early church have to teach us about our understanding of Christ and culture. Wilhite’s aim was to have us think and learn about how early Christians related to other “cultures” (such as Hellenism and Judaism) in order to re-imagine Christ and his role in our culture.
To do that, we looked at the beliefs and teachings of the early heretics and the orthodox response they elicited.
I must confess that after waking well before dawn and spending many hours on cramped, tight airplanes, and enduring the soaking rains of Dallas, I sat there desperately trying to keep up with the lecture.
I felt myself growing frustrated as I fought of the overwhelming temptation to nod off. Yet, when Professor Wilhite began talking about Marcion and the Ebionites, somewhere in the dark corners of my mind a dim light bulb went off as I recalled the many lectures on Church History I attended this past year.
I suddenly was filled with gratitude for the obscure and lengthy lists of identifications that Dr. Bill Leonard had asked us to memorize.
‘Marcion!’ I thought to myself, ‘I know about him! And Ebionites! Yes! I know about them as well!’
Though still exhausted, I leaned back on the knowledge that I’d been taught and found myself thinking about the central question we were being asked:
- How are we to reconcile the multiplicity and paradoxical nature of theological imagination (or lack of) in our ever-changing culture?
- How are we to respond to the pluralism of Christianity in our society?
- How do we preach Christ crucified when there is little agreement among Christians over the nature and divinity of Christ?
And suddenly, I remembered Dr. Leonard, hands open and waving, his eyes wide and excited and smiling as, on the last day of class, he taught us about post-modernity.
I felt the dim light bulb of my imagination grow in brightness as Professor Wilhite explained that we cannot misunderstand or oversimplify Christ. We are called to embrace a holistic view of Jesus and the Gospel, embracing the mystery of incarnation. We must engage culture where we find it, and listen to those who might be considered heretics to our modern churches.
After all, the one thing they teach us is that we must continue to appreciate and listen to the multiplicity of voices and beliefs that make up our faith. There is no cookie-cutter Christian. We are all uniquely called into this messy, dynamic relationship with Christ and the Church.
As for me? I’m grateful for the comprehensive teachings of Dr. Bill Leonard and the rest of the amazing faculty at Wake Forest School of Divinity, who constantly challenge us to think beyond our individual orthodoxies to embrace a deeper, more inclusive Christianity.
I pray that as I continue to pursue my calling as a minister I will remember to listen, to think, and to include other voices at the table of God.
To keep up with news, photos and videos from the 2015 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, and for information on watching the online livestream of the evening June 17-19 worship and commissioning services of Assembly, please visit www.cbf.net/Dallas2015.
Corinne Harvey Causby is a stay-at-home mother turned seminarian with a penchant for poetry, good books, gardens, dark coffee, and loud kids. She is entering her second year at Wake Forest University School of Divinity pursuing her call to ministry in congregational and para-church ministry with a focus on building bridges between church and culture.