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Rhonda Lowry of Lipscomb University interviews religion scholar N.T. Wright about his childhood and the influences on his personal faith.
Erik Tryggestad

Scholars ask, ‘What will be our future?’

Annual gathering of academics ponders questions of democracy, faith and artificial intelligence.

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Houston — ‘Welcome to Hogwarts!” John Barton said with a laugh as he stood before a Grand Hall of academics at this year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference.

The hall, inspired by the Christ Church College Great Hall at Oxford University (which also inspired adapters of J.K. Rowling’s novels), was completed just days before the 42nd annual gathering of educators from across the academic landscape, including colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ. The hall is part of the Lanier Learning Center, the latest edition to the Lanier Theological Library, which hosted the conference with Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. “What Will Be Our Future?” was this year’s theme.

Barton, a religion professor at Pepperdine University in California, introduced James K.A. Smith, who delivered the Landon Saunders Lecture. Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin University, spoke on art and the church’s witness.

In an era when it seems that Christianity has become “complicit with anger and hostility,” Smith suggested reconnecting with the divine through art to “welcome the unsettling mystery of God.”

Sharon Dirckx discussed the rapid development of artificial intelligence and its impact on human identity. Bill Bellinger, chair of Baylor University’s religion department, spoke on the Psalms and creation theology. Willie J. Jennings of Yale Divinity School delivered the Fred D. Gray Plenary in Human and Civil Rights. Jennings discussed how Christianity can cultivate a sense of belonging that can help build a healthy democracy.

Willie J. Jennings, right, speaks during a panel discussion on his book, “After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging” at the Christian Scholars’ Conference.

Willie J. Jennings, right, speaks during a panel discussion on his book, “After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging” at the Christian Scholars’ Conference.

Theologian and author N.T. Wright, a senior research fellow at Oxford, spoke about Paul’s speech to the people of Athens in Acts 17. As Paul spoke about the “unknown god” he was on trial for subverting the state with foreign religion.

Christians today face similar criticism, Wright said, and sometimes are victims of “positive nihilism” from those who find injustice routinely and vow revenge. Yet Christians’ attempts “to bypass or trump that charge with a shrill-but-shallow would-be ‘Christian’ worldview” only confirm a negative stereotype of people of faith. From Paul’s “intricate dismantling of the philosophical options of his time” Wright drew lessons for modern Christians.

Related: Is secularism good for Christianity?

The Lanier Theological Library houses thousands of volumes on subjects including archaeology, church history, theology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Mark Lanier, a trial attorney, founder of the Lanier Law Firm and a member of Lipscomb University’s board of trustees, opened the facility in 2010.

Filed under: Christian Scholars Christian Scholars Conference Fred Gray future of the church Lipscomb University Mark Lanier N.T. Wright National News Partners Pepperdine University Top Stories

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