2015 Theological Symposium in Perspective

(reposted from the Helwys Society Forum)

This past Monday and Tuesday, numerous students, scholars, and ministry leaders gathered in Mabee Hall on the campus of Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College for the annual Free Will Baptist Theological Symposium. The theme of this year’s program was “The Theology of Discipleship.” As eight participants of various scholarly backgrounds presented papers on a diversity of subjects, it was rewarding to see how each subject not only bore the marks of faithful intellectual stewardship, but somehow came to bear on the overall meeting theme.

In this post, I will briefly recap these eight presentations. For further information about the Commission for Theological Integrity’s work, the Symposium, and future events, readers can visit www.fwbtheology.com.


Dr. Thomas Marberry of Hillsdale built on his paper from last year by taking listeners back to the Synoptic Gospels to explore “Discipleship in Galilee and Perea.” Marberry’s paper considered some of the textual and chronological issues that surround Jesus’ call of the first disciples, but especially focused on the nature of discipleship in the first century and earlier. Marberry concludes that while “discipleship today is not exactly the same as it was in the first century,” the “basic conceptions remain the same. The disciple is to be more than just a student; he is one who follows in the footsteps of his Master.”

What exactly did Jesus mean what he said that we should worship “in spirit and in truth?” In his first time presenting, Pastor Daniel Webster of Glad Tidings FWB Church in Asheboro, North Carolina helped us think exegetically and theologically about this important question. He presented “Worship in the Spirit and Truth: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John.” His basic contention was that we should understand the reference to ‘spirit’ in John 4:24 as the Holy Spirit. He explained the practical import of this understanding for how we think of worship, and the Spirit’s work as explained in the Gospel of John.

Dr. Kevin Hester began our Tuesday morning session with a thought-provoking exploration of “Trinitarian Preaching: On the Father, In the Son, and Through the Holy Spirit.” Though Hester’s presentation had recently appeared in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, many attendees heard this stimulating paper for the first time. The account offered of the Trinitarian life of God and the task of preaching in view of this was biblical, lucid, and practical. In Hester’s words, “Trinitarian preaching will be comprehensive in covering all of Scripture, but it will also touch on all aspects of life. There is nothing that is untouched by the Trinity’s work of creating, redeeming, and sustaining this world.”

I was also privileged to present this year, offering a paper entitled “Singleness as Discipleship.” This paper flowed out of research and essays produced in recent years on this topic (here and here). My contention was that a biblical approach to singleness yields a unique form of discipleship that the church should  cultivate and nurture in its ministry. Because of the way it bears witness to the Gospel, singleness (properly understood and embodied) should be appreciated for its ability to image forth the infinite worth of Christ and His kingdom work.

Welch College law & Bible professor and Forum editor/contributor Matthew Bracey presented “Discipleship in a Changing Legal Landscape.” Similar insights offered in this presentation have appeared in the most recent ONE Magazine, as well as Randall House literature and Forum essays authored by Bracey. Bracey offered a historical and legal sketch of recent developments concerning same-sex marriage and its early effect on religious liberty concerns. Additionally, he offered the outline of a faithful, Christian response to such developments by calling attention to need for biblical integrity, moral living, convictional church leadership, stewardship of citizenship, and more. Broad and yet practical, Bracey’s presentation spoke to the concerns of many of those in attendance.

Preacher and educator Dr. Gregory Hollifield presented “Pericope by Pericope: Transforming Disciples into Christ’s Likeness through the Theological Interpretation of Scripture.” Hollifield considered the important function of preaching that attends to the signs in each passage of Scripture, thus yielding the text’s greater theological significance, which shapes listeners as it points them to Christ. Drawing on a breadth of hermeneutical and homiletical sources, Hollifield offered both theoretical and practical insights into the contemporary challenge of preaching well.

Drawing on years of research and writing on the English General Baptists, Dr. Matthew Pinson presented “The Legacy of the Seventeenth-Century General Baptists.” Pinson called attention to the uniquely Reformed stream of Arminianism from which these Baptists’ theology was derived, but Pinson then developed this to demonstrate the type of church polity, views of Scripture, spirituality, and the role of tradition embodied in General Baptist theological history. Pinson contended that these Baptists were not only the forebears of modern day Free Will Baptists, but that they also offered excellent models for us to consider in approaching Christian thought and life.

Dr. Robert Picirilli concluded this year’s program by presenting “Toward a Theology of Divine Providence. “ This presentation was a variation of a previously-published essay on providence, which appeared last year in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry. In his typical careful, lucid manner, Picirilli took a difficult subject and presented it in a way in which scholars and non-scholars alike could appreciate. His paper was especially helpful as it offered practical application to areas such as suffering and prayer.


As I interacted with many of this year’s attendees, I was pleased to hear so many of them mention that they felt this was a thoroughly solid program. Several had difficulty identifying just one favorite presentation. Each paper engendered thoughtful questions and subsequent discussion throughout the sessions and breaks, which is one of the desired outcomes of such a gathering. One of the blessings of theological dialogue is that it not only engenders discussion and understanding, but brings people into a community of others serious about the things of God. As Symposium Program Chair, I am always especially gratified to see new people meeting and forging relationships as they eat, talk, and think together about the things they are hearing.

Next year’s Symposium will be held on the campus of Welch College on October 24-25. For more information about this event, or inquiries about obtaining a Digest of Papers, please contact fwbtheology@gmail.com.

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