2021 Symposium in Review

W. Jackson Watts

 This past Monday and Tuesday marked the 26th time* that the Commission for Theological Integrity has sponsored a theological symposium. This event has evolved slightly over the years, but it has continued to be a unique and important venue for Free Will Baptists to explore theology’s relevance to the church and all of life.

This year fifty-three registered attendees came from as far north as Canada and New Jersey, as far south as Florida and Mississippi, and as far west from Oklahoma and Texas (nine states in all). Additionally, hundreds viewed the program on social media.

Our program always features a diversity of presenters and paper topics, as one can see from the program. Each session can be viewed at our website if you look back over earlier posts, and a digital version of the paper digest can be purchased here.


Daniel Webster (TN) kicked off our event with a well-researched paper on Clement of Alexandria, specifically his approach to music as a tool for cultural engagement. This paper provoked reflection on how a Christian worldview understands music—its nature, capacities, and limits. It was helpful to hear from the insights of an early church father on a constructive topic.

I (MO) followed this presentation with a theological reflection on Hebrews 13:17 and the subject of submission to pastors. Amid the popularity of the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Podcast, many of us have been thinking lately about the proper vision of pastoral leadership and church government. Moreover, amid Pastor Appreciation Month, many laymen find themselves reflecting on how good leadership causes the church to flourish.

Matthew Steven Bracey (TN) began Tuesday morning with a thoughtful paper on the role of the imagination, especially as it concerns Christian moral and ethical life. Bracey has been writing a dissertation on this subject as seen in the thought of Edmund Burke, so he was ideally suited to frame our reflection on the imagination, especially as we seek to understand it as more than just something that “creative people” have. This is also a topic we’ve partially addressed previously on our site.

Ben Campbell (AR) followed with an exposition and defense of the Reformed Arminian understanding of assurance of salvation. Responding in part to an article on the Gospel Coalition by an ex-Free Will Baptist, Campbell sought to demonstrate how an Arminian perspective can make sense of biblical texts such as John 6:37 and hold out real biblical assurance of salvation.

This presentation was followed by a blast from the past. An earlier paper of long-time Commission member F. Leroy Forlines on the Abrahamic Covenant was read by his granddaughter, Anna Forlines (TN). This was followed by some helpful discussion of Romans 9-11, and specifically how Forlines’ view of Israel fits within the framework of various eschatological perspectives.

Jason Myers (OK), a pastor and Randall University professor, then presented a paper which considered the theological parallels between the Arminian understanding of salvation and perseverance and marriage and divorce. While I’m sure someone has explored these parallels before, I’ve never heard them presented in this context and in this manner.

Graduate student Josh Hunter (TN) presented on the history of the Free Will Baptist Covenant. Hunter did an impressive job bringing to light the rich history behind this oft-neglected document. Several of the Baptist historians present remarked on the quality of original research brought to bear on this topic.

Pastor Jeff Blair then shared a presentation drawing from extensive D.Min. dissertation research on the Jewish Wisdom Tradition and Jesus. Blair sought to show how it’s impossible to appreciate the full form of Jesus’ message without seeing its interconnectedness with this earlier tradition. Dr. Blair previously shared on a related theme at the 2018 Symposium.

Chris Talbot, professor and Welch College Campus Pastor, concluded our program with a look at the political-public theology legacy of Francis Schaeffer. Talbot drew on the extensive secondary source material on this topic, as well as the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection to try to present a more nuanced look at Schaeffer’s approach to public life. Talbot provided some insights into what animated Schaeffer in the 1970s and 1980s, and principles that are still relevant today.

A final aspect of this year’s event that was personally meaningful to me was that it marked my final year as Program Chairman. For the past eight years it has been energizing to serve in this role. It’s now my privilege to see our newest Commission member, Reverend Cory Thompson (OK), assume this responsibility.

Introducing Cory Thompson

Cory is the pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church of Poteau, Oklahoma, where he has served since 2014. Cory previously pastored Beacon Free Will Baptist outside Kansas City, Missouri, and the First Free Will Baptist in Weatherford, Texas.

The Thompsons have a rich legacy of service to the Lord and His church. Cory’s father and grandfather were pastors, and his father is currently President of Randall University. Cory was converted while his father pastored the same church he now pastors. Cory is married to his wife Brandy, and they have four children: Caroline, Campbell, Carsyn, and Claire.

Cory is a graduate of Randall University, and a two-time graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., Th.M.). His academic interests include hermeneutics, Pauline studies, specifically the use of Jesus traditions in Paul, and ecclesiology. He also enjoys playing golf and traveling with his family. 

On a personal note, one of the best Symposium papers in recent years was Cory’s paper on the Lord’s Supper, presented in 2018. Join me in praying for him as he begins his service to the Commission.

2022 Symposium

The next symposium will be held again on the campus of Welch College next year on October 3-4. We’re incredibly excited to announce our theme: The Legacy of Robert Picirilli. For over 60 years, Dr. Picirilli has been shaping the theological life and direction of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. Through his many years as a professor, Historical Commission member, denominational officer, and accomplished author, he has been a teacher and leader to us all. We want to take stock of that impact in the context of our next symposium. Paper proposals may be directed to Mr. Thompson at fwbtheology@gmail.com, and should have a direct bearing upon or engagement with some aspect of Dr. Picirilli’s writings and/or legacy.


*This was technically the 25th time the Commission sponsored the Symposium as an official part of its ongoing work.


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