Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy
July 14-17, 2015
Regent’s Park College, Oxford
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress stands alongside the West’s great books. Baptists historically have cherished it: it is their singular contribution to the canon. More than that, its dramatic allegorization of Christian life embodies abiding Baptist convictions.
Bunyan’s trope of a pilgrim’s progress aptly expresses biblically-grounded Baptist insights and practices in such varied dimensions of Christian witness as doxology, ecclesiology, eschatology, ethics, evangelism, ministry, and political economy, among others. For when we, like Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian, live as “strangers and sojourners” (1 Pet 2:11), we dwell gratefully in the land as God’s people, use wisely the resources of the earthly city without seeking to dominate it, pass faithfully through temptations posed by the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair, and progress in hope toward loving communion in God’s Celestial City.
YSBA invites paper proposals addressing these and related aspects of Baptist faith connected to “pilgrim’s progress.” Prospective participants need not directly engage Bunyan’s allegory, although they are indeed invited and encouraged to do so. Participants selected for the seminar will have opportunities to examine early editions of Pilgrim’s Progress, visit the Bedford jail where Bunyan’s faithful resistance landed him, and see firsthand other historically significant sites of Baptist significance.
Senior Scholar: Curtis Freeman, Duke Divinity School
Travel and Commentary Scholar: Paul Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Oxford and Principal Emeritus of Regent’s Park College
- Kimlyn Bender, George Truett Theological Seminary
“A Pilgrim People: An Eschatological Vision for Understanding the Communio Viatorum of the Risen and Ascended Christ“
- Jordan Fannin, Baylor University, Ph.D. Candidate
“The Promise and Temptation of Allegory: Reading the Possibility of Pilgrimage in (Baptist) Bunyan and (Catholic) O’Connor“
- Nick Mumejian, Hartford Seminary, Ph.D. Candidate
“Lesslie Newbigin on a Pilgrimage of Dialogue: Or A Pilgrim’s Progress Through Interfaith Dialogue“
- Scott Ryan, Baylor University, Ph.D. candidate (Baptist College and University Scholar)
“Journeying In Hope: Paul’s Letter To The Romans And John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress And The Holy War In Conversation“
- Matthew Smith, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor”
Pilgrims in the Labyrinth: Auto-Didactic Utopian Interiority in the Allegorical Works of John Bunyan and John Amos Comenius“
- D.H. Dilbeck, Oklahoma Baptist University
“The Christian Pilgrimage of a Liberal Arts Education: John Bunyan’s Lessons for Learning in Exile and Learning for Freedom“
Our senior scholar and keynote speaker is Paul Fiddes, Research Professor and Emeritus Principal of Regent’s Park.
Wendell Berry speaks at a January 2012 pastor’s conference hosted at Georgetown College in this community conversation. Remarks in this video are the views of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Georgetown College.
Copies of the book are available for purchase at Amazon.
I was captured by the images of chaos, death and hope in Kidder’s “narration” of Haiti. I know enough about Haiti and its challenges to feel desperation about its future. It is not just that Haiti has been ignored. Rather it is a small country, well known to American Christians, and the American military. What once was a lush and productive land is now packed with more people than it can sustain, its politics of violence and repression are other worldly, and U. S. and western complicity have exacerbated its problems. It is not that Haiti is hopeless, but that we have made it a land of hopelessness. How does a country become poor? Not by the features of its landscape – only by the actions of other people.
So when we see Paul Farmer in his Haitian element he is not just doctoring poor people in a scary country. He is confronting the system and structures that produce the conditions of Haiti. This is why his plan for health care in Haiti is transportable to other contexts: the same system and structures that erode life in Haiti do so in many other places as well. Reversing these forces, responding effectively to this pressure is a titanic task. Titans were giants who ruled the world, now these Titans are corporations with money and governments with guns, and people without care for things beyond their day to day world.
The account of Farmer’s call presented in Mountains beyond Mountains focuses on his medical brain and his concern for sick people everywhere. And his organization, Partners in Health, that grows up like some kind of ivy around his work is a fascinating example of organizational development. But what is the core of this concern, for this man and this organization? What gives it coherence? Tracy Kidder quotes Farmer’s connection to Liberation Theologians, those catholic thinkers from Central and South America who confront the theology of their hierarchy and all Christendom pointing out that God is for the liberation of oppressed people. Jesus did not come to bring hope to rich people, to comfort them in their dissatisfaction in luxury, but spoke to poor people exclusively. The shock of Jesus’ gospel was that it aimed at those people out of view to the religious society – lepers, women, prostitutes, cripples. Jesus confronted and confronted, told stories, preached and provoked. He said “I did not come to care for the healthy, but for the sick.” John’s disciples asked, apparently in disbelief, “Are you the one?” and Jesus replied, “the bondage of the prisoner is broken, the blind see, the deaf hear, and good news is preached to the poor.” These are the signs of the kingdom. So Liberation Theology points to our understanding of salvation, a theology of wealth. We are blessed, meaning wealthy. We hold this wealth as a confirmation of our proximity to God. Farmer turns this on its head. God’s concern – standing there clearly in the words and deeds of Jesus – is for the poor and oppressed. If we want to be like Jesus, to be in the mind of Christ, we must follow Christ’s preference for the poor. Farmer calls this exercising the preferential option for the poor – O for the P. In any question of resource disbursement, we (the decision makers, the powerful, the wealthy) should prefer the option that benefits the poor. We should use wealth, as Jesus says, to make friends. We should see wealth as a gift, a responsibility, as Woolman says, to be made a channel for universal love for all people.
What would change about us – just focusing on you and me, the people in this room – if we took the O for the P seriously? It would be a real change, a reversal of so many things in our world and practice. We would consider the lives of people who see the future as a burden the center of our work. What we count as success would not be the expansion of earning potential or stock portfolios but removing the stressors on people who struggle to respond to the challenges of life for themselves. Like a doctor helps the body fight illnesses one at a time, so we would see our work as an incremental aid to healing, to freeing life from the system and structures that choke it. We would prefer to think of the world from that point of view, and that would be a great revolution for us and the world.