Lipscomb University

Christian Scholars' Conference

Christian Scholars' Conference theme

                               2021 CSC Theme:

                              Recovery of Hope:

            A Vision for Healing, Trust and Restitution

                                            June 9-11, 2021

We mourn the passing of Tom Olbricht, the extraordinarily gifted founder of the Christian Scholars’ Conference, who shaped generations of scholars, ministers and church leaders for more than 90 years. He peacefully passed away on August 21 with his beloved Dorothy by his side.

To Dorothy, their children, grandchildren, family and friends we send our deepest condolences.

Tom Olbricht significantly contributed to theological education in Churches of Christ and to the broader world of scholarship in rhetorical studies, church history and congregational life. He served vital academic and administrative roles during his years at Harding (1954-55), Dubuque (1955-59), Penn State (1962-67), ACU (1967-86), and Pepperdine (1986-96). In these contexts his scholarly work and leadership brought national and international recognition to each university.

Stories of Tom’s impact abound.

When I took my first class with Tom Olbricht he asked questions I didn’t know we should ask, pointed to books I didn’t know we should read and raised “paradigmatic” issues. Then with the door opened, Tom enlarged the world by setting us on a path of discovery and engagement.

I’d been warned about Tom before sitting in his classroom. “He’ll tell you what von Rad & Bultmann think, but he won’t tell you what you are supposed to think.” Which proved true and was one secret to his genius.

Tom’s students were famous for doing imitations. His voice, his hand movements. Some of us, like Mike Casey, Dave Bland and others imitated Tom’s academic training with PhDs in rhetoric along with an MDiv.

But Tom was sui generis. A renaissance man whom no one could imitate.

Some years ago, when we were doing the Rochester Sermon Seminar and producing annual volumes on preaching, we had all the writers to our home for a luncheon meeting. Biblical scholars, theologians, historians, homileticians and practitioners gathered in the living room for conversation on the forthcoming book. That year the subject was Preaching from the Gospel of John and Gail O’Day, who’d soon become Dean of Wake Forest School of Divinity, was in the room, as was Tom.

We had no idea they knew one another until Gail said, “Tom, I’ve always wanted to thank you for taking seriously my work when you responded to the essay I presented at my very first SBL meeting.”

To which Tom immediately replied, “I’ve always said, ‘Be kind to people on their way up, so they’ll be kind to you on your way down.’”

Of course, despite his failing physical health, Tom was never on his way down.

His stunning intellect, curiosity and correspondence were evident to the very time of his passing. Book reviews, sermons, essays and other writing projects in publication are still forthcoming from this remarkable man, who at 90 continued to engage us all.

We are better for his life and work and in his passing are encouraged, not to imitate him, but be encouraged and sustained by the life and work of our mentor and friend.

In the words of Carl Holladay, “Somehow this towering intellect has resided within the body of an authentic minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ – this child of the Church of Christ, who sings its songs, prays its prayers, presides over its Lord’s Supper, preaches its doctrine, studies its Scriptures, ministers to its sick, comforts its brokenhearted, laments it divisions, and enacts its code of love.”

Indeed, Tom Olbricht is a man to whom we all owe much.

Rest in peace.

Bowl of Hope

This art work helped define and inspire the 2021 CSC: "Bowl of Hope." Created by Cheri Brackett, an artist from Ashville, North Carolina, the visual intends to inspire reflection and stimulate interdisciplinary conversation as we prepare for 2021.

I became aware of this powerful work before the outbreak of COVID-19, knowing our theme would be, "Recovery of Hope, A Vision of Healing, Trust and Restitution." National and regional events have made her work all the more appropriate.

Once Ms. Brackett agreed to have her work grace our conference book and web site and inspire our preperation, she submitted an introduction to her work. I hope you find the following as though provoking and stimulating as I have.


“A woman without force - is without the essential dignity of humanity.”

I borrow and alter that quote of Frederick Douglass, the man who had more photographic self-portraits in the 19th century than anyone else: 160.

Douglass used art in a time when words alone were too much of a bloody battleground. He used artistic expression to break the lens that most of the world was looking through at that time. The sealed and fallacious narrative about being human - about being white and black. He used art, his very image saying “See me as I am!  Really see me. Over and over, see me. See me 160 times! You can’t deny that I am!” And he began to crack the lens of that narrative that any human being is less than any other.

And then the women came. Women who refused to be pushed to the margins. Rendered invisible.

All art is self-portrait — self revealing. No matter what kind of art it is. Visual. Spoken. Performance. We’ve got to put our whole selves in it. That’s where it becomes real. And that’s where the strength is. It also makes it riskier – vulnerable – to put ourselves out there like that.

But embracing our vulnerability in the arms of strength is to say that I’m fully human, and I fully am. See me, as I really am. And nothing and nobody can take my “I am-ness” away from me.

I paint women - whether black, white, brown, Afghan, Asian, Latina, young, old - because I sense that something in them is the same as or calls to something in me. Something that needs expression. Witness. Connection. Possibility.

Like this Bowl of Hope. I so connected with this woman with the bowl that I painted her entirely with my fingers. I needed to be that joined to her. I painted her in one day. And when she was finished, the tips of my fingers were bloody. I so merged with her, with needing hope in my life - and she connected me to what I needed. I love her for that.

For me, painting is expressing. It’s finding expression or release of that something in me that words just can’t touch. That’s what Douglass did. He bypassed the words that could no longer be heard, and used the visual story of “Here I am. I have nothing to hide. In fact, I hold nothing back.” And he inspired so many others. Many of them women.

So now you look at this woman with the bowl. This bowl of hope. And I’m curious, what does she speak to you?

Does she connect to your life in a particular way? Have you created a story about her and how does that story relate to your own life? For me at that particular time in my life, I needed hope. And she offered it. For you, maybe you see a woman who has given up. Who is taking the last sip from her bowl - in resignation. Or maybe you see the bowl as completely empty and her wanting. Or maybe it’s full and she knows she’s ready to offer it to the world.

~ Cheri Brackett


Ms. Brackett hopes to be with us in person for next June's conference, "Recovery of Hope: A Vision for Healing, Trust and Restitution," which will open with Haben Girma and close with Ibram X. Kendi.

As you must assume, we are currently in discussion about conference delivery alternatives.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

2020 Conference Defers to June 9 - 11, 2021

A letter from the Director of the Christian Scholars' Conference:

As the coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S., organizations are wisely taking aggressive steps to try to halt its progress.

After vigilant monitoring of national developments, with a keen concern for the health of all participants, serious conversations with advisory board members and multiple stakeholders and Lipscomb's risk management team, we decided that it is both wise and prudent to postpone the 40th annual CSC until June 2021 and on March 18th sent the following letter to our "family of scholars":

As an important member of the CSC community, you have contributed to fostering excellent scholarship, lasting connections, and close friendships. Indeed, the CSC has become a reunion for our scholarly community, an annual event we mark on our calendars for intellectual stimulation and invigorating relationships. Among the qualities unique to the CSC is the comfortable way junior scholars are brought into community with senior scholars through academic sessions, plenary addresses, meals, and intentional social gatherings.

We know you were anticipating CSC 2020 as an opportunity to present your scholarship and receive critical feedback. Even more than that, you were looking forward to the reunion of old friendships and the establishment of new ones.

We will miss our community this June.

We will soon be in personal conversation with each registrant about deferring or refunding fees.

I will be asking the committee chairs for each section to contact in turn each generative and peer reviewed convener about their participants' desires, to discern the most viable option for each paper: deferral to the 2021 conference or other possibilities.

Trusting that deferring the 2020 CSC will be best for all involved, I ask your patience as conference personnel halt work on this year's CSC and begin to merge this year's plans into the 2021 CSC.

Thank you for your interest and support. Please keep an eye out for information about the 2021 conference, June 9 - 11 at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.

David Fleer

While the decision to defer the 2020 CSC was unavoidable and wise, to miss this year's gathering of our "family of scholars" is heartbreaking.

However, the postponement will only enhance the re-union celebration in 2021.

The CSC brings out the very best of us and I am pleased to announce that already Laura Nasrallah (the Everett Ferguson Lecturere), Steve McKenzie (the JJM Roberts Lecturer) and Miroslav Volf (the Landon Saunders Lecturer) have already confirmed for the 2021 CSC!

Katherine Hayhoe will join us in 2022, and we are in conversation with our other plenary and endowed speakers, the section chairs, conveners and presenters for next year and beyond.

We are pleased to announce the following speakers for the 2021 CSC:

Plenary Speakers

Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi, a historian and New York Times best-selling author, is Professor of History and International Relations and the Founding Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. He is an Ideas Columnist at The Atlantic and in 2016, his book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, won the National Book award. The following link leads to an article recently published in the Washington Post that features Kendi:

Click the following link to see more information regarding Kendi in our newsletter: [link]

Ibram X. Kendi will deliver the Fred D. Gray Plenary Lecture.

Haben Girma

Haben Girma will deliver the opening plenary at the 2021 CSC. As the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, she advocates for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The daughter of refugees, Haben built her remarkable career on the belief that inclusion is a choice. We all have the power to advocate. Her recent memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, is a thoughtful and captivating testament to Haben's determination to resist isolation and find the keys to connection. 

Click the following link to see more information regarding Girma in our newsletter: [link]

2020 Lectures

Laura Nasrallah

Yale's Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Laura Nasrallah, will be delivering the 2021 Everett Ferguson Lecture in Early Christian Studies. Nasrallah's research and teaching bring together New Testament and early Christian literature with the archeological remains of the Mediterranean world, and often engage issues of colonialism, gender, race, status, and power. Her Archeology and the Letters of Paul (Oxford University Press, 2019) focuses on reconstructing the social, economic, and religious contexts of those to whom Paul wrote, focusing on case studies in specific cities and regions. Her first book, An Ecstasy of Folly: Prophecy and Authority in Early Christianity, focuses on 1 Corinthians and on materials from the second- and third-century controversies over prophecy and the nature of the soul.

Click the following link to see more information regarding her in our newsletter: [link] 

Laura Nasrallah will deliver the Everett Ferguson Lecture. The title of her lecture is "What Are You Selling? On Travel, Hospitality, and Christ-Followers"

Steven McKenzie

Steven L. McKenzie will present the J.J.M. Roberts lecture in Old Testament Studies at the 2021 CSC. McKenzie is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Religious Studies and the Spence L. Wilson Research Fellow at Rhodes College. He has authored and edited numerous books, commentary series, encyclopedias, and study Bibles, but is perhaps most widely known for King David: A Biography (2000). He co-founded the Deuteronomistic History Section at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting and has served on numerous editorial boards, including the Journal of Biblical Literature, Catholic Biblical Quarterly and Vetus Testamentum.

Click the following link to see more information regarding McKenzie in our newsletter: [link]

Steven McKenzie will deliver the J.J.M Roberts Lecture. The title of his lecture is "Four Questions from Jonah".

Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf will deliver the 2021 Landon Saunders Lecture on the Human Being: the Nexus of World and Faith. Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He has earned doctoral and post-doctoral degrees (with highest honors) from the University of Tübingen, Germany. He has written or edited more than 20 books and over 100 scholarly articles.

Click the following link to see more information regarding Volf in our newsletter: [link]

Miroslav Volf will deliver the Landon Saunder Lecture. The title of his lecture is: "Meaning and Dimensions of Flourishing."

Tokens Podcast

We're delighted to announce that our friends at Tokens Show, which has been a regular part of the CSC for the past decade, has released a new podcast, entitled:  "Tokens: Public theology. Human flourishing. The good life."

And yet more good news: you'll discover that a number of the episodes in season one include live interviews or guests from CSC/Tokens Shows past, like interviews with Poet Laureates Tracy K Smith and Marie Howe, or Director of the NIH Dr. Francis Collins, or investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell.

You can listen below by simply selecting an episode and clicking the play button.

To view the Section Committees, peer review leaders, and generative pages for the upcoming 2021 conference, click here and follow the links on the left hand side of the page.

Click here to see the 2019 Sessions Archive.

The CSC distinguishes itself through its mission and by enacting the bold claims that we are:

  • Committed to meeting and exceeding national conference standards in each academic discipline,
  • interdisciplinary (science dialogues with the arts and social sciences interact with theology, for example) and,
  • people of faith. What we mean by “people of faith” is better described than pronounced. So, I include for your consideration (and use) the following prayer, by Professor Leslie Reed, from a recent conference:

A prayer by Leslie Reed

Merciful God, who is both Lord and loving parent, we bow before you today. We acknowledge your presence and your power.

You are the Faithful One. You are One Who Sees. You are One Who Acts.

From generation to generation you have raised up those whom you have called to action – women and men through whom your hand has moved, bringing about reformation, release, restoration, relief, reconciliation, renewal.

We bear witness to those who have gone before us. We honor them, and give thanks for the works you accomplished through them.

We are grateful today for the opportunity to be here, engaging with our brothers and sisters, seeking to enliven our minds and refresh our spirits in community with one another.

We thank you for this opportunity and for the gifts of the mind. But even as we rejoice in the community around us, we see beyond it. We see the brokenness, the poverty, the racial tension, the ideological conflicts round about us. We see wrath, powers, cruel hate. We see injustice. Give us your eyes that we may see indeed.

Convict our hearts and embolden our spirits that we might be agents of change. Let us not only see and know, but bring us to action. Show us how to use the gifts and privilege you have lent us to work your restoration in the world around us. Let us bring your renewal to our universities, our communities, and our churches.

We long to see your will done and your peace reign.  

We look to your hand and await you.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day. Preserve us with your mighty power that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity, but in all we do direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray,


About the Christian Scholars’ Conference

The mission of the Christian Scholars' Conference is to create and nurture an intellectual and Christian community that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration.

The conference was created in 1981 under the direction of Dr. Thomas H. Olbricht, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Pepperdine University, and has since been hosted by several universities associated with Churches of Christ. The conference calls together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines in the liberal arts, sciences, business, law, education and medicine to develop their own academic research and to reflect on the integration of scholarship and faith. 

In service to its mission, the CSC has adopted a model wherein the conference is hosted at Lipscomb University and every fourth year rotates to  a supporting university. Our recent history and future plans:

Lipscomb University (2008-10)

Pepperdine University (2011)

Lipscomb University (2012-2014)

Abilene Christian University (2015)

Lipscomb University (2016, 2017, 2018)

Lubbock Christian University (June, 2019)

Lipscomb University (June 9-11, 2021; June 8-10, 2022)

The conference is funded by registration fees and the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference Endowment Fund.  If you would like to contribute to the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference Endowment Fund, please click here.*