Lipscomb University

Christian Scholars' Conference

Special Events

Updated May 4, 2015

Philip Jenkins

Philip JenkinsPhilip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, will deliver the opening plenary for the 2015 CSC. A perfect fit for the interdisciplinary nature of the CSC, Jenkins’ major current interests include the study of global Christianity, past and present; of new and emerging religious movements; and of twentieth century US history, chiefly post-1975. He also has an enduring interest in issues of crime and deviance, and the construction of social problems. A prolific writer, Jenkins is a contributing editor for The American Conservative and writes a monthly column for The Christian Century. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, First Things, and The Atlantic. Some of his more recent works include: Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses; The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity; and Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, And Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe For The Next 1,500 Years. To date, his books have been translated into fourteen languages.

Jenkins' plenary address is entitled “Families, Populations, and the Reshaping of Global Faith”: Demography is a critical factor in shaping religions, and one scholars neglect at their peril. Apart from shaping the size and location of different faith groups, demographics also forms the character of those traditions. A religion with high fertility rates, for instance, is likely to be more open to highly activist and zealous revival movements, while low fertility corresponds to declining faith and secularism. Without understanding those demographic factors, we miss so much about the past, present, and future of the world’s religions—and of the impact on culture, trade, information and faith.

Christian Wiman

Critic Clive James has noted, “The best thing about Christian Wiman is not that he reminds you of previous poets; it’s that he makes you forget them.” Editor emeritus of Poetry magazine, the oldest American Christian Wimanmagazine of verse, Christian Wiman now teaches literature and religion at Yale Divinity School. Under Wiman’s leadership, Poetry was honored with two prestigious national magazine awards in 2011. Wiman’s own acclaimed writing over the last several years has been largely influenced by his diagnosis in 2005 with a rare and incurable blood cancer, and has increasingly moved toward exploring complex issues of religious faith and mortality.

Born in 1966, Wiman is a native of Snyder, Texas, and graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. For years he traveled the world—from Guatemala to the Czech Republic—devoting himself to the craft of poetry. He later became the Jones lecturer of poetry at Stanford University and taught at Northwestern University and the Prague School of Economics.

Wiman is the author of three well-received books of poetry. The New York Times ranked Every Riven Thing among the best poetry collections of 2010 and Poet Richard Wilbur has said Wiman’s poems have the “singular power to bring about merging of consciousness with the surround.” Wiman has also published a book of essays, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet. His most recent work is the 2013 publication, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer. Wiman’s work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Book Review.

Wiman's plenary address will be entitled “Hammer is the Prayer: Radical Doubt, Realistic Faith.”

Randall Balmer

A prize-winning historian and Emmy Award nominee, Randall Balmer earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University and taught as Professor of American Religious History at Columbia University for twenty-seven years Balmerbefore becoming the Mandel Family Professor in the Arts & Sciences at Dartmouth College in 2012; two years later, he was named Dartmouth Professor in the Arts & Sciences. He has been a visiting professor at Princeton, Yale, Northwestern, and Emory universities and in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School from 2004 to 2008.

Balmer has published widely in both scholarly journals and in the popular press. He is regularly asked to comment on religion in American life, and he has appeared frequently on network television, on NPR, and on both the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, with Jon Stewart. He has been an expert witness in several First Amendment cases.

Balmer’s presence at this year’s CSC is especially timely. His second book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, now in its fourth edition, was made into an award-winning, three-part documentary for PBS. Balmer wrote and hosted that series as well as a two-part series on creationism and a documentary on Billy Graham.

Balmer's plenary address is entitled, “The Quest for a Moral Presidency: Jimmy Carter, Progressive Evangelicalism, and the Religious Right”: "Jimmy Carter’s improbable quest for the presidency represented an attempt to restore a moral compass to Washington following the scandals of the Nixon years. Carter’s road to the White House received a boost from a brief resurgence of progressive evangelicalism in the early 1970s, but his presidency foundered in part because of opposition from his fellow evangelicals, Billy Graham, and the nascent Religious Right. After leaving the White House in 1981, and thereby freed from political constraints, he has acted more fully on his prophetic convictions, thereby demonstrating that faith functions best from the margins of society and not in the counsels of power."

In addition to his plenary address, Balmer will appear in a session convened by Scott Billingsley (University of North Carolina at Pembroke), “Writing Religious Biography: A Roundtable Discussion with Randall Balmer, Ed Harrell, and Bill Martin.” In this session, Balmer will join award-winning historians David Edwin Harrell Jr. (Oral Roberts: An American Life  & Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy), and William Martin (A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story) to share their experiences writing biographies of prominent figures in modern American religion. Martin and Harrell have arguably authored the definitive biographies of the three leading Evangelical figures from the last 100 years.

Tavis Smiley

Tavis SmileyFrom his celebrated conversations with world figures to his work to inspire the next generation of leaders, as a broadcaster, author, advocate, and philanthropist, Tavis Smiley continues to be an outstanding voice for change for good. Smiley is currently the host of the late night television talk show “Tavis Smiley” on PBS and “The Tavis Smiley Show” from Public Radio International. In addition to his radio and television work, Smiley has authored fourteen books. His memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, became a New York Times best seller, and the book he edited, Covenant with Black America, became the first nonfiction book by a black-owned publisher to reach No. 1 on The New York Times best-sellers list.

TIME Magazine honored Smiley in 2009 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Smiley’s most gratifying accomplishments are rooted in his passion to inspire the next generation of leaders. The Tavis Smiley Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was established to provide leadership training and development for youth. Since its inception, more than 6,000 young people have participated in the foundation’s Youth to Leaders training workshops and conferences. Smiley’s achievements have earned him numerous awards and honorary doctorate degrees, including one from his alma mater, Indiana University. In 2009, Indiana University named the atrium of its School fo Public and Environmental Affairs building The Tavis Smiley Atrium. Smiley is also the recipient of the Du Bois Medal from Harvard University and the 2009 Independent Day Prize from Demos in Istanbul, Turkey.

Smiley's plenary address is entitled "Poverty: The Greatest Threat to American Democracy?”: This presentation will engage attendees of the Christian Scholars Conference in a sobering conversation about the perilous state of poverty in America. While discussing poverty’s existing threat to American democracy, Smiley will analyze the socioeconomic challenges of navigating a future when our vulnerabilities outnumber our possibilities.

The Everett Ferguson Lecture in Early Christian Studies: 

Robert Louis Wilken

Robert Louis WilkenThe Second Annual Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies will be Robert Louis Wilken, Distinguished Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the William R. Kenan Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia. Wilken is the author of several volumes including The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Yale, 2013) and The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale, 2003). In The First Thousand Years Wilken asks, “How did a community that was largely invisible in the first two centuries of its existence go on to remake the civilizations it inhabited, culturally, politically, and intellectually?” Ten years in the making and the result of a lifetime of study, this is Robert Louis Wilken’s summa, a moving, reflective, and commanding account from a scholar at the height of his powers.

The Ferguson Lecture honors the legacy of a remarkable scholar and man of deep Christian faith. This endowed lecture features a renowned scholar offering new research on the expansion and development of the early church. It seeks to advance the spirit of Everett Ferguson’s legacy in early Christian studies for current and future students by securing a place for serious dialogue and reflection. Robert Wilken, our 2015 lecturer, continues the high standard this series represents. The title of Wilken’s address will be, “The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: Love of Learning and the Desire for God.” In this lecture Wilken will look to Origen, but complement his study with reference to others, including Eusebius and Jerome. He plans to speak of Everett Ferguson’s work by analogy and the scholarship done in and for communities of faith.

Announcing the J. J. M. Roberts' Annual Lecture in Old Testament Studies

To honor Jim Roberts and keep his legacy vibrant, we are pleased to announce the annual J. J. M. Roberts Lecture in Old Testament Studies.

J. J. M. RobertsRoberts has held the esteemed William Green chair at Princeton and taught at Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth. He is an internationally known scholar who has lectured abroad and throughout the United States. He has published and coedited five books and published more than one hundred articles and reviews on a wide variety of topics in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern backgrounds. In addition to his numerous publications, Roberts has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Horizons in Biblical Literature, the Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages, and Restoration Quarterly. He also served two terms as editor of the Society of Biblical Literature's Old Testament dissertation series, and was a long-time member of the translation committee that produced the New Revised Standard Version. 

As a professor, scholar, minister, elder, and friend Roberts has positively impacted the minds and lives of thousands around the world. 

Choon-Leong Seow

Choon-Leong Seow, one of Professor Roberts' early and outstanding students, will be the inaugural Roberts' Lecturer. Seow is currently Princeton Seminary's Henry Snyder Gehman Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature who specializes in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the history of biblical interpretation and reception. Dr. Seow's lecture is titled “The Book of Job in its Cultural Milieu”: "The scholarship of Professor J. J. M. Roberts has been characterized by a profound knowledge of the literature of the ancient Near East that is brought to bear on the exegesis of the Old Testament. In terms of the freshness of his insights, his first-hand mastery the primary sources, and the rigor of his method, Roberts is arguably without peer in his generation. In tribute to this esteemed teacher, and friend, therefore, this lecture will explore the book of Job in its ancient Near Eastern context."
Distinguished former students and colleagues of Jim Roberts comprise the committee assigned the task of selecting an annual lecturer and to create peer review and generative sessions to advance the high standards in scholarship that Roberts represents. Committee members are Rick Marrs, Pepperdine; Craig Bowman, Rochester College; and Mark Hamilton, Abilene Christian University. We are currently completing funding to endow the Roberts' Lecture.