Lipscomb University

Christian Scholars' Conference

James H. Cone Plenary

James Cone will deliver the Fred D. Gray Plenary Lecture in Human and Civil Rights. Professor Cone is the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and is widely considered one of the most influential theologians of our time.

In praise of his work, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, "no one has explored the spiritual world of African Americans with the depth of breadth of James Cone." Bill Moyers claims that Cone is "indispensable as an interpreter of faith, race, and the American experience...who reminds us that there is redemption in remembrance." Most powerful, however, is the testimony of James Forbes, who claims that Cone "points a way towards forgiveness, reconciliation, and the restoration of the beloved community." For all of these reasons and more, the conference committee believes Professor Cone is uniquely qualified to carry on the legacy of Attorney Gray as a "conversation partner" particularly in regards to memory, tradition, and the future of faith. This conference theme specifically speaks to Professor Cone's current interests and concerns, reflecting on the past with a keen eye on issues facing us today, as well as thoughts for the future.

Additionally, on the day after his plenary address, Professor Cone will interact in two sessions devoted to his work and the themes of his presentation. His plenary address will be on the afternoon of June 7th, the opening plenary for the three day conference. 

Professor Cone is the author of twelve books and over 150 articles and has lectured at more than 1,000 universities and community organizations throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. He is best known for his ground-breaking works, Black Theology & Black Power (1969) and A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), God of the Oppressed (1975) and for Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? (1991). HIs latest work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was published in September 2011 and won the first place award in Theology by Catholic Press Association.

James Cone's plenary will take place at 4:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Plenary delivered by James Cone:



Introduction by Tanya Brice begins at :05

Speech by James Cone begins at 1:24

Afterward by Tanya Brice begins at 46:21

Greg Sterling will deliver the fourth annual Abraham J. Malherbe plenary.

A devoted minister, skilled academic and proven leader, Greg is uniquely qualified to speak to the general conference theme of “Memory, Tradition and the Future of Faith.”

Greg is Dean of Yale Divinity School and The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament.

He is a New Testament scholar with a specialty in Hellenistic Judaism and has concentrated his research on the writings of Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, and Luke-Acts, with a focus on the ways in which Second Temple Jews and early Christians interacted with one another and with the Greco-Roman world.

Greg  assumed the deanship at Yale in 2012 after more than two decades at the University of Notre Dame, where he served in several capacities at the College of Arts and Letters before becoming the first dean of the independent Graduate School. During most of the Notre Dame years Greg ministered to the Warsaw Church of Christ.

Greg is the author or editor/co-editor of seven books and more than seventy scholarly articles and essays. He is the general editor for the Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series (E.J. Brill), co-editor of the Studia Philonica Annual, and a member of the editorial board of Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. He served as editor of the Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity Series (University of Notre Dame Press) for twenty years.

He has held numerous leadership positions in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Studiorum Novi Societas, and the Catholic Biblical Association. He is a minister in the Churches of Christ and serves in several leadership roles including the advisory board for the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference.

Greg Sterling's plenary will take place at 11 AM on Friday of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

“Unashamedly Christian, but not Narrowly Christian: The Place of Schools with a Christian Identity in America” Gregory E. Sterling, Yale Divinity School

The place of religion in American society has changed markedly in the last sixty years. While 70% of Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, the distribution of Christians among mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and Roman Catholics has shifted. More recently, the number of unaffiliated individuals has risen notably so that one in five Americans now have no formal ties to a religious group. These shifts have profound implications for institutions that consider themselves to be Christian. This address will reflect on these changes and offer suggestions on how institutions, especially those associated with Churches of Christ, can flourish in a rapidly changing religious world.

Plenary delivered by Greg Sterling: 



Introduction by Carl Holladay begins at :05

Speech by Greg Sterling begins at 9:08

Afterward by Carl Holladay begins at 55:11

Marie Howe Plenary


Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic(1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.


In 1988, Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. She has since been a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. In 2015 she received the Poetry Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor that recognizes distinguished poetic achievement.


She lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and has taught at Columbia University. From 2012-2014, Howe served as the Poet Laureate of New York State. In her final days as State Poet Laureate, Howe organized, with Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, the Say Something NYC Poetry Rally: Justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown—A Call for Unity, Equality, Empathy, Imagination and the End of Oppression, held in Washington Square Park.


Marie Howe lectures and gives workshops on the topics of Faith, Poetry, and Prayer. Her next book of Poetry, Magdalene, comes out in March and is available for preorder on Amazon here. To listen to her interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR podcast On Being, click here. To learn more about Marie Howe, follow the link to her website here


Marie Howe's plenary will take place at 4 PM on Thursday during the conference in Ward Hall.

Plenary delivered by Marie Howe: 



Introduction by Susan Blassingame begins at :10

Speech by Marie Howe begins at 3:54

Afterward by Blessingame begins at 48:19

Shaun Casey Plenary

Shaun Casey is a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center and a professor of the practice in Georgetown's Walsh School of Foreign Service. He previously was U.S. special representative for religion and global affairs and director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. He has also held positions at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the Center for American Progress, and Center for Strategic and International Studies. Casey has written on the ethics of the war in Iraq, as well the role of religion in American presidential politics. He is the author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960 (2009) and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Political Theology (forthcoming, credited with Michael Kessler); he is writing a book on ethics and international politics tentatively titled Niebuhr’s Children. Casey holds a B.A. From Abilene Christian University, MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, and M.Div. and doctorate in theology in religion and society from Harvard Divinity School.

Read his abstract below

Shaun Casey's plenary will take place at 10:45 AM on Thursday of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Plenary delivered by Shaun Casey:



Introduction by Joshua Fleer begins at :04

Speech by Shaun Casey begins at 2:15

Afterward by David Fleer begins at 1:01:38

Abstract : The planet is awash in anger and rage while nostalgia seems to be an increasingly seductive choice for many Christians. All of these traits are related broadly to memory. What accounts for this rage? Is there a better Christian response to memory than nostalgia? And what are we to make of the theological claim that God is capable of remembering sin no more? This lecture will explore the nexus of anger, rage and nostalgia in our time and offer a theological critique of nostalgia while claiming a role for forgiveness as a form of intentional divine forgetfulness.

Landon Saunders Plenary in 2016 and Lecture in 2017

Landon Saunders closed the 2016 CSC with a stirring plenary entitled, "On Being Human as the Nexus of World and Faith." The plenary address set out trajectories for future study and practice that will annually be addressed at the CSC. Working with the issues of world and faith in direct dialogue with human beings from across the world has marked the work of Landon Saunders for more than forty years. This annual lecture series, "On Being Human as the Nexus of World and Faith" is dedicated to continuing that conversation with renewed insight and urgency. Landon explains:

World and faith are often viewed in tension. For many, faith is world-denying. But, for faith to be real it must make its contribution to meaning in the context of an ever-changing world; hence, one must read the "text" of the world with the same fervor with which one reads the "text" of faith.

World plays an epistemological role in understanding faith, and faith plays an epistemological role in understanding world.

This premise of necessity brings numerous fields of scholarship into the conversation--theology, philosophy, sociology, the neuro- and biological sciences, psychology, communication theory, the humanities and the arts. No pursuit that seeks to understand the world or faith should be left out.

Central to this pursuit is the human being as the nexus of world and faith. This may pose the greatest challenge of all because the human beings, the only thing finally at risk, often gets lost in the complications of faith and world. To maintain relentless, tenacious, unyielding attention on what's excellent fo the human being may be the hardest disciplines of all.

At the conference, Landon Saunders will give his lecture during session 5 on Friday from 9am-10:30am.

"Toward a Relevant Theology in/for Public Spaces"

The Second Annual Landon Saunders Lecture:

James Walters: School of Theology, Boston University, Convener

  • Landon Saunders, Heartbeat, Lecture,  “Toward a Relevant Theology in/for Public Spaces”
  • Lee Camp, Lipscomb University, Respondent
  • Lauren Smelser White, Vanderbilt University, Respondent

In this session Landon Saunders will set forth the thesis that theology conceived in the private spaces of theological schools and church settings has created the content and language which dominates current understanding. But, theology conceived in these private spaces is awkward, ill-fitting, and ineffective in public spaces. This disconnect, dare we say irrelevance, has now reached crisis proportions and is the source of increasing confusion and concern. This session addresses the roots of this problem and will suggest new possibilities for more effective and engaging communication and dialogue. Two theologians will respond to Saunders thesis and then the panel will dialogue with the audience.



Introduction of the session by James Walters begins at :10

Lecture by Landon Saunders begins at 5:47

Introduction of Lee Camp by James Walters begins at 50:03

Response by Lee Camp begins at 51:15

Introduction of Lauren Smelser White by James Walter begins at 55:28

Response by Lauren Smelser White begins at 56:00

Dialogue between panel and audience begins at 1:06:29

Final word by James Walters 1:21:55

The Fourth Annual Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies will be Margaret M. Mitchell, the Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Her address will be, “John Chrysostom on Love, Marriage and Magic: Assessing the Evidence of a Previously Untranslated Homily (hom. in 1 Cor 7:2).”

Professor Mitchell is a literary historian of ancient Christianity. Her research and teaching span a range of topics in New Testament and early Christian writings up through the end of the fourth century. She analyzes how the earliest Christians literally wrote their way into history, developing a literary and religious culture that was deeply embedded in Hellenistic Judaism and the wider Greco-Roman world, while also proclaiming its distinctiveness from each. Special interests include the Pauline letters (both in their inaugural moments and in the history of their effects), the poetics and politics of ancient biblical interpretation, and the intersection of text, image, and artifact in the fashioning of early Christian culture.

Professor Mitchell is the author of four books including Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation and is currently completing a volume, John Chrysostom on Paul: Praises and Problem Passages, to be published in the Writings from the Graeco-Roman World series (Society of Biblical Literature). 

At the conference, Professor Mitchell will give her lecture during session 3 on Thursday morning from 9am-10:30am.

The Fourth Annual Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies:

Margaret M. Mitchell, University of Chicago, “John Chrysostom on Love, Marriage and Magic: Assessing the Evidence of a Previously Untranslated Homily (hom. in 1 Cor 7:2)”

Trevor W. Thompson, University of Chicago, Jeff Childers, Abilene Christian University, Tera Harmon, Abilene Christian University, Session Conveners

This paper analyzes the occasional homily that John Chrysostom preached, likely in Constantinople (ca. 398-403), in illud: propter fornicationes uxorem, in which he seeks to recast the traditional cultural forms of speech and song at a wedding celebration into Christianized and scripturally inflected terms. Most strikingly, in this homily Chrysostom plays continually on the language and tropes of Greek love magic, which he does not simply oppose outright, but instead he offers his own authorized version:  ritual forms by which his congregants can deploy the words of Paul in 1 Cor 7:2 as a counter-spell to avert the powerful erotic charms of the porne, and thereby preserve the marriage.


Introduction by Trevor Thompson begins at :10

Lecture by Margaret Mitchell begins at :53

Dialogue between audience and Mitchell begins at 1:18:15 

The Third Annual J. J. M. Roberts Lecture in Old Testament Studies: Carol Newsom


Dr. Carol A. Newsom is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Candler and a senior fellow at Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Newsom came to Candler in 1980, only the second woman to hold a tenure-track position. In 2005, she became the first female faculty member appointed to a chaired professorship. 

Newsom's research focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Wisdom tradition, the book of Daniel, and apocalyptic literature. She has written and edited 13 books and scores of articles, book chapters, translations, encyclopedia articles and reviews. She co-edited the acclaimed Women's Bible Commentary (Westminster John Knox, 3rd ed., 2012), now in its third edition, which explores the implications of and challenges long-held assumptions about the Bible's portrayal of women and other marginalized groups.

View the session page containing her plenary here and read her abstract here.

At the conference, Carol Newsom's lecture will be given during the first session on Wednesday from 1pm-2:30pm.


“Race, Reconciliation, and Public Memory: Papers in Conversation with James H. Cone”

Gary S. Selby, Convener

  • Christopher J. Dowdy, Paul Quinn College, “A History of Burnings: Ida B. Wells, White Supremacy, and Horror’s Place among the Moral Emotions”
  • Gary S. Selby, Emmanuel School of Religion, Milligan College, “‘All Lives Matter?’: Frederick Douglass and the Challenge of Moral Blindness”
  • Tanya Smith Brice, Benedict College, “Called Out of Darkness: Church Memory in Black and White”
  • James H. Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, Respondent

James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, written to promote healing for “the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society,” presents a powerful call to remember “slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree.” To forget these atrocities “leaves us with a fraudulent perspective of this society and of the meaning of the Christian gospel for this nation.” The papers on this panel explore dimensions of race and public memory in conversation with Cone’s call to remember.



Introduction by Gary S. Selby begins at :05

Paper presentation by Christopher J. Dowdy begins at 2:20

Paper presentation by Gary S. Selby begins at 21:47

Paper presentation by Tanya Smith Brice 39:27

Reply by James H. Cone begins at 1:01:21

Dialogue between panel and audience begins at 1:14:04

“Hearing Sonny’s Blues: Responding to Imaginative Opportunities within the Purview of Church Tradition”

Raymond Carr, Convener

  • Raymond Carr, Pepperdine University, “When ‘Whiteness’ Redeems Itself: Hearing the Blues in a Tone-Deaf Exceptional Nation”
  • Richard Hughes, Lipscomb University, “The Myth of White Supremacy in American Life”
  • Angela Sims, St. Paul School of Theology, “Whose Cross–Whose Tree: Religious Imagery and Women’s Positionality”
  • Stanley Talbert, Union Theological Seminary, New York City, “Lessons from Sonny’s Pain: Hearing the Youth as a Way to Embrace the Future”
  • James H. Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, Respondent



Introduction by Raymond Carr begins at :05

Song by Joi Carr begins at 3:46

Paper presentation by Raymond Carr begins at 6:05

Paper presentation by Richard Hughes begins at 26:13

Paper presentation by Angela Sims begins at 49:05

Paper presentation by Stanley Talbert begins at 1:04:08

Reply by James H. Cone begins at 1:19:26

Dialogue between panel and audience begins at 1:33:11

Final word by James H. Cone begins at 1:41:08