Every 4th weekend of the September month (Thurs evening to Sat afternoon), in conjunction with the Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship, North Park Theological Seminary holds its annual Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture. This year’s theme is: Participation in / Union with Christ, a most fitting topic given that the year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. 

Bruce Fields delivering the 1st paper of the Symposium

     On the opening Thurs evening (Sept 28, 2017), Bruce Fields, Professor of Faith and Culture at Trinity International University, gave a plenary paper for the 1st session entitled: “The Christology of Augustine’s City of God: Participation in Christ That Compels the Pursuit of Justice in the Human City.” Describing Augustine’s understanding of two cities as two loves (i.e., a love of self [= contempt for God] that characterizes the earthly polis or city versus the love of God [= contempt of self] that characterizes the heavenly city), Fields provocatively explains how for Augustine justice is interchangeable with love (charitas). Participation in the life of Christ takes place in the church where members internalize love as justice, but participation also takes place out in the world where the church, acting on that internalization, practices love-justice in the earthly realm.

The paper response was given by George Kalantzis, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and Director of the Wheaton Center of Early Christian Studies, whose main criticism was the use of Augustine in support of Field’s (evangelical) reading of Paul’s letters when Augustine, in the opinion of Kalantzis, should simply be read for his own sake. 

     The next morning (Sept. 29), the 2nd session featured a paper read by Grant Macaskill, The Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, and entitled: “Union(s) with Christ: Colossians 1:15-20.” Macaskill picked up where he left off in his Lund Lectures and further interpreted Col 1:15-20. 

Grant Macaskill giving the second paper of the Symposium

Here he argued that, building on the foundation that all things connect through the mediator Christ to God (see his Lund Lecture), we can now talk about unions (plural) with Christ. The level of participation is different depending on the type of union. God’s covenantal relationship with Israel is not just salvific. He cares about the way they farm, and the way they built houses, and under Isarel’s covenant there are different levels of participation in the life of God. Covenant bears differently also concerning the alien or foreigner who lives in the midst of Israel. They are with Israel but not covenant members, and so a different kind of reciprocity is expected of them as they participate with Israel in the life of God. 
     It should be noted that Macaskill is careful, however, not to talk about unions as if it was a kind of flat universalism (a critique of Douglas Campbell’s work in The Deliverance of God). Macaskill is not a universalist and does posit the unique union of believers with Chrsit but also recognizes it as a fullfillment of all previous types of unions established in the history of God with His people. The link to the video of the 2nd session of the Symposium is below: 

The paper response was given by Constantine Campbell, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, who has also written his own separate monograph on Paul and Union with Christ
     It was a lively response and engagement with Macaskill’s paper. Con (not be confused with Doug) Campbell engaged Macaskill’s reading of Col 1:15-20 from the minute details of whether the genitive’s attached to the word “first-born” were partitive (Macaskill’s view, which makes the phrase a temporal reading, i.e., “first-born of all creation”) or subordinate (Campbell’s view, which would then read “first-born over all creation”) to addressing larger historical issues as: which covenant (Abraham, Mosaic, David, creational) does Paul refers to at specific points in the biblical text. 

    The following 3rd session featured a paper by Olli-Pekka Vainio, Lecturer of Systematic Theology at the University of Helsinki, entitled: “Why Bother with Participation? An Early Lutheran Perspective.” Vainio has written a “few” books and articles (195+), the most important of which for the symposium’s theme include: Justification and Participation in Christ and Engaging Luther. Vainio represents the new Finnish school of interpretation on the theology of Martin Luther. Vainio paper’s focuses on a second-generation Lutheran reformer named Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) who expanded on Luther’s teachings and used the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ as a way of framing the separate divine and human agencies of participation. 

Olli-Pekka Vainio giving the 3rd paper of the Symposium

The response was given by North Park’s own Stephen Chester, Professor of New Testament at the seminary, who just published a phenomenal book (deserving of its own blog post review) with Eerdmans entitled: Reading Paul with the Reformers. Chester notes that the most helpful contribution of Vainio was providing a way forward through Christology for the Finnish school who has been accused in the past of collapsing Creator and creaturely categories, divine and human.
     The link to the video of the 3rd session of the Symposium is below: 

    The 4th session that afternoon was from Julie Canlis, Lecturer at Regent College and author of the book Theology of the Ordinary, who read a paper entitled: “The Geography of Participation: In Christ Is Location, Location, Location.” 

Julie Canlis giving the 4th paper of the Symposium

Her paper focused on the theology of John Calvin, where she pointed out that location is very important for Calvin who had a particular trinitarian Christology where Christ sits at the right hand of the throne of the Father with the Holy Spirit sent from the throne to the ends of the earth. Calvin uses the metaphor of “upward” or “heavenly-ward” to describe how the Ascension of Christ provides a framework for participation. Our participation is oriented to, and our future is tied to, Christ’s resurrrected body. At the same time, Christ has descended to meet humanity in the ordinary. Our human bodies, especially the collective Body of Christ, becomes the locus or place for participation with God. 
    If all of this sounds a little abstract, Julie and her husband, a pastor, have put together an adult curriculum with accompanying video that offers Bible study, commentary, and best spiritual practices for participation in the life of God through the daily details of the ordinary. 
     The paper response was given by Mary Patton Baker, Lecturer at North Park University and Pastor of Community Formation at All Soul’s Anglican Church. The link to the video of the 4th session of the Symposium can be found below: 

      Coming soon: Part 2 of the 2017 Symposium on Participation in/Union with Christ with links to video and remarks on Sessions 5-8. MJL