It was with some trepidation that I headed to Princeton Theological Seminary’s annual Barth conference, having been very generously given the opportunity by Pilgrim Theological College and the UCA. I went with “open, but empty mind.” I met people from various stages along many theological journeys, allaying much of my apprehension. The collegial and properly friendly context held the complex ideas and long days together and cannot be uncoupled from the learning experience as a whole. Lively conversations over meals, coffee and beer made the experience rich. The theme Barth’s Pneumatology and the Global Pentecostal Movement redoubled this tendency for dialogue in the content of the conference itself. This dialogue engendered genuinely fruitful theological work.
Michael Welker’s opening lecture in many ways laid out some of the avenues down which other papers sought to go. There were, perhaps, several hours worth of genius in his short 50 minute paper. Moreover, Welker’s graciousness to us students became, for me, emblematic of the value of taking opportunities to attend conferences like this one and further instilled the sense of gratitude for receiving the opportunity to attend. Many of the professors gave of their time, were approachable and generous.
All of the presenters Barthian and Pentecostal were stimulating and invigorating. The Pentecostal presenters demonstrated how diverse, complex and internally differentiated Pentecostalism is. They continually demonstrated the necessary central role the Spirit plays in the New Testament and how this might aid those thinking in the vein of Barth. The conference’s many insightful voices cemented the idea that our own theological traditions have much to gain by listening to and engaging with those beyond them. The global nature of these voices (from as distant as Nigeria, Bulgaria and Scotland) reiterated the global nature of theology itself. My hope is that, in a small way, I can bear their insights back around the globe to my context here in Australia.
Attending Princeton’s annual Barth conference served to teach more than simply about Barth, or even about Pentecostalism. My eyes were opened to the exciting possibilities of a living and active theological conversation, that continues here as well. Theology was shown to be capable of integrating and illuminating the most important aspects of our lives. Participating in diverse, global, and ecumenical dialogue was shown to be a central help in thinking theologically.
Fittingly, the conference closed with a formal dialogue between a Pentecostal (Terry Cross) and a Barthian (Paul Nimmo); it demonstrated, in concrete form, the continuing and living nature of theology. The conference was genuinely exciting and fun. Yet this excitement also came with a poignancy, in the wake of John Webster’s death. We stood gathered in Princeton Seminary’s new library: students, ministers, scholars and eminent professors.
Paul Nimmo shared some personal remarks about his colleague and friend, Prof. Webster. The newness of the library, contrasted with poignant loss, reminded me that theology is as deep and expansive as humanity and we are invited to participate in its life. So, again, it is with thanks to Pilgrim and the UCA for giving me the opportunity to participate.