As EBF general secretary, I am extended the great privilege of attending the International Baptist Theological Study Centre Colloquium and observing this community of researchers supporting and encouraging one another, while deepening their understanding of the PhD process and sharpening one another’s academic rigour in a context of worship.
It is a week of joy, surprises and growth. There is great joy in the atmosphere of being together, especially this year, the first post-Covid gathering. There is a real buzz in the room. There is laughter, reassurance and support in every conversation. There is no doubting the depth of community; each person in the room is supporting everyone else to achieve their goals.
The surprises are unending as you move from room to room, from researcher to researcher. One minute I am being drawn into a conversation exploring the history of the Southern Baptist Convention’s adoption of inerrancy; in the next, I am faced with discussions on ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Church. I am challenged to explore my understanding of the human and how it is shaped by my whiteness, and the potential impact on my understanding if others were allowed to join that conversation. I am asked what would happen to my preaching if I took a more learning-centred approach. Every conversation seems to add another aspect of theological reflection that I have yet to explore.
No conversation is wasted. Student to student, supervisor to supervisor, student and supervisor, to be honest it's hard to tell them apart. Each conversation over coffee adds depth and insight to the projects. It’s intense but as the week progresses, students grow in their ability to take on new challenges revealed by their research.
The students and supervisors gather from all over the northern hemisphere. The presence of a student from Ukraine and another from Russia is a reminder that our Baptist family in EBF regions spans human conflicts. The ethnographic research being carried out in Central Asia and the Middle East will be a significant tool for future mission among indigenous populations. The exploration of ethics and the processes involved in exploring new ethical questions may well help us to travel together in the future.
David Gushee recently described EBF as, “A community reflecting together, in a context of freedom and trust, about what it means to follow Jesus.” The IBTS colloquium and its research community reflect this well. Please join me in praying for each one of the students and the supervisors, that they will find fulfilment in their ministries and fruitfulness in and through their research.