Last week, I had the honor of co-directing the first conference on the Open View, that was intentionally designed for church leaders and laypeople, with Tom Belt, Tom Oord, and Marcia Erickson. Two previous conferences that were devoted to the dialogue between the Open View and science were held in 2007 and 2008, in Quincy, MA and in Azusa, CA respectively. But many Open View proponents felt it was time for a deliberately non-academic conversation. That's why "OPEN 2013" focused on practical subjects related to the Open View and implemented dialogue, rather than exclusively lectures, as the primary method of participation.
The conference was held at Woodland Hills Church and senior pastor Greg Boyd was one of the conference's keynote speakers. John Sanders and Thomas Jay Oord also delivered keynote talks. All three keynote speakers did a fantastic job, and each one provided substantive Q&A sessions following their talks. Dr. Oord even integrated Q&A into his presentation making it extraordinarily interactive. But one undeniable highlight of the conference was Jessica Kelley's sharing of Henry's Story. Her testimony of how the Open View and the Warfare Worldview has helped her process her pain and preserved her faith in God was definitely the emotional pinnacle of the conference. Several of us on the planning team noted her poise during Q&A and her powerful gift of clear communication.
Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity for long-time online acquaintances to meet in person. For me, it was exciting to finally meet Tom Belt and Kurt Johnson. For years, we've interacted online, and even administrated Facebook groups together. But getting to know their personalities firsthand was a tremendous privilege.
Dialogue throughout the conference was consistently cited as a highlight for many attendees. Though I wasn't able to participate in all the table dialogue due to logistical responsibilities, the quality of the engagement I observed was very encouraging. Also, I read and heard several testimonies that the table dialogue was their favorite part of the conference, either because they met other Open View proponents like themselves, or because they were able to interact with much more learned scholars.
For a conference of this type, it might surprise some that there was quite a lot of theological and ecclesiological diversity amongst the participants. Open View proponents who attended the conference ranged from widely disparate contexts. For example, denominations represented included Baptists, Anabaptists, Methodists, Lutheran, Anglican, among others. Some attendees hailed from the extreme conservative end of the U.S. Christian spectrum, being nearly indistinguishable from classic Fundamentalists. This may strike some as strange considering the Open View is so often portrayed by its critics as a "liberal" viewpoint. At the same time, the vast majority of those who attended the conference would fall into the moderate range of evangelicalism. Very few Open View proponents who attended were Young Earth Creationists or verbal plenary inerrantists. Most attendees, likely representative of Open View proponents at large, are evangelical moderates who do not view science as in conflict with Christian faith, and do not equate biblical inspiration with divine dictation.
This type of diversity is both an asset to be celebrated and a challenge to be navigated. Some Open View proponents would like to see more emphasis on conservative beliefs among general Open View scholarship. Others would like to see a broader coalition of Christians thinkers join the Open View community. Perhaps not unlike any fledgling movement or school of thought, the Open View community will either narrow to become a small niche group, or expand to become a "big tent." Either way, the OPEN 2013 conference was a critical step in developing our identity.
It's difficult to predict what will happen to the OPEN conference in the future. Several attendees I spoke with expressed the desire to see the conference become an annual event. That may very well happen. The future is however partly open so we can't be entirely certain. (Come on, even you saw that coming!)
Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban minister, sometimes designer, writer, preacher, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.