Last year I was able to attend my first national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society held in Atlanta, Georgia. I have wanted to attend since I was accepted for student membership in 2010, but scheduling conflicts always prohibited my journey. I had to live vicariously through others who attended, listen to their stories about papers presented (and book sales), and follow their journey via Twitter.
I was talking with a friend a few months back who is also attending this year, and he asked about my experience from 2015.
First, it was every theological students dream. There before me on every floor were world-renown scholars in their own discipline. I saw Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology was helpful for me in my early years, from a distance in the book store. I sat a few rows ahead of Bill Mounce who authored the Basics of Biblical Greek textbook that taught me the Greek language. I saw both Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning whose work on Verbal Aspect has dramatically changed how I read the Greek New Testament. I shared an elevator ride with D.A. Carson, saw Doug Moo in the lobby, and watched Tom Schreiner help count votes in the business meeting. I was attending a theological conference with these “heavy-hitters.”
Second, I was simply reminded of the doctrine of sin and its effects upon even theological giants. I witnessed reputable scholars criticize papers unfairly and I saw tempers flair in a discussion over a nuance between Greek and English. These are unfortunate, but it reminded me that sin affects not just lay people or students in seminary, but even the brightest of evangelical scholars.
Third, I was increasingly humbled by those I did not know but felt like I should. We were sitting in the business meeting when someone stood up to speak against a motion. I leaned over to the person I was sitting beside when he finished speaking and said, “You know, he’s probably this brilliant scholar and I don’t know who he is.” My friend knew, and told me that he was a past ETS president and a respectable Old Testament scholar who has authored numerous works and edited a high-level dictionary (if memory serves me correct). There are those who, it seems, the Lord has called to the “main-stream” of evangelicalism, are active on social media, and seemingly appear regularly on the conference circle. Yet there are others who labor in obscurity for the work of the Lord and may never be a household name, but their work is invaluable for the church and broader academia. Both are needed.
As Jason Duesing pointed out in an earlier post, sometimes it is observing those we respect from a distance that we learn the most. I can readily attest this is my conclusion as well.