The 2015 Christian Scholars Conference was held on the campus of Abilene Christian University June 3-5. As many readers know, I have attended two of these events in the past; I wrote a book, "Among The Scholars," in 1994 in part about my experience when I participated. Following the second time, in 1996, I thought that it would be my last. So, it was a surprise for me when I received an invitation to present a paper in the 2015 conference.
The theme for the event at ACU was "One World." Knowing from past experience the tilt of the Conference to the extreme Left, I decided that the best approach would be to present fundamental truths in a kind, but unapologetic, way. Yet, the title and abstract of the presentation would need to be chosen carefully. Thus it was that I submitted the title, "And All Who Believed Were Together (Acts 2:44): A Global Strategic Plan For The Academy." The presentation would propose a plan to promote diversity and acceptance within the university setting, while at the same time upholding and promoting biblical truth. The model of the Jerusalem church in Acts 2 was the template; yet, the entire presentation would be teaching the truth on salvation, the church, worship, and godly living. Knowing the hostility that many of the participants had in the past towards such, I was not expecting a positive reception.
One bright spot for me was the fact that my wife Brenda and oldest son Will were able to come with me (our youngest son Jonathan was still in school at Auburn and could not make the trip). Having them with me was a boost to my confidence level. A preacher friend of mine, Robert Lukenbill III, was also able to come for part of the conference. Having familiar faces always helps in any situation. Here it would be crucial. Never having visited ACU, I did not know what to expect; yet, having now been there I can frankly say that the ACU campus is very attractive. The building which houses the College of Biblical Studies is quite impressive. It is unfortunate that it is being used by Leftists to promote their agenda.
Drawing from my experiences, I was able to make some comparisons between the 2015 conference and those I attended in the 1990s. One thing that was apparent was the difference in professionalism. In the 1990s, the conference had a feel of insurrection. This was seen not only in the informal dress of many of the participants and attendees, but also in the informal atmosphere. In 2015, the dress of the participants and attendees was far more formal. There were more suits worn. This may seem like a trivial point, but the contrast was striking to me. There was more money invested in the Conference, which was seen in the slickly produced schedule made available to all, as well as the greatly expanded number of participants. Additionally, many brotherhood college and university presidents were present (save those from Freed-Hardeman and Faulkner). Overall, it seemed as if the CSC had adopted a "we've arrived" attitude, as if their approach to biblical matters was now the norm.
I also saw a hardened resolve for the Leftist view on everything from the role of women to ecumenism to hostility towards the "traditional" views of brethren in the church. In fact, there were a number of women who were active participants/presenters in the conference (thus violating 1 Timothy 2). There were also a number of denominational participants who were treated as brethren. In some of the sessions, there was a palpable hostility displayed against past perceived grievances by brethren in the 1950s-1970s, particularly those in "positions of power." By way of example, this particular point was played out in one of the sessions-"Biblical Scholars in Churches of Christ and Questions of Social Justice." Among the participants were Richard Hughes, Harold Straughn, Victor Hunter, and Robert Randolph. Younger readers may only recognize the first name; many of those over the age of 40 will immediately know the rest. Straughn, Hunter, and Randolph were actively involved in the effort to change the church in the 1960s-1970s. In fact, Hunter was an editor of Mission Journal, which promoted extreme Leftist positions on doctrine. Straughn and Randolph are now active in the Christian Church. During the session, the focus was upon both racial and gender issues. Straughn and Hunter were outspoken in declaring their belief that churches of Christ should always have had a wide role for women in the church, including preaching. They lamented the state of affairs (as they saw it) in the 1950s-1960s. They blamed prominent preachers and editors for the "traditional" positions that were taken.
Yet, it was a presentation of another participant that was shocking. Alisha R. Winn addressed "A Walking Message: Jesus, Social Justice, and Scholarship." Robert Lukenbill III heard her presentation, and provides the following report: "In the course of her message, she contended that biblical scripture was story telling. She stated to this effect that the one who tells the story determines how the story is told. Winn used Nehemiah and Ezra as examples. She stated that the people of the land (who had inhabited Canaan/Israel while Israel was in captivity) were not the bad guys, but were victims of the Jews attempting to kick them out of their homes. Another thought Winn had was that at the end of Ezra, God never told them to leave their Gentile families in order to be in a right relationship with God; that was something the Jews came up with on their own. Most tellingly, Winn contended that both Ezra and Nehemiah are not inspired, but were mere stories told from the Jewish perspective. As such, the Jews got to pick and choose which details to leave in and take out to push their agenda." To say that this is stunning would be an understatement. If the OT scriptures are not all fully inspired, then how could one trust the words of Jesus to be true?
By way of comparison, the session I participated in was tame. The participants who were in my session actually had some very good material; the presentations-on "American Slavery" and "Psychology Practice"-were insightful and not at all unbiblical. I was emboldened to present my paper even more directly. At the end of my presentation, the other two participants (as well as the convener from ACU) were highly complementary. Indeed, the presenter on slavery said that my presentation took him back to his childhood days in Georgia, listening to preachers during Gospel Meetings. I took that as high praise.
Overall, the 2015 Christian Scholars Conference was not surprising. It was weighted heavily towards the Left, with few exceptions. That said, it is my conviction that more sound brethren need to be involved in order to try and affect positive change, or at the very least to facilitate true dialogue. In 1992, Jimmy Jividen presented a lecture series at what was then International Bible College on the New Hermeneutic. He happened to mention the Christian Scholars Conference during the series, and emphasized that this was where a lot of strange doctrines were originating. When I asked him how one could present the Truth at the CSC, he replied, "Get on their mailing list." That simple suggestion changed the course of my life. The quickest way to get involved is to access the website for the Christian Scholars Conference, get on their mailing list, and submit proposals for papers when the time comes to do so. When brethren are willing to stand up and be counted, that is when the Truth shines.
-David W. Hester