When Tyndale Fellowship planned its 2020 conference, Europe had been experiencing five years of a migrant crisis – hence the overall title of ‘Doing Theology in a World on the Move: Migration, Borders and Citizenship’.
In one of the most abrupt shifts imaginable, the start of 2020 became the opposite of ‘a world on the move’, with citizens confined not just within their own borders but within their own houses.
Social interaction had to move into the virtually borderless world of the internet, allowing the conference in July this year to become one of the best attended and most international gatherings to date.
Participants joined from as far west as California and as far east as New Zealand, often in the same sessions at opposite ends of the day.
This remarkable feat of technology enabled theology to transcend borders, and yet at the same time emphasised the authentic rootedness of each scholar within their local context, from the Uluru desert of central Australia, to the shark-infested coast of South Africa, to the sweltering lakes of Minnesota.
Tyndale Fellowship meets within six subject groups, and although Philosophy of Religion and Biblical Archaeology offered papers on a broad range of topics, the other four maintained the original theme to at least some extent.
Biblical Theology explored the concept of ‘the nations’ – from the Old Testament conquest narratives, via the Samaritans and Afrikaners, to linguistic diversity within the new creation.
The New Testament group’s focus ranged across the later Pauline epistles, especially Philemon, but included several papers on ‘citizenship’ and mission in Philippians and Colossians.
Christian Doctrine relished the original topics of borders, migration, nation states, and, of course, hospitality.
But perhaps the highlight was Old Testament, whose organisers had chosen the nations-oriented theme ‘Hope for the world in the Old Testament’ to draw together a dizzying total of 26 papers delivered in honour of the 70th birthday of J. Gordon McConville, plenary speaker of this year’s OT Tyndale Lecture.
They even went fully hybrid, gathering at least a dozen participants in-person at Oak Hill College to celebrate with McConville’s family, expertly co-chaired on Zoom and at the venue, and rounded off with a stunning full-colour zine of biblical art published for the occasion by visualtheology.co.uk.
Whatever international borders may look like next year, evangelical theology is well and truly ‘on the move’ into a whole new world.