Lipscomb University

Christian Scholars' Conference


             Theme for 2018 CSC:


The Challenge of Emergent Truth

June 6-8, 2018

Comments on the theme:

The challenge comes at the junctures in the development of knowledge when a new truth is discovered and championed--a truth that, in all likelihood, is vigorously opposed by the current keepers of knowledge. 

A theme of this breadth will encourage participants from every field of knowledge--those working in visual arts, in biblical studies, in literary studies, in physical and social sciences, in political theory and the professional schools to explore the discovery of truths in their respective fields, whether their own discoveries or those of other practitioners. Such a theme covers essentially every area of human research and creativity.

This has happened in all fields, of course, from astronomy to theoretical physics, from biblical studies to anthropology. It's noticeable, for example,  in literary studies, when new readings of old texts have been vehemently opposed by guardians of the status quo, who, in time, nonetheless, find themselves ultimately persuaded of the validity of the innovative reading. 

These critical junctions are some of the most fascinating in the histories of science, hermeneutics, aesthetics, and the list goes on.


The CSC distinguishes itself through its mission [link] and by enacting the bold claims that we are:

  • Committed to meeting and exceeding national conference standards in each academic discipline,
  • interdisciplinary (science dialogues with the arts and social sciences interact with theology, for example) and,
  • people of faith. What we mean by “people of faith” is better described than pronounced. So, I include for your consideration (and use) the following prayer, by Professor Leslie Reed, from this year’s conference:

Prayer for the Christian Scholar’s Conference, 2018

A prayer by Leslie Reed

Merciful God, who is both Lord and loving parent, we bow before you today. We acknowledge your presence and your power.

You are the Faithful One. You are One Who Sees. You are One Who Acts.

From generation to generation you have raised up those whom you have called to action – women and men through whom your hand has moved, bringing about reformation, release, restoration, relief, reconciliation, renewal.

We bear witness to those who have gone before us. We honor them, and give thanks for the works you accomplished through them.

We are grateful today for the opportunity to be here, engaging with our brothers and sisters, seeking to enliven our minds and refresh our spirits in community with one another.

We thank you for this opportunity and for the gifts of the mind. But even as we rejoice in the community around us, we see beyond it. We see the brokenness, the poverty, the racial tension, the ideological conflicts round about us. We see wrath, powers, cruel hate. We see injustice. Give us your eyes that we may see indeed.

Convict our hearts and embolden our spirits that we might be agents of change. Let us not only see and know, but bring us to action. Show us how to use the gifts and privilege you have lent us to work your restoration in the world around us. Let us bring your renewal to our universities, our communities, and our churches.

We long to see your will done and your peace reign.  

We look to your hand and await you.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day. Preserve us with your mighty power that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity, but in all we do direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray,


2018 Plenary Speakers

Tracy K. Smith

We are pleased to announce that Tracy K. Smith will deliver the Willis Plenary Address at the 2018 CSC. Smith has recently been named 2017-2018 U.S. Poet Laureate, having earned in 2011 a Pulitzer for Life on Mars. She is currently a professor of Humanities and Director of the Creative Writing program at Princeton University. We are honored to have her speak and invite you to explore her work before the conference.

Tracy K. Smith will deliver the Willis Plenary Address on Thursday, June 7 at 10:45 a.m. in the Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Tobias Wolff

We are pleased to announce Tobias Wolff as the presenter of the Pack Plenary for the 2018 CSC. The acclaimed author has received numerous awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Academy Award in Literature. He is Professor of English, Emeritus, at Stanford and in 2015 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. 

Tobias Wolff will present the Pack Plenary on Friday, June 8, at 11 a.m. in Collins Alumni Auditorium.


Dr. Molefi Kete Asante

We are happy to announce Dr. Molefi Kete Asante as the 2018 Fred D. Gray Plenary lecturer in Human and Civil Rights. Dr. Asante is Professor and Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University. He has written hundreds of essays and scores of books. Much of Dr. Asante’s work is on African culture and philosophy and African American education. We look forward to engaging with Dr. Asante, who believes it is not enough to know; one must act to humanize the world.

Dr. Molefi Kete Asante will deliver the Fred D. Gray Plenary on Wednesday, June 6, at 4:30 p.m. in Collins Alumni Auditorium. His lecture is titled: "The Divine Moment in the Discovery of Maat: Social and Cultural Justice as Marks of Spirituality"

Dr. Cilliers Breytenbach

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Cilliers Breytenbach will deliver the fifth annual Abraham J. Malherbe Plenary Lecture at the 2018 CSC. Breytenbach is professor for the literature, history and religion of Early Christianity at the Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin. His most recent publications include Early Christianity in Lycaonia: From Paul to Amphilochius of Iconium (Leiden 2017) and "Narrating the Death of Jesus in Mark: Utterances of the Main Character, Jesus", ZNW 105/2 (2014) 153-168.

Dr. Cilliers Breytenbach will deliver the Abraham J. Malherbe Plenary Lecture on Thursday, June 7, at 4 p.m. in Stowe Hall.

We have added the videos of the 2017 Plenary lectures. Click here to view.


James H. Cone Plenary

James Cone will deliver the Fred D. Gray Plenary Lecture in Human and Civil Rights. Professor Cone is the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and is widely considered one of the most influential theologians of our time.

In praise of his work, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, "no one has explored the spiritual world of African Americans with the depth of breadth of James Cone." Bill Moyers claims that Cone is "indispensable as an interpreter of faith, race, and the American experience...who reminds us that there is redemption in remembrance." Most powerful, however, is the testimony of James Forbes, who claims that Cone "points a way towards forgiveness, reconciliation, and the restoration of the beloved community." For all of these reasons and more, the conference committee believes Professor Cone is uniquely qualified to carry on the legacy of Attorney Gray as a "conversation partner" particularly in regards to memory, tradition, and the future of faith. This conference theme specifically speaks to Professor Cone's current interests and concerns, reflecting on the past with a keen eye on issues facing us today, as well as thoughts for the future.

Additionally, on the day after his plenary address, Professor Cone will interact in two sessions devoted to his work and the themes of his presentation. His plenary address will be on the afternoon of June 7th, the opening plenary for the three day conference. 

Professor Cone is the author of twelve books and over 150 articles and has lectured at more than 1,000 universities and community organizations throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. He is best known for his ground-breaking works, Black Theology & Black Power (1969) and A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), God of the Oppressed (1975) and for Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? (1991). HIs latest work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was published in September 2011 and won the first place award in Theology by Catholic Press Association.

James Cone's plenary will take place at 4:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Marie Howe Plenary


Marie Howe is the author of three volumes of poetry: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic(1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.


In 1988, Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. She has since been a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. In 2015 she received the Poetry Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor that recognizes distinguished poetic achievement.


She lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and has taught at Columbia University. From 2012-2014, Howe served as the Poet Laureate of New York State. In her final days as State Poet Laureate, Howe organized, with Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, the Say Something NYC Poetry Rally: Justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown—A Call for Unity, Equality, Empathy, Imagination and the End of Oppression, held in Washington Square Park.


Marie Howe lectures and gives workshops on the topics of Faith, Poetry, and Prayer. Her next book of Poetry, Magdalene, comes out in March and is available for preorder on Amazon here. To listen to her interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR podcast On Being, click here. To learn more about Marie Howe, follow the link to her website here


Marie Howe's plenary will take place at 4 PM on Thursday during the conference in Ward Hall.

Shaun Casey Plenary

Shaun Casey is a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center and a professor of the practice in Georgetown's Walsh School of Foreign Service. He previously was U.S. special representative for religion and global affairs and director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. He has also held positions at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the Center for American Progress, and Center for Strategic and International Studies. Casey has written on the ethics of the war in Iraq, as well the role of religion in American presidential politics. He is the author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960 (2009) and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Political Theology (forthcoming, credited with Michael Kessler); he is writing a book on ethics and international politics tentatively titled Niebuhr’s Children. Casey holds a B.A. From Abilene Christian University, MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, and M.Div. and doctorate in theology in religion and society from Harvard Divinity School.

Read his abstract below

Shaun Casey's plenary will take place at 10:45 AM on Thursday of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Abstract : The planet is awash in anger and rage while nostalgia seems to be an increasingly seductive choice for many Christians. All of these traits are related broadly to memory. What accounts for this rage? Is there a better Christian response to memory than nostalgia? And what are we to make of the theological claim that God is capable of remembering sin no more? This lecture will explore the nexus of anger, rage and nostalgia in our time and offer a theological critique of nostalgia while claiming a role for forgiveness as a form of intentional divine forgetfulness.

Greg Sterling will deliver the fourth annual Abraham J. Malherbe plenary.

A devoted minister, skilled academic and proven leader, Greg is uniquely qualified to speak to the general conference theme of “Memory, Tradition and the Future of Faith.”

Greg is Dean of Yale Divinity School and The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament.

He is a New Testament scholar with a specialty in Hellenistic Judaism and has concentrated his research on the writings of Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, and Luke-Acts, with a focus on the ways in which Second Temple Jews and early Christians interacted with one another and with the Greco-Roman world.

Greg  assumed the deanship at Yale in 2012 after more than two decades at the University of Notre Dame, where he served in several capacities at the College of Arts and Letters before becoming the first dean of the independent Graduate School. During most of the Notre Dame years Greg ministered to the Warsaw Church of Christ.

Greg is the author or editor/co-editor of seven books and more than seventy scholarly articles and essays. He is the general editor for the Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series (E.J. Brill), co-editor of the Studia Philonica Annual, and a member of the editorial board of Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. He served as editor of the Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity Series (University of Notre Dame Press) for twenty years.

He has held numerous leadership positions in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Studiorum Novi Societas, and the Catholic Biblical Association. He is a minister in the Churches of Christ and serves in several leadership roles including the advisory board for the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference.

Greg Sterling's plenary will take place at 11 AM on Friday of the conference in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

The Third Annual J. J. M. Roberts Lecture in Old Testament Studies: Carol Newsom


Dr. Carol A. Newsom is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Candler and a senior fellow at Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Newsom came to Candler in 1980, only the second woman to hold a tenure-track position. In 2005, she became the first female faculty member appointed to a chaired professorship. 

Newsom's research focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Wisdom tradition, the book of Daniel, and apocalyptic literature. She has written and edited 13 books and scores of articles, book chapters, translations, encyclopedia articles and reviews. She co-edited the acclaimed Women's Bible Commentary (Westminster John Knox, 3rd ed., 2012), now in its third edition, which explores the implications of and challenges long-held assumptions about the Bible's portrayal of women and other marginalized groups.

View the session page containing her plenary here and read her abstract here.

At the conference, Carol Newsom's lecture will be given during the first session on Wednesday from 1pm-2:30pm.

The Fourth Annual Everett Ferguson Lecturer in Early Christian Studies will be Margaret M. Mitchell, the Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Her address will be, “John Chrysostom on Love, Marriage and Magic: Assessing the Evidence of a Previously Untranslated Homily (hom. in 1 Cor 7:2).”

Professor Mitchell is a literary historian of ancient Christianity. Her research and teaching span a range of topics in New Testament and early Christian writings up through the end of the fourth century. She analyzes how the earliest Christians literally wrote their way into history, developing a literary and religious culture that was deeply embedded in Hellenistic Judaism and the wider Greco-Roman world, while also proclaiming its distinctiveness from each. Special interests include the Pauline letters (both in their inaugural moments and in the history of their effects), the poetics and politics of ancient biblical interpretation, and the intersection of text, image, and artifact in the fashioning of early Christian culture.

Professor Mitchell is the author of four books including Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation and is currently completing a volume, John Chrysostom on Paul: Praises and Problem Passages, to be published in the Writings from the Graeco-Roman World series (Society of Biblical Literature). 

At the conference, Professor Mitchell will give her lecture during session 3 on Thursday morning from 9am-10:30am.

Landon Saunders Plenary in 2016 and Lecture in 2017

Landon Saunders closed the 2016 CSC with a stirring plenary entitled, "On Being Human as the Nexus of World and Faith." The plenary address set out trajectories for future study and practice that will annually be addressed at the CSC. Working with the issues of world and faith in direct dialogue with human beings from across the world has marked the work of Landon Saunders for more than forty years. This annual lecture series, "On Being Human as the Nexus of World and Faith" is dedicated to continuing that conversation with renewed insight and urgency. Landon explains:

World and faith are often viewed in tension. For many, faith is world-denying. But, for faith to be real it must make its contribution to meaning in the context of an ever-changing world; hence, one must read the "text" of the world with the same fervor with which one reads the "text" of faith.

World plays an epistemological role in understanding faith, and faith plays an epistemological role in understanding world.

This premise of necessity brings numerous fields of scholarship into the conversation--theology, philosophy, sociology, the neuro- and biological sciences, psychology, communication theory, the humanities and the arts. No pursuit that seeks to understand the world or faith should be left out.

Central to this pursuit is the human being as the nexus of world and faith. This may pose the greatest challenge of all because the human beings, the only thing finally at risk, often gets lost in the complications of faith and world. To maintain relentless, tenacious, unyielding attention on what's excellent fo the human being may be the hardest disciplines of all.

At the conference, Landon Saunders will give his lecture during session 5 on Friday from 9am-10:30am.

About the Christian Scholars’ Conference

The mission of the Christian Scholars' Conference is to create and nurture an intellectual and Christian community that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration.

The conference was created in 1981 under the direction of Dr. Thomas H. Olbricht, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Pepperdine University, and has since been hosted by several universities associated with Churches of Christ. The conference calls together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines in the liberal arts, sciences, business, law, education and medicine to develop their own academic research and to reflect on the integration of scholarship and faith. 

In service to its mission, the CSC has adopted a model wherein the conference is hosted at Lipscomb University and every fourth year rotates to  a supporting university. Our recent history and future plans:

Lipscomb University (2008-10)

Pepperdine University (2011)

Lipscomb University (2012-2014)

Abilene Christian University (2015)

Lipscomb University (2016; June 7-9, 2017; June 6-8, 2018)

Lubbock Christian University (June 5-7, 2019)

Lipscomb University (2020-2022)

The conference is funded by registration fees and the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference Endowment Fund.  If you would like to contribute to the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference Endowment Fund, please click here.*

The CSC mourns the passing of Dwayne Van Rheenen

?He was the former Provost at Abilene Christian University and Dean of Faculty at Pepperdine University. Dwayne was an essential CSC board member during important transition years, providing the conference critical wisdom and insight. We send our deepest condolences to his wife Joan, their children and grandchildren.

Update on Tom Olbricht

Tom and Dorothy recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary with family, friends and the church in Nashua, NH. Tom keeps abreast of scholarship and has recently written a timely essay, “What Makes America Great.” (Read the essay on the CSC Facebook page here.)

Update on CSC friend and 2014 plenary speaker, Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle, who delivered one of the more memorable and impactful plenary addresses in CSC history (2014), passed away on September 22, 2015. Her vibrancy, quick wit, and keen intellect impacted the spiritual lives of many people through her poetry, lectures, essays, and books. Read more here.