Most of the work on the conference theme is done in Working Groups, to which full members are expected to contribute a paper. Further focus of the general call is given in each Working Group description below:
1. Biblical Studies
Conveners: Teddy Kalongo and Karen Strand Winslow
The Charles Wesley hymn from which the banner line for the fourteenth Institute is taken (“Thy grace restore, thy work revive”) was his prayer for renewed zeal to love and evangelize “the sheep for whom the Saviour died.” This working group welcomes proposals that ground their contributions in biblical texts from both testaments and promote personal, local, and global reformation, transformation, and the revival of love that leads to grace-filled inclusion and outreach.
2. Ecumenical Studies
Conveners: Edgardo Colón-Emeric and Tim Macquiban
This working group welcomes papers arising particularly from the way in which the involvement of Methodist Churches worldwide in the Ecumenical Movement has given the wider Church distinctive gifts of Methodism. In what ways have the internal movements of revivals and renewal resulting in schisms and divisions within Methodism been a force working against the desire for Christian unity? How have the Wesleyan and Methodist related churches bridged these gaps which divide the churches on racial and ethical issues? To what extent have the Life and Work and Faith and Order issues shaping the global ecumenical movement resulted in concrete examples of greater and closer ecumenical relationships in different regions of the world? Conversely, how is the Methodist and Wesleyan ecumenical engagement in these regions reforming and renewing the global ecumenical movement? Have the unity schemes, where already achieved, been the inevitable outcomes of the decline of Western Christianity as a means of ensuring the survival of mainstream orthodox versions of Protestantism? And how do we assess the latest reports (of AMICUM and the Methodist Roman Catholic International Commission) with their emphasis on the recovery of apostolicity and the centrality of holiness in terms of their contribution to bringing full communion closer? Does Methodism matter any longer in the ecumenical world we inhabit or is it again to be rediscovered as a movement for renewal within wider church unions?
3. Interreligious Studies
Conveners: Wesley Ariarajah and J.C. Park
In our world of religious plurality, interreligious dialogue is an ideal and interreligious conflicts are a reality. Theological studies can no longer engage in interreligious studies only out of interdisciplinary interest; it also needs to explore the intertextual and intercultural makeup of the Christian scripture and the faith it witnesses to, recognizing that Christianity from the initial stages was profoundly affected by Judaism and that the global spread of Christianity resulted in intercultural interpretations of the Gospel message. The following three areas will be dealt with in this workshop: First, interreligious conflicts and dialogues between the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam); second, the interaction and mutual impact between Christianity and Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism); and third, interaction and confluence between classical religions and primal traditional religions of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
4. Methodist History (post-18th century)
Conveners: Teresa Fry Brown and Martin Wellings
Over the last two centuries Methodists have variously sought, celebrated, and struggled with revival, reform, and revolution. For some, revival has been an aspiration, longed for and prayed for; for others, it has been a problematic legacy. For some, reform, whether in church or state, has been a priority; for others, it has been a distraction from the primary task of evangelism. Unsurprisingly therefore, Methodism has been seen both as an agent of revolution and as an antidote to revolution. Exploring these themes in particular historical settings, and in dialogue with each other, should offer rich scope for presentation and discussion.
5. Mission and Evangelism
Conveners: W. Stephen Gunter and Arun Jones
In keeping with the theme of the 2018 Oxford Institute, the Mission and Evangelism Working Group seeks papers that explore Methodist understandings and practices of mission and evangelism as this relates to revival, reform, and revolution. The following questions may be considered:
- How have Methodists understood and undertaken mission and evangelism, so as to create revival, reform, and revolution?
- What has been the relationship between theory and practice in Methodist mission and evangelism?
- In what ways have mission and evangelism been a force for ecumenism, or for fracturing of Christian unity, as Methodists have pursued revival, reform, and revolution?
- How has mission and evangelism in the Methodist movement changed or confirmed people’s understanding of the nature of Christian revival, reform, and revolution?
- How has mission and evangelism broken down, reconfigured, and rebuilt social, intellectual, and religious boundaries?
- To what extent has mission and evangelism been inwardly directed to the renewing of the Church, and outwardly directed to the renewing of the world?
- What has been the effect of mission and evangelism on Methodist understandings of ecclesiology?
6. Practical Theology
Conveners: Matthew Charlton and Peggy Mulambya Kabonde
Practical theology in the Wesleyan tradition is public and political, the theological energy being tilted toward doing the work of Christ in the world to bring about transformation. For this Institute we are seeking papers that address specifically the global refugee crisis, as within this crisis we discern the issues of homelessness, war and violence, food security, poverty, the care of the young and vulnerable, environmental degradation related to climate change, and the devaluing of home and land, both economically and environmentally. The refugee crisis in Europe, Asia, and Africa has presented itself in a manner that calls on the church to rethink its mission strategies and teaching. This leads us to pose some leading questions to aid in developing proposals for this working group:
- What is the church’s role in addressing the global refugee crisis?
- What are the possible theological responses to this crisis?
- How might the church work to alleviate the anxiety of the refugee’s struggle?
- What are the best strategies for the church in influencing policy formulation on border control and migration issues?
- How might the church be regionally united (across denominations and other faith groups, for instance) to dialogue with those in power to increase awareness and share the church’s view on migrants and refugees?
We will also consider proposals beyond these questions that maintain faithfulness to the overall theme of the Institute.
7. Theological Education
Conveners: Jeff Conklin-Miller and Jane Leach
We shall be asking how a Wesleyan theological commitment shapes the vision, identity, mission, curriculum, pedagogy, and practices of theological education. Put another way, we shall be asking how, in our diverse and changing contexts, the work of theological education continues to participate in God’s graceful, redemptive, and renewing presence. We seek papers addressing such themes as:
- The telos or ends to which our programs are directed (for what offices and roles? how is successful completion measured? how attentive are programs to wider ecclesial or socio-political contexts?).
- The assumptions, beliefs, and values (theological and others) that are being communicated through the worship, curricular, placement, and relational processes that form people for a range of ministries.
- Curricular structures and content (Biblical, theological, historical, contextual, missional) and their impact upon learners.
- Pedagogical tools and approaches (context based; technology based; community focused; research oriented etc.).
- Institutional arrangements for theological education (where does it happen? to whom is it offered? how is it funded?)
In selecting papers we will be particularly interested in those that:
- address what renewal might mean for educational institutions, curricula, pedagogy, and formation in ministry and discipleship in particular contexts.
- discuss the relationship between theological education and movements of renewal in social/political or ecclesial terms.
- explore the constraints and possibilities for theological education in changing contexts, e.g. within the academy as departments of religion decline; in contexts where there are political and constitutional constraints upon religious education; in contexts of religious radicalization.
- consider the workings of grace in the context of theological education.
8. Theology and Ethics
Conveners: Jimmy Dube and Sondra Wheeler
We are living in a time when pressing ethical questions divide and threaten the world at every level of individual and social life. These range from debates about the nature and flourishing of human beings in the midst of technological innovations and changes in human self-understanding, to the fracturing of international structures intended to foster equity and stability among nations and peoples. These circumstances call out for the theological and ethical reflection of the church as a community gathered across time and space, at the same time that they challenge the foundations of our unity and shared mission. We invite papers that reflect upon our situation as a global church, and investigate the resources of our broad Wesleyan heritage for loving critical engagement with issues and institutions both ecclesial and secular. What insights do we have to offer? What models of constructive critique and reform can we draw upon? What practices has our history shown can sustain us through the painful conflicts that emerge as we struggle to discern the shape of holiness and the path of faithfulness in the 21st century?
9. Wesley Studies
Conveners: Geordan Hammond and Julie Lunn
Revival, renewal, and reform were at the heart of Methodism in the eighteenth century and have continued to shape the Wesleyan tradition as a global movement. In particular, two of the core questions of the Institute are key questions for evaluating early Methodism: in what ways is Methodism part of great renewal movements in the Christian tradition, such as the Protestant Reformation? What are the authentic marks of Christian revival and renewal? Additionally, what effects did Methodism as a renewal movement have on church and society both within the British Isles and in its early spread beyond them? In what ways might Methodism be considered revolutionary, and how did it interact with revolutionary ideas and events in society? What resources and lessons might early Methodism provide for reflection on contemporary discussions and the future shape of Methodist revival and reform?
10. Worship and Spirituality
Conveners: Ron Anderson and Brent Peterson
The theme for this Institute readily points to some of John Wesley’s concerns and admonitions expressed in his sermon “The Means of Grace.” There Wesley seems to anticipate the contemporary separation of the spiritual and the religious, of personal piety and communal practice, as well as the continuing ease with which we mistake one for the other, that is, the ease with which we confuse religious practice for the “heart renewed in the image of God” [“Means of Grace,” I.2]. Wesley himself points to the necessary relationship between the outward means of grace and the inner renewal of the heart: the outward ordinances “profit much when they advance toward inward holiness” [I.4] and are “ordained” expressly “to the renewal of your soul in righteousness and holiness” [V.4].
How then, in this third century of Methodism, do the three “chief means”—prayer, searching the scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper—contribute to renewal and revival? How do they envision and practice God’s desire for our transformation and the flourishing of humanity? [See James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans, 2009), 174ff.] What do they contribute to the renewal and restoration of human being? How might such renewal and restoration contribute to the renewal of the churches? How do individual and communal spiritual practices not only effect this restoration and renewal of human persons but also call forth persons to engage missionally in the world? How does such renewal and restoration imagine the restoration and renewal of all things in the present and future coming of the Kingdom of God? What are the political implications of this renewal and restoration? What are some of the cautions for how religious practices can malform persons, churches, and the world away from image of Christ?