Once a year, the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature hold their annual conventions back to back, usually in the same city. This year ETS met in Providence, Rhode Island, November 19-21, and SBL is meeting in Boston, November 21-24. The Evangelical Philosophical Society, in addition to having sessions at ETS and SBL, also co-sponsors an annual apologetics conference to coincide with ETS; this year it is meeting in Smithfield, Rhode Island, November 20-22.

Attending as much of these meetings as possible has been on the must-do list for me for a few years now. Unfortunately, there are simply too many things going on at the same time to do the ETS and SBL conventions justice. For example, ETS had morning and afternoon parallel sessions on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, during which one had a choice of which sessions to attend. On Wednesday and Thursday, each morning and afternoon there were between 32 and 34 parallel sessions, each with typically three or four papers being presented by different scholars. For some reason, the number of sessions dropped off on Friday, with 28 in the morning and only 4 in the afternoon. Suggestion to ETS convention organizers for 2009: make full use of Friday and spread the sessions out more evenly.

I had the opportunity on Wednesday morning, during the first session, to present a paper on “The Deity of God’s Son in Mark.” This paper was a response to an article that appeared in last year’s Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in which Herbert Bateman argued that the Son of God titles in Mark’s Gospel is simply a synonymous expression for Messiah, not a divine title. I took the contrary position, arguing that the Son of God titles connote deity in the contexts in which Mark uses them.

There were quite a number of other papers relating to the subject of the deity of Christ at ETS. I counted at least twelve, including mine. Obviously, I was not able to attend most of these, but I did attend a very interesting paper by Justin Grace, a professor at Terrant County College, on “The Text and God: Is ‘God’ a Proper Name or Is ‘God’ Analogous with ‘Water’?” Grace blogs here, often posting short “musings” regarding his dissertation in progress, which deals with the same subject. The question Grace is asking has to do with whether the noun God is a “count noun” (like boy, dog, building, etc.) or a “mass noun” (like water, stuff, air, etc.)—a question of some interest in John 1:1 (“and the Word was God”).

The theme of the convention this year was “Text and Canon,” and there were numerous papers on these subjects, as well as plenary sessions, such as the one by Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament text. However, you can probably learn more about what is of interest to evangelical scholars from the papers that were not focused on the convention theme. The topics on which there were the most papers (not counting those related to the convention theme) were the following:

  • the Trinity in biblical, historical, and systematic theology (at least 17 relevant papers, including 5 on the question of order or subordination in the Trinity)
  • historical Jesus studies (13 papers of relevance, including 6 in a double-session discussing recent evangelical books on Jesus)
  • the so-called “New Perspective on Paul,” an approach to interpreting Paul’s theology that calls into question some aspects of the traditional Protestant doctrine of justification by faith (13 papers of relevance)
  • the deity of Christ (12 relevant papers, as mentioned above)
  • interpreting biblical narratives, and a “narrative” approach to the Bible in general (at least 10 papers of direct relevance)
  • women’s roles and gender studies (9 papers plus a panel discussion)

Something I found surprising was the fact that, although canon was part of the convention theme, there were only three papers presented specifically on the apocryphal gospels or other “Christian” apocryphal writings. In one of these, Darrell Bock explained why apocryphal literature matters for New Testament studies. Given the tremendous interest in this subject both in mainstream New Testament scholarship and in the popular media, I hope evangelical scholars will give much more attention to this subject.

In subsequent blog entries, as time and Internet access permit, I will comment on some of these and other papers presented at ETS, and also comment on papers I am hearing at SBL.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 at 12:58 am and is filed under apologetics, Biblical studies, Christology, theology, Trinity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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