Hot off the heels of the conversations stirred up by Shaun Groves’ recent visit to EMU, the Campus Pastoral Team organized and held an inter-theological dialogue panel last night at 8 p.m.
The five panelists consisted of Eric Codding, Director of Housing and Resident Life; Mary Thiessen Nation, Adjunct Faculty member at the Seminary; Byron Pellecer, Seminary student and pastor of Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA); Reta Finger, Retired Professor of Bible and Religion from Messiah College; and Ted Grimsrud, Professor in the Bible and Religion Department. The panel was facilitated by Nicholas Detwiler-Stoddard, Senior seminary student.
The night began as the panelists each presented a brief summary of their theological beliefs with regards to “Heaven, Hell, and the Cross of Christ.”
In his presentation, Pellecer explained that when Jesus was crucified, “everybody was able to see the sign of life – Jesus, not the cross.” He went on to explain that “in Jesus, the shame of the cross becomes greatness… [without Jesus it is] just a symbol of torture and death.”
Nation related a bit of her experience working in L.A., and noted that “faith without works is dead, but… works without faith is also dead.” She reminded listeners that, “ultimately, Jesus will be glorified as Lord of all.”
After the introductions, attendees were split up into groups of four to discuss their own thoughts on how they came to their conclusions (if any) about what they believe. After about 20 minutes of sharing and conversation, participants were given the opportunity to write a question on a large piece of paper to be addressed by the panelists, in hopes of sparking discussion. The questions ranged from intricate and specific, such as, “How can we have respectful inter-theological dialogue while still maintaining [our] own beliefs in daily life?” to the more existentially blunt, “Does it matter?”
“One of the biggest things I’m hoping for is that we can practice open and honest dialogue in a way that is productive and not destructive,” said Senior Brendon Derstine, a Pastoral Assistant who helped organize the event. “We are going to emphasize personal experience,” said Derstine, “listening to each others’ stories to understand what we believe as opposed to simply stating our flat theological positions.”
Due to time constraints and the many tangents the group went on, there was little opportunity to go deep into any one subject. However, the organizers of the event understood this, and sought to present the event as a “test run,” as a barometer to gauge whether this type or system of theological discussion is desired on campus.
Brian Martin Burkholder, Campus Pastor, concluded the night by extending an invitation to provide feedback on whether this format worked well, and whether people would like to see more of these types of discussions in the coming semesters.