There is an annual conference between the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, or the SBL/AAR, where all religious scholars gather for a time of exploration and questioning. One of our own, professor Frank Macchia, was a part of this prominent conference as a critic of Luke Timothy Johnson’s Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church.
Macchia and three other Bible scholars participated on a panel to critique Johnson’s “funny and brilliant” novel. Johnson’s purpose was to bridge the gap between the fiery passion found in the book of Luke and the “institutionalized” version of Jesus in the book of Acts. Johnson dispels the myth that the institutionalization of the church hindered the fervency of Christ’s cause. Instead Johnson argues that the organization of the church furthered the cause by sharing the gospel farther than the Christians in Luke had done.
The other arguments made to prove the church prophetic was that they 1) Shared with the Needy, 2) Lived by Prayer and Depended on God, and 3) Had a Servant Ministry. This same ministry did not only share the gospel with Jews, but to the unclean Gentiles as well; a scandalous act in their time.
In contrast to the usual discussion format, the moderator allowed the dialogue between panel and author to continue uninterrupted. The discussion was described as an “enriching exchange… it was just a lot of fun.” The moderator then opened the author up to address questions the audience had.
The spectators for that particular section of the conference packed the entire auditorium. Though it was primarily comprised of seasoned theologians and scholars, there was one young man. An undergraduate from Southeastern University was seen taking copious notes and “really getting excited about what he Academy had to offer.” This young man served as an encouragement, as there must be a new generation of scholars in order to keep the Academy and religious discussion itself alive.
Macchia’s encouragement for the Vanguard students to participate is this: “If a student is asking himself ‘Do I want to be a pastor?’ ‘Or do I want to teach?’ he should go to one of these conferences and get exposed to Academy life. See what scholars do besides teach.” Though no Undergraduate can submit their work, he or she may certainly listen to another’s after completing registration.
But it is important to note that these societies do endure a bit of internal friction, as religious discussions often do. Fortunately, there is little conflict as a result of fame-seekers. When a student submits his or her paper their name does not appear on the article when it is presented to the Society. What qualifies a person to have their own section at the conference is the merit of their work, not their name alone.