If assemblies of Christians make a space sacred, then the Atlanta Marriott Marquis was for six days a cathedral. From universities, businesses and churches throughout North America and from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students’ sites around the world, nearly 900 participants gathered to worship God and learn from one another how to promote and explore Christian discipleship within the academy and the marketplace.
This Following Christ conference (co-sponsored by InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries and InterVarsity Press) began on the evening of December 28 with The Reverend Dr. Mark Labberton, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA, speaking about the majesty of God described in Psalm 8. Each subsequent day’s program was shaped by a dual theme: Creation and Culture, Kingdom and Calling, Incarnation and Service, and Expectation and Engagement.
Drs. Marva Dawn, Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC; Vinoth Ramachandra, Secretary for University Mission and Social Engagement in Asia for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students; Dean Trulear, Senior Pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Twin Oaks, PA; and Miroslav Volf, Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School—the featured speakers during the four morning plenary sessions—helped the convention’s participants to better understand the biblical meanings and contemporary applications of those themes. Then during the final plenary session on the last night of the conference, Dr. Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, urged scholars, professionals and students alike to express the truth of Christ through their work.
In addition to the inspiring featured speakers at the plenary sessions, each of the fifteen different daily Tracks—ranging from the Arts to Business—offered participants lectures by renowned scholars, artists and professionals and discussion times for reflecting as groups on the content of presentations.
But stimulating discussions about contemporary issues were not restricted to the Tracks. Every mealtime, amid the laughter and lighthearted conversations floating through the expansive dinning hall, one could find tables where people were discussing significant theological ideas.
One evening I happened to sit at the dinner table of a group of scholars and scientists who, between bites of grilled chicken, respectfully debated the relationship between recent discoveries about the human brain and biblical doctrines of the human soul. Despite their digressions into Quantum Physics—about which I understood, say, a particle—I sensed my mind opening to new understandings of our Creator and my own humanness.
At the temporary InterVarsity Press bookstore, among tables laden with generously discounted volumes, other people shared names and occupations and stories about their lives. In another room nearby, prayer partners waited at appointed times to help anyone in need. And in the evenings after the plenary sessions, several organizations (Re: generation Quarterly/Veritas Forum, International Institute for Christian Studies and the C.S. Lewis Foundation, to name a few) hosted receptions to introduce themselves to participants and offer resources for Christian witness on campus.
InterVarsity’s Following Christ conference demonstrated that discipleship of the mind matters greatly to many evangelical Christian scholars, artists and business professionals. InterVarsity affirms the sacred value of intellectual discovery and artistic expression; and believes that such endeavors, when they are dedicated to God as a form of worship, mark our lives as following Christ.