Three years of Karam Forum have produced not just catalytic curricular tools and profound lectures, but also short talks that pack big ideas into just a few minutes. It isn’t just Nathan Hitchcock’s Corn Lover Story! Each session at Karam Forum begins with a session host “setting the table” with reflections on the topic, and these short talks are worth checking out.
Chris Armstrong: “Souls on Sticks: The Gospel and Human Flourishing”
Today we “backfill” our library with a short talk given by Chris Armstrong to introduce the opening session of Karam Forum 2018, with Andy Crouch’s talk on “Isaiah’s Posterity Gospel” and two star-studded panels (Mako Fujimura, Brian Fikkert, Amy Sherman and more) discussing the gospel and human flourishing. As we noted at the time, gremlins sabotaged our audio feed and we were unable to share this great talk with you in 2018. But Chris’ remarks were so well worth recording that we asked him to take another shot at it when we had him in studio for his talk on “Being a Sacred Church,” so he obligingly gave his remarks for us again – and this time, we beat the gremlins.
To tee up the topic of the gospel and human flourishing, Armstrong argued that a well-rounded Christian view of flourishing is essential to nurturing the faith in the coming generation. Too often, the church has treated people as if they were “souls on sticks” – addressing their eternal fate, but not their whole lives. Many young people leave the church today not because they think Christianity is false but because they think Christianity is irrelevant to anything they care about; our problem is not so much “intellectual atheism” as “practical atheism.” Bringing in big, delightful doses of wisdom from C.S. Lewis, and pointing to the origin of these insights in the earlier ages of the faith that Lewis studied, Armstrong made a case for Lewis’ maxim that “because we love something else more than this world, we love even this world better than those who know no other.”
Jay Moon: “The Connected Complexity of Culture Change”
One of the most popular Karam Forum short talks of all time came from Jay Moon at the forum’s first meeting in 2017. Using a striking physical illustration to drive the point home, Moon described how different aspects of a culture are connected in complex ways. The ideas and beliefs of a culture interact with its technological and economic structure, and both of these interact with other aspects of the culture as well. Moon suggested that making an impact in the technological/economic sector of a culture is a great way to get around obstacles in the ideas/beliefs sector. The following year Moon would build on these insights in his Economic Wisdom Project Talk on “Economics and Mission.”
Vincent Bacote: “Seminaries or Cemeteries? A Mission as Big as Life Itself”
At Karam Forum 2018, introducing a session on theology and the mission of the church, Vincent Bacote told the audience that, being in Los Angeles, they were sitting not far from the most influential seminary in the world: Hollywood. The movies win hearts and minds by showing people an imaginary world on a screen for two hours. Theology may not have big special effects budgets, but it can do something even more impressive than the movies; it can show us the real world. Bacote argued that theological education needs to recover a sense of how big the mission of theology is – a mission as big as the whole world, as big as life itself. Only then will it reverse its reputation as a storehouse of lifeless abstractions and decaying formulas.
P.J. Hill: “Theology and Economics: Getting Past Cognitive Dissonance”
At the same forum, introducing a session on economic issues in the Bible, P.J. Hill shared the story of his journey as an economist who slowly discovered that moral and even theological questions were not secondary to his discipline; they were right at the heart of it. From a starting point where he struggled to connect his faith to his economic studies, producing “cognitive dissonance,” Hill eventually concluded that economic understanding had to begin with questions of justice, rights and morally ordered desires. Hill also described some insights the economic discipline provides on market economies that can inform theological evaluation of their functioning, such as the role markets play in coordinating social activity among people who don’t know each other well.
Greg Forster: “Discovering Oikonomia: A Christian Life of the Mind”
Introducing Charlie Self’s 2018 closing talk on theological education that raises up “Poets and Prophets,” Greg Forster described how his conversion to the faith as an adult forced him to reevaluate what it meant to live the life of a scholar and educator. In a universe where God cares about building bridges and feeding the hungry as much as he cares about knowledge and insight, how can we have a Christian life of the mind? Forster argued that reason must have a place in the oikonomia theou, God’s plan for all things, because we use reason to discover the oikonomia theou. Everyone in the kingdom of God, in all vocations, has valuable knowledge; nonetheless there is an indispensable role for those who live the life of the mind.
Nathan Hitchcock: “He Loved Corn: How Theology Changes Life”
And, of course, as you’ve read elsewhere in this newsletter, introducing a session on systematic theology and vocation at Karam Forum 2019, Nathan Hitchcock told The Corn Lover Story – which must be experienced to be appreciated.