Fifty Christian leaders from across the country gathered April 19 for the Intersect Conference on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) to learn and discuss how faith impacts culture, vocation and economics. Event organizers invited a range of church planters, pastors, parachurch organization leaders and students to hear from SEBTS faculty and engage in a question and answer panel discussion.
To begin the conference, SEBTS Provost Bruce Ashford addressed the broad topic “Theology and Culture,” reflecting on his initial awareness of culture as a missionary. “It was a major awakening for me to figure out the relationship between God’s saving work on one hand and culture on the other hand,” he said.
Defining the notoriously vague term, Ashford said culture is what results when “God’s imagers interact with His good creation.”
He explained that while many things in society are not God-honoring, human culture remains “structurally” good because it is God-given. Admitting the controversial nature of the topic, Ashford said ministers of the gospel need to practice Christianity that redeems culture.
“We engage culture and make culture better because Christ’s lordship is as wide as creation,” he said.
Ashford posed questions to help identify what God intends for every sphere of culture, what has gone astray in those areas and how Christians might reshape certain aspects in ways that honor Christ.
In an interactive presentation on vocation, Benjamin Quinn and Walter Strickland discussed material from their recent book, Every Waking Hour. Quinn serves as associate dean for institutional advancement and assistant professor of theology and history of ideas at SEBTS. Strickland is the SEBTS special adviser to the president for diversity and an instructor of theology.
In the talk, they debunked the common notion that vocational ministry is the only career endeavor that truly matters in God’s kingdom, honoring 90-year-old SEBTS facilities management staffer Eugene Smith. For more than three decades Smith has emptied trash bins, rolled up water hoses and assisted people on and off the handicap elevator.
Benjamin Quinn and Walter Strickland
“He understands who he is as someone who has something to give to God’s world,” Quinn said. “This is who I want to be when I grow up.”
Beginning with a definition of work – “what creatures do with creation” – they said vocation is how people make themselves useful to others. “Work is the hand that animates the glove of our vocation,” Quinn and Strickland explained.
Pastors and leaders should teach all Christians the significance of their vocations, even in the nuts and bolts of every job, they said.
“How powerful a testimony would it be if we commissioned accountants before tax season every year?” Quinn asked. “What about commissioning teachers before academic years every year?”
Brent Aucoin, professor of history and associate dean of The College for Academic Affairs at SEBTS, gave an overview of the history of Christianity and economics. He examined the spectrum of economic systems from capitalism to socialism, outlining how Christians from past to present have understood wealth and poverty.
In a session on “Economics, Stewardship and the Common Good,” SEBTS professor of Christian ethics and associate dean for graduate program administration, David Jones, explained the importance of wealth or poverty is how people use it.
“God doesn’t care about whether you’re rich or poor,” Jones said. “But he does care what you do with it.”
Wrapping up the conference, Keith Whitfield, SEBTS vice president for academic administration and assistant professor of theology, led a panel discussion with the conference speakers where participants could ask follow up questions from earlier discussions.
The Intersect Project is a partnership between the Kern Family Foundation and SEBTS that seeks to educate people to engage the intersection of faith, culture, work and economics so that they can equip others and be empowered to glorify God.
Intersect also offers opportunities to learn from SEBTS faculty and other reputable speakers through free online classes, daily blogs, videos, books and special events.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Harper McKay is a news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seth Brown, BR Content Editor, contributed to this story.)