Wheaton College Presents 2018 Theology Conference: Balm in Gilead

March 29, 2018

Marilynne RobinsonWheaton College will host the 27th annual Wheaton College Theology Conference April 5-6. The theme of this year’s conference is “Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson.”

Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of America’s foremost public intellectuals. This year’s conference will offer an opportunity for leading theologians, historians, literary scholars, and church leaders to engage with Robinson’s published works and with Robinson herself.

In addition to Robinson, speakers include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lauren Winner of Duke Divinity School, Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School, Patricia Andujo of Azusa Pacific University, and Han-luen Kantzer Komline of Western Theological Seminary.

Conference organizers and speakers Dr. Keith Johnson and Dr. Tim Larsen note that the conference will integrate voices from both literature and theology.

“Robinson writes both literature and theology, and she connects the two disciplines,” Johnson says. “We selected speakers who are attentive to both aspects – theology scholars who have a literary orientation and literary scholars who will integrate theology.”

The conference will also feature speakers from Wheaton’s English department. Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English Dr. Christina Bieber Lake will dialogue with Marilynne Robinson and Rowan Williams during one conference session, while Associate Professor of English Dr. Tiffany Kriner will also offer a presentation on Robinson’s Gilead trilogy. 

In addition to collaborating with English faculty, Johnson and Larsen have also commissioned Associate Professor of Music Shawn Okpebholo to perform his original composition “Balm in Gilead” from his 2015 debut album Steal Away. Okpebholo will arrange and perform several other works during the conference, including Robinson’s favorite hymn “Wondrous Love.”

Johnson and Larsen envision this year’s conference as an opportunity to invite the broader community into the theological conversations happening at Wheaton.

“Marilynne Robinson is a beautiful writer, an interesting thinker, and a public intellectual. She engages with figures like Calvin, the Puritans, and Barth – the same thinkers we read in our theology classes here at Wheaton,” Johnson says. “This year’s conference is an opportunity to expose our students to a brilliant thinker and to spark new conversations through our dialogue with her.”

“I heard eminent authors such as Madeleine L’Engle and Frederick Buechner speak on campus when I was student back in the late eighties," Larsen adds. "I was powerfully shaped by those opportunities and I want to try to make sure that Wheaton is that kind of place today as well."