Surfer Girl and God: “insights” from a theology conference

Every year, a small core of our faculty head out for Evangelical Theological Society meetings.  It might be as far away as Providence, Rhode Island or as close as San Francisco, where we were last week.  So nice to be back in the sun. Some have administrative duties with perks like a limousine pick up from the airport, a nice room with a view on the executive floor, with a full array of drinks and snacks served 24/7 at the lounge nearby.  It’s not that I resent this. Not at all.  One of our professors (I will not name) is accorded this privilege annually, and as part of the agreement not to expose his opulent and decadent lifestyle, I am allowed to share the room and its perks with him. I’m willing to continue in this covenant.

Some of us also present papers.  It begins early in the year with an invitation to submit a title to a committee.  It’s hard to pinpoint when the inspiration comes. Perhaps on a sick day, when the mind is bored out of its gourd watching The Price is Right, or maybe some inspirational moment at a Beethoven concert.  Maybe it comes while one is at the checkout line of Safeway, or in the heat of a family argument.  Most likely, it comes late in the night, when the alpha and beta waves of the brain exchange roles, and there is this sudden awakening, a realization that someone, someone must research this issue and stand and speak it with clarity and conviction.

Hence, some of us also get to hear these stirring papers. I can’t say how many decisions are made, how many lives are transformed.  Moving from session to session, as speakers drone on, I watch as the audience is obviously gripped by the moment.  There is hardly a stir in the crowd—and this includes the plenary sessions as well. After all, consider this sampling of what we heard:

  • Implications of the Toledoths Regarding ANE Influence on Genesis
  • Jesus ‘Minus Triplex’ Reexamined: A Proposal for ‘Munus Monoplex’ or the One Unified Role of Jesus
  • Solving the Euthyphro Dilemma and Defending Theistic Ethics
  • ‘Dionysus will soon enough be the judge of our claims to wisdom!’: Nietzsche as the Sublime Muse of Moral Decision-Making
  • Why are (Some) Platonists so Insouciant?
  • Epistematic Euccatastrophy: The Favorable Turn of the Evidence”
  • On the Impossibility of Omnimalevolence: Plantinga on Tooley’s New Evidential Argument from Evil
  • The Dignity of Damnation
  • Discourse Type, Slot Machines, and the Hebrew Bible
  • A Farewell to Arms: The Rhetoric of Arms and the Death of Goliath

It all makes for light reading.  I began to feel less and less at home until I came across this paper–From the Beach Boys to Surfer’s Chapel: A Theology of California Surf Culture.  It was then I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.  It was an affirmation that all of those Beach Boy albums I owned, when growing up in San Diego, had a divine purpose after all.  Next year—Milwaukee!

If you’d like to read summaries of a few of the more interesting ETS papers, Marc has been posting some comments at his blog. Here is what he’s posted so far:

About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.