Winter 2013

Theology Comes West

First annual Los Angeles Theology Conference to debut at Biola

By Amber Amaya

On the list of things Los Angeles is known for, theology isn’t exactly near the top. But with the launch of a new conference at Biola in January, some of L.A.’s theologians are determined to help boost the city’s theological reputation.

The Los Angeles Theology Conference, spearheaded by Biola professor Fred Sanders and Fuller Theological Seminary professor Oliver Crisp, will mark the first annual gathering of prominent academic theologians in Southern California.

Sanders said the idea to start a quality theology conference in Los Angeles came after years of having to fly east of the Mississippi River to get to any renowned academic theology conferences.

“I think the American West and Southwest are great,” Sanders said. “We have the population density, we have lots of theologians, we deserve to have the life of the mind going on out here. It’s a little bit of California boosterism and a little bit of Los Angeles pride to think that a city this great and with this many theologians working in it deserves a conference.”

When Sanders met Crisp at a conference in Point Loma, the two discussed the lack of academic theology conferences in Southern California and decided they’d rather do something constructive than continue bemoaning the situation.

At that point, Zondervan was brought in on the idea. It turned out the Christian publishing company had been eagerly waiting for someone to propose such a gathering and in a year’s time the conference was planned.

“They too recognized this region desperately needs a theological gathering point,” Sanders said.

Sanders, Crisp and Katya Covrett, senior acquisitions editor for Zondervan, teamed up to draft a “dream list” of speakers they’d want to present on the theme of Christology, keeping in line with the ecumenical nature of the conference. Five theologians — George Hunsinger, Peter Leithart, Katherine Sonderegger and Alan Torrance, in addition to Crisp — accepted the invitation to present at the inaugural conference.

So far, the academic conference has gained support from theology blogs and journals; Zondervan alone has sent out over 70,000 promotional posters to their subscribers. However, the sign of success will come with the overall turnout, Sanders said.

“When you tell people you’re going to have an academic theology conference in L.A., it’s often greeted with laughter,” he said. “Everyone has been really positive and very polite, but there’s kind of this sense that L.A. is not really smart, as if we don’t have a cluster of world-class universities here. ... We clearly do, and we have lots of theological schools working here.”

Though Biola is host to the first conference, it is a freestanding event and will move every year between Biola and Fuller. As attendance grows, Sanders said the conference is open to moving to other universities and venues.

For a full schedule of the plenary and breakout session speakers visit the Los Angeles Theology Conference's website.

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