Annual H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series Happening Now

Photo of Dr. Willie Jennings courtesy of Brad Kelle.

Just recently Point Loma’s stance on Anti-Racism was attacked from a theological standpoint by an anonymous group called The Bresee Collective, making this year’s Wiley Lecturer, an expert on race and theology, just as relevant as when he was first booked. 

The annual H. Orton Wiley Lecture series, facilitated by the School of Theology, is back up and running, featuring this year’s speaker Dr. Willie Jennings, an associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School. This four-part series titled, The Revolution of Salvation, will take place March 21st to 23rd in Crill Performance Hall. 

The most recent of Dr. Jennings’ books, published in 2020, titled “After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging”, is about the relevance of theological education. Dr. Jennings argues in his book, “If we continue to promote whiteness and its related ideas of masculinity and individualism in our educational work, it will remain diseased and thwart our efforts to heal the church and the world”, according to the book’s summary. Other works of his include applying the relevancy of the Bible in today’s struggles with “Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible”.

“In these lectures, we will explore the revolution that is salvation and in so doing suggest a path that might liberate our vision of salvation from its racial, economic, and political captivity,”says the School of Theology in their pamphlet describing the upcoming series. “In this series, [Dr. Jennings] will help us explore a new way of thinking about salvation that opens new dimensions for understanding how God is at work through God’s people in the realities of the world today”.

In the decision to ask Dr. Jennings to speak, Dr. Brad Kelle, professor of theology and coordinator for the lectures within the school of theology, says that when picking a speaker they look at who’s doing interesting work that is relevant to what’s going on in the world and what the school wants to focus on. In deciding to invite Dr. Jennings, he says, “There’s a lot of stuff that’s gone on in recent years with race and theology… Dr. Jennings is someone who has spent his career working around those issues…He’s a well-known professor, scholar, and writer around those issues of race, theology and the Christian church.”

Concerning issues of race and theology, just recently, Point Loma President, Dr. Bob Brower, sent out an email reaffirming PLNU’s stance on Anti-Racism in response to a letter published by the anonymous “Bresee Collective”. Dr. Jennings was booked as a lecturer two years ago, making his coming around the time of this letter fortuitous, Kelle says. “But it is an indication that these kinds of issues around race, Christianity, and theology are very much with us, this is just one recent manifestation with this we’ve seen with this outside hate group”.

This letter is just another reason why we should engage in conversations revolving around race and theology, says Dean of the School of Theology, Dr. Mark Maddix. “While the Bresse collective was from a single voice, it represents many people’s beliefs about persons of color; something that all Christians should denounce as sinful and being counter to the gospel message.”

“But this is very much not a lecture on race. If you look at the titles, he’s engaging around the question of salvation and how one understands what it means to find salvation in Jesus Christ. What does that mean for your life, what does that mean for the world. That’s what it’s really about”, says Kelle, “It’s not just, let’s talk about race and racism, that’s kind of involved, but that’s not really the topic or focus of it… This is someone who’s talking directly out of Christian theology, saying, so what about being a Christian or being the Church, what does that have to do with issues of race and racism. What does it mean to be a Christian and think about those things”.

“He understands on a personal level the impact of Racism in his life, and how it continues to oppress and silence others.  As Christians, we should want to know more about the ways in which we have racist tendencies, and how white privilege and power is reflected in social systems”, says Maddix.

According to Kelle, Dr. Jennings has been booked as a speaker since 2020, as he was supposed to speak for the 2021 Wiley Lectures but due to COVID, was canceled. There are a host of reasons a speaker is chosen for these lectures. 

“We think about who our students would like to hear from that they normally don’t get to… we also try to think about places that our students, especially our students in the school of theology, might go to graduate school. Yale has a divinity school and it’s a place where some of our students have gone over the years” says Dr. Kelle.

“I would distinguish it from the Writer’s Symposium, the Writer’s Symposium is more a community event. Students go to it but it’s mostly a community event. This is the opposite; this is for our Point Loma students. There may be community people who are there… but it’s predominantly our students who come”, says Dr. Kelle. “It might be worth noting that it’s the only University sponsored academic lecture series we have.” There are no tickets required for the event. Each of the lectures will take place in Crill Performance Hall. Lecture 1: The Revolution of the Mind is from 11:00- 11:50 AM and Lecture 2: The Revolution of the Body is from 1:30- 2:20 PM, both on Monday, March 21st. Lecture 3: The Revolution of the Land is from 9:30- 10:20 AM on Tuesday, March 22nd. The last lecture, Lecture 4: The Revolution of Relationships is Wednesday, March 23rd from 8:30- 9:20 AM.

Written By: Tessa Balc