The Jubilee Conference focused on the biblical themes of creation, fall, redemption and restoration- and their still present role in society today. A range of speakers provided students with a glimpse of how the fall is evident, but that redemption is found in the everyday people who working as agents of restoration in our fallen world. Such stories included redemption in families, education, and art.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Admittedly, I was a bit of a fish out of water at this conference. Jubilee is a conference for college students that are members of a campus chapter of the Coalition for Christian Outreach. However, outsiders are welcome. I, being two (OK, closer to three) years out of college, found that at 11:30 in the evening I didn’t have the same energy as sophomores who are avoiding Kant or calculus for a weekend.
The Jubilee Conference focused on the biblical themes of creation, fall, redemption and restoration- and their still present role in society today. A range of speakers provided students with a glimpse of how the fall is evident, but at the same time how redemption is found in the everyday people who are working as agents of restoration in our fallen world. Such stories included redemption in families, education, and art.
To my knowledge, there is no concise, fancy word to describe the worldview that supports the theological framework of creation, fall and redemption. Neo-Calvinists utilize these ideas most prominently, but Catholics and Methodists may take issue with calling it a Kuyperian framework. This approach to understanding the world begins were all things begin, creation. In Genesis 1 and 2 we learn that God created all things and declared them good. This is a truth that all Christians can subscribe to, regardless of how literally they take those chapters. Humanity is the pinnacle of the goodness of this creation, being made in the image of God and declared very good.
Few at Jubilee could embody this the same way Jubilee’s quasi-celebrity Byron Borger did. Byron pulled into Pittsburgh two nights before the conference and set up his mobile bookstore. To the skeptical reader, this is not the local Christian Family bookstore pedaling kitsch and sentimental self-help books that contain only a smattering of Christianity. No, Byron cultivated a stock of books with serious Christian authorship. Not all of these books bring good news. Many point to the brokenness of the world (more on that in a minute). However, all of his books, especially those he advertised at plenary sessions, point to the goodness of the created world, how it can be appreciated and restored.
Reinhold Niebuhr said that sin is the one scientifically provable doctrine of the Christian faith. This truth is self-evident whenever we turn on the news. Everyday, we see signs that God’s good creation is not as it should be. Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing at Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to faith & social action, had the rather onerous task of explaining the fall. She wonderfully yet tragically showed how injustice wreaked havoc on her family. As African-Americans, her ancestors suffered not just during slavery, but during reconstruction, when multiple generations of her family had to hide their mixed race relationships for their own safety.
However, the true heft of her talk came when she gave an exegesis on Genesis 3-4. Before the fall, shalom characterized all relationships in creation. However, once sin entered the world, all of the relationships fell apart. According to Harper, the relationships between human and themselves, and God and creation are broken. This includes institutions and system present in our society today: nations, ethnic groups, and families. This is the world we experience every day. However, even in a talk dedicated to sin, Harper couldn’t help but let glimpses of a different way shine through.
The penultimate movement of the worldview that motivates the Jubilee conference, along with the Center for Public Justice, is redemption. Redemption is made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through dying on the cross, Jesus submitted himself to the entirety of the brokenness of the fall. By rising from the grave, he defeated sin and evil, overcoming the brokenness of the world and inaugurating the Kingdom of God on Earth. Through him all things are made new. However, we still live in the tension of brokenness. This was most evident in Nicole Baker Fulgham’s breakout session on education and the common good.
When it comes to public education, the fall is all too easy to see. For example, 50 percent of low income children will not graduate from high school. But there are glimpses of redemption in individuals and organizations invested in the movement towards the full education of all American citizens. Baker Fulgham is one of those people, and she spoke of her own experience teaching a fifth-grade class in Compton, CA. Most in her classroom were reading at a third grade level and two were completely illiterate. Baker Fulgham set reading improvement goals for all of her students and mobilized the local faith community to help with tutoring. At the end of that year, everyone met the goals she had set. Her example, along with others she mentioned, point to a possibility of a fully educated American citizenry. While this is an important and laudable goal, it is one that requires fervent and sustained action by the church.
As this worldview begins where all things begin, it ends where history ends. Restoration occurs at the Persousia, when Christ sets all things right. Many poets and authors, some of them biblical, have set words down to try and describe a glimpse of what this will look like. Instead of adding to that body of work, I will leave you with three paintings that artist Scott Erickson created over the weekend that reveal through art the theology of creation, fall and redemption.
-Paul Hartge is the assistant to the president at the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. He graduated from Calvin College in 2010 with a double major in political science and religion.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Rush.