North Central commemorates 500th anniversary of Protestantism

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On Tuesday October 24th, North Central hosted William Stevenson (left), Glen Menzies, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (middle), Christian Washburn, Bonn Clayton (right) in a panel in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation. Photo by Ericka Sura.

Guest speaker visits campus to speak; teach in classes 

As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approached, North Central hosted public events to commemorate the occasion. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and a well-known Lutheran/Pentecostal theologian, presented in several classes Monday, Oct. 23 through Wednesday, Oct. 25 as well as speaking in chapel those three days.

Kärkkäinen also lectured on the doctrine of justification at a 7p.m. public event on Monday; Tuesday evening brought a panel discussion by the Catholic/Evangelical Dialogue also open to the public. 

Allen Tennison, professor of theology at North Central, said the word “commemorate” was chosen when promoting this event as it acknowledges the fact that the Reformation was monumental in affecting church history, but all aspects of it are not necessarily worth celebrating. 

“We certainly use the word celebrate, which implies the Reformation was a good thing, but that doesn’t always mean everything in the Reformation was a good thing,” Tennison said. “The word commemorate becomes important because we want to recognize that something happened that shaped world history.” 

Discussions about how North Central should commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation began about three years ago according to Tennison. During those three years, many changes have happened at the university but the plans for these events were still on the table. Tennison received permission from North Central to see if Kärkkäinen was free to speak on campus. Because of the work Kärkkäinen does in international ecumenical circles, Tennison said he could not think of a better individual to speak at the events North Central was putting together. 

“Kärkkäinen is a voice that speaks for a lot of Christians but also knows how to communicate to Christians of various traditions. There is something about him that is somewhat diplomatic as well.” 

In his lecture on justification, Kärkkäinen acknowledged the presence of much intra-Christian diversity on topics of doctrine. He finds his work and research important so that ecumenical convergence can be found; however, he does not see the doctrinal diversity among Christians as a problem that needs fixing. 

Kärkkäinen gleans from Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist traditions in his speaking and writing. He also uses Pentecostal and Charismatic resources. Kärkkäinen noted there are many areas where doctrinal understanding about the relationship between faith and good works are pointing in the same direction; both parties agree that faith without works is dead and that salvation comes by faith. 

“Linking faith and deeds tightly together helps correct the liability of Protestant theology,” Kärkkäinen said. 

On Tuesday evening, Kärkkäinen facilitated a panel discussion between four representatives of the Catholic/Evangelical dialogue; Glen Menzies, Bonn Clayton, William Stevenson, and Christian Washurn. The panel members answered questions from Kärkkäinen about unity among believers and interdenominational conversations. 

“Having the conversation before engaging in the argument is always extremely clarifying,” Washburn said. 

About the author: Kathryn Hoffland

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