2011 Ministry Report

This has been an exciting and productive year for the Hill Country Institute and our Vibrant Dance of Faith & Science Initiative. We were blessed to continue to bring Christian leaders together for gracious dialogue, to further develop our network of thought leaders, to substantially increase our online resources, and to grow in our capacities and interaction as a team.

What is the Hill Country Institute?

The initial work of the Hill Country Institute was centered around C.S. Lewis and his writings. We began organizing C.S. Lewis Conferences in 2001 and followed those with conferences on spiritual formation, faith and art, faith and science, and other matters of interest to Christians.

C.S. Lewis was an exemplar in expressing Christian thought effectively. There was much insight and depth in what he wrote. "Mere Christian" — what does that mean? What does it say about us as Christians? Orthodoxy, unity, humility, sharing the love of Christ, washing each other’s feet, reflectively taking every thought captive — these ideas shaped the core values of Hill Country Institute and were the basis for planning our first events. In that first conference in 2001, and in each event we've hosted since, we've had Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, and more, united around a common cause: "Mere Christianity."

Now, ten years since that first event, our hope grows as we continue to work to expand that unifying and equipping effort in new and creative ways.

We envision the Body of Christ equipped for fully living the faith, orthodox in belief, engaging in gracious discussions with mutual respect over issues of difference and impacting the culture with the love of Christ.

Our mission is to bring together Christian leaders for thought provoking discussions in order to facilitate unity in the Body of Christ, equipping of the saints, active and relevant cultural engagement, and effective witness in our individual spheres of influence. Barriers to communication and mutual respect are barriers to good fellowship and to our witness before a watching world. In their writings, both Richard Baxter and C.S Lewis called for a ‘mere Christianity’ that transcends our denominational or individual views, yet remains true to Christian orthodoxy, which is well summarized in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. We echo their words today and devote ourselves to this vision.

Gracious dialogue, with mutual respect, is essential. We have been blessed with many relationships and the opportunity to provide safe places for conversations. Scholarly discussions among orthodox Christians, allowing for disagreement, yet gracious and accessible, building resources for the Body of Christ — this is our ongoing hope, dream, and goal.



The Year 2011

The Big Event

In the beginning . . . There has been more spilled ink and words exchanged over this scripture probably more than any other. The last weekend of October, 2011, we presented Creation: Biblical Options, A Gracious Dialogue, also known as The Vibrant Dance of Faith & Science: Theology Edition. A panel of six leading scholar/theologians, moderated by another leading scholar/theologian, explained their interpretation and hermeneutics of the creation narrative in Genesis. Plenary presentations were followed by breakout sessions and panel discussions interspersed with worship and artistic interludes. The dialogue was lively but also scholarly and gracious.

Craig Blaising, Provost and Executive Vice President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave the opening address in which he discussed the history of interpretation of the creation narrative and asked all participants in the conference to interact with graciousness toward one another.

Young earth theologians Todd Beall (Capital Bible Seminary) and Ligon Duncan (Reformed Seminary) presented their views on why a literal reading of the creation narrative is both supported by the text and by historic understanding of theologians.  John Mark Reynolds (Biola University), a philosopher, presented his views on textual analysis and support for his understanding of the text.  Joel Heck of Concordia University Texas also presented a Young Earth view in a breakout session.

Walter Kaiser discussed views of Genesis 1 and 2 as either one or two creation narratives and during the course of the conference gave support for a day age, or progressive creation, view.

Bruce Waltke (Knox Theological Seminary) advocated a reading of Genesis which takes into account the literary character of the text and the culture of the time. He emphasized the theological implications of the text, rather than scientific concordance. His view would allow for scientists to determine the age of the earth, as he believes the days are not meant to be literal, either as 24-hour days or as periods of time. However, if science leads to that understanding, he explained, it would not violate the meaning of the text, as the text does not address the age of the earth.

John Walton (Wheaton College) presented his view of the creation narrative not presenting science, whether literal days or days as periods of time. In his interpretative model, the text does not represent scientific concordism, and creation is ultimately leading to God to dwelling in His temple, the temple of His creation, and for all creation to worship him there.

In panel discussions, the scholar/theologians reviewed the strengths and tensions of their positions. All interpretative models were given well-reasoned, scholarly support. There were also many points of agreement among all the speakers, such as the Biblical view that our God is the one God who is clearly the creator of all that was, is, and ever will be. As we hoped, following all the presentations and discussions, all of the speakers agreed the variations on the interpretation of the creation narrative are not salvation issues or barriers to fellowship, we should work together as fellow followers of Jesus Christ, and the strains caused by differences in this area should be overcome.

In panel discussions, the scholar/theologians reviewed the strengths and tensions of their positions. All interpretative models were given well-reasoned, scholarly support. There were also many points of agreement among all the speakers, such as the Biblical view that our God is the one God who is clearly the creator of all that was, is, and ever will be. As we hoped, following all the presentations and discussions, all of the speakers agreed the variations on the interpretation of the creation narrative are not salvation issues or barriers to fellowship, we should work together as fellow followers of Jesus Christ, and the strains caused by differences in this area should be overcome.

We invite you to listen to these discussions in full-length audio and video recordings in our online resource library. All plenary sessions, breakout sessions and panel discussions are available.

We value worship and artistic expression as part of the conference experience and were very blessed to have the worship team of Sugar Creek Baptist Church, our host, lead inspiring worship, with a backdrop of images and video capturing the awesomeness of the work of our Creator. Worship dance interwoven throughout the conference featured Sandra Organ of Earthen Vessels Dance Company and the Ad Deum Dance Company, led by Randall Flinn, Founder and Artistic Director. The combination of music exalting the Lord and beautifully planned and executed choreography added profound depth to worship.

We invite you to listen to these discussions in full-length audio and video recordings in our online resource library. All plenary sessions, breakout sessions and panel discussions are available.

We were greatly encouraged by the Senior Pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church, Mark Hartman. We met Pastor Mark at our first Vibrant Dance event in 2010 when he attended as a delegate along with another pastor from Sugar Creek and one of their Deacons. At that time, he warmly blessed our work, noted how important gracious dialogue is for the church, and expressed his desire to host the 2011 conference at Sugar Creek. Pastor Mark and his staff were incredible hosts, going out of their way to serve us and ensure that every aspect of the event went well.

Those in attendance included pastors, ministry leaders, those interested in theological and scientific questions, and many students at seminaries and other institutions preparing Christian leaders. It was an important part of the strategic plan, and a high value for the initiative and this conference in particular, to make it affordable and readily accessible for students who will be future leaders of the church.

In our desire to build coalitions around the ‘mere Christian’ theme, we work to gather different groups with similar interests together so that we benefit from each other’s core strengths and unique capacity to focus on the needs of the Body of Christ. For the 2011 event, our co-sponsors included Christianity Today International, the College of Biblical Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Houston Graduate School of Theology, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The comments were overwhelmingly positive. Many attendees found this was an opportunity to hear a different view on the creation narrative than they had been taught before, due to the nature of the event and the safe place for interaction. Sample comments:

Thought the variety of perspectives was excellent, and the speakers were obviously world-class. Conference would not have been as good w/o any of them, and the variety and defenses. • Strengths and tensions excellent! Implications for core Christian doctrines, excellent! • Craig Blaising did a magnificent job as moderator. He made sure almost every relevant question was clearly asked and considered. • Loved music AND dance, wonderful! Loved the variety of songs and musical styles. Loved and felt the presence of God.

The Rest of the Vibrant Dance Iceberg

The conferences and other events are visible manifestations of our efforts, but the work of preparation, interacting with advisers and speakers, fund raising, and networking in general goes on constantly. You might think of an iceberg-around 7/8 is below the surface of the water, and only a relatively small portion, or the tip of the iceberg, is above the surface. Our conferences are part of an ongoing process, rather than isolated occurrences. Our meetings this year included trips to Baylor, Bryan, Calvin, Houston Baptist, Rice, and Wheaton colleges and universities; seminaries in California, Texas, Michigan, Maryland, and the southeast, and time with many pastors and other leaders of Christian organizations, particularly in the Houston area. We went from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC, Mississippi to California, and Houston to The Woodlands and Waco. Scholars of science, theology, philosophy, and other disciplines, as well as pastors and ministry leaders, gave us their input on the needs of the Body of Christ in the ongoing discussions regarding faith and science, both amongst Christians and as we relate to the society at large. Many times, leaders have expressed their concern regarding a key issue for Christians: how do we cross barriers and encourage mutual respect and fellowship among orthodox Christians in areas of disagreement. No area of thought seems more critical than faith and science. Think of all the issues which this topic touches, including:

• interpretation of the creation passages in Genesis and their impact on the rest of scripture; • the historicity of Adam and Eve and the impact on our understanding of the fall and redemption, as well as the unfolding of human life; • how we prepare students for college years and prevailing anti-supernaturalism in the culture; • how we wade through rhetoric to let science interact with faith without a “warfare” mode; • what does it mean to be made in the image of God and how does that relate to the question of mind and brain; • how do we encourage young Christians to pursue careers in science; • how do we encourage Christians who are scientists in their careers

So our effort in the Vibrant Dance Initiative is to bring together thought leaders to discuss these and related issues, with graciousness and humility, offering the fruits of their long term, thoughtful, scholarly reflection.

C.S. Lewis Conferences

We are in the planning stages for C.S. Lewis Conferences to be presented in Austin and nearby cities over the next 24 months. Topics under discussion include mere Christianity lived fully, ethics in the workplace, and spirituality. Updates on these plans will be communicated as they are developed.

Team Building

Over the past eighteen months, we have seen our team make substantial strides in developing operating systems, building web based resources, furthering our conference management capabilities, and building the foundation for future growth. It is not a coincidence that Melanie Devereaux joined us a Director of Operations in May of 2010, about 18months ago. Melanie has extensive experience as a missionary in Asia, working on church staff, and jobs in private enterprise. She has been a great addition to our staff, and we are blessed by her major contributions. Dan Heinze, who is co-director of the Vibrant Dance of Faith & Science Initiative, has been active in conceptualizing the vision of the Initiative and the way in which each event will contribute to the overall vision, traveling and meeting with speakers and leaders, and giving leadership and guidance to the Hill Country Institute’s vision, mission, and execution. Dan has also been a featured speaker in many settings on topics including faith and science and apologetics.

We continue to rely heavily on volunteers for the events we host. There are numerous people in several cities who have helped us in many ways over the years. As we continue to build, we will remain committed to inviting people to join in the joy of working together for this common purpose of unifying, equipping and strengthening the Body of Christ.

Online Resource Library

An ongoing service the Institute provides is sharing resources such as recordings of presentations from the conferences, book recommendations, links to publications by writers with related topics to the faith and culture work, and other materials. We currently have over 200 items in our library, some of which are available at no cost and others available for purchase. Streaming audio and video recordings are available with unlimited access. MP3/MP4 downloads, CDs and DVDs are available for purchase. In 2012 we plan to develop the resource library even more and to make the content available accessible in unique and creative ways.

As 2011 comes to a close, our team is in awe of all that God has done, and we look forward to seeing what He is going to do in 2012 as we devote ourselves to following Him and partnering with Him to build His kingdom here on Earth.

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