JACKSON, Tenn. – April 8, 2003 – The R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University hosted it inaugural conference themed “The Power and the Promise of the Word” April 3-5. Featured speakers for the conference included Daniel I. Block, Robert Smith Jr., Grant R. Osborne and Sanders Lane Willson.
During remarks at the conference’s opening banquet, Ryan Center director Ray Van Neste explained the center’s mission in terms of the Reformation. At that time, “people returned to the word of God and found the power of God to do the work of God. Our heart in the Center is that we might be a small part of God’s instrument to see Him do it again,” he said.
According to George Guthrie, senior fellow in the Center for Biblical Studies and Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University, “the Ryan center exists to promote thoughtful and disciplined reading, study, interpretation and application of the Bible.”
Guthrie began developing the idea for the center more than 10 years ago and worked to bring it into being because of a passion for biblical literacy in the church. “The health of the church is dependant on the church’s orientation to the word of God,” he said.
Willson, senior minister at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, spoke on “The Divine Power of Christian Preaching.” He said he is disappointed by the lack of distinct Christian teaching in sermons he hears on radio and television. He encouraged ministers to work harder at presenting scriptural messages. “To mine the jewels of God’s word takes time,” he said. “In the end, it is worth it.”
According to Willson, ministers must provide an example of teaching built on the context and structure of the scriptures. “You are not only teaching a truth,” he said. “You are teaching a method of discerning truth.”
Block, associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sought to persuade both ministers and the laity to begin with the scriptures rather than prepared materials. “There is no substitute for doing your own work,” he said. “By doing this, we learn more than reading four commentaries.” According to Block, “This not just an academic exercise; this is a divine command.”
Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School, spoke to both the conference attendees and the students and faculty in Union’s chapel. He admonished his listeners to be sure of the text before seeking to teach it. “Before we can say ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ we need to know what saith the Lord,” he said.
Smith said the scriptures provide testimony to God’s sovereignty in the universe, and that God still is still demonstrating that sovereignty today. “God steps into our history and does something that expresses who He really is,” Smith said.
According to Osborne, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, “The church has never been more popular, but it’s never had less effect on society.” He agreed with the other speakers that a lack of biblical understanding is the root of the problem. “I am scared to death for the church because I see the bible being marginalized,” he said. Osborne hoped the conference would help change that. “I’m trying to motivate you to go and talk about these things to the people in your churches,” he said.
Conference attendees were pleased with the teaching. Jim Weaver, director of Kregel Publication's Academic Publishing, said it had been both “intellectually enriching and spiritually nourishing.”
The Center’s library, located in Jennings Hall on Union’s Jackson campus, houses quality reference tools including commentaries, language resources, encyclopedias and software and is available for use by students, pastors and Bible study leaders.
For more information on the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies, its library or events, contact Ray Van Neste at (731) 661-5532 or visit www.uu.edu/centers/biblical.