10 Presentations You Must See

10 Presentations You Must See

Lists like this are a bit of a gimmick. “Click bait” is the term, I believe. But I’m listing them here out of a conviction that the presentations that follow are, in fact, worth your time. While other presentations surely are just as worthy of your time, these are ten that have impressed me as worth hearing here at the end of 2016 (and, no, these aren’t necessarily presentations made or posted in 2016).

Now, I struggled with even the thought of attempting to rank these, or even to put them here in any particular order. Different considerations would result in a different ordering. But I’m not ranking or ordering them in terms of importance. I feel like each is important is significant and notable ways. So, I offer you ten presentations I believe you’ll want to watch or hear.


Reflections on the Oxford Study Centre – Chelsia Van Hierdan

Reflections on Oxford Study Centre*
by Chelsia Van Hierdan

Agnosticism — that word plagued my mind like some sort of distasteful acid, unveiling my religion to be little more than a flashy masquerade. I’d never tried to end up there. In fact, my struggle against emerging doubt had been vigorous and unnerving. I felt benumbed, no longer able to maintain the facade I had constructed for so long. Maybe, just maybe, it would be easier to let the whole religion thing go?

My family, since I was young enough to comprehend the English language, had deluged us kids with theology and apologetics. Before my thirteenth birthday I’d watched Del Tackett’s The Truth Project three times over. I already had eagerly written rallying calls summoning Christians to take up arms against secular humanism and relativism. In retrospect, these tirades were agonizingly naive. And yet, they represent the enthusiastic state of my faith at that time.

As time wore on, my enthusiasm for Christian growth developed into harsh dissatisfaction. As I understood it, churches were prone to using as their foundations vague biblical abstractions, which not only resulted in insubstantial theology but also superficial relationships, neither focusing on right thinking nor right action. My own church at the time seemed a confused goulash of divergent and opposed doctrines and denominations and over time its liturgy had been replaced by a painful combination of hip Christian worship and hyper-charismatic invocations. Emotionalism was king, to the depreciation and scorn of the human intellect. After expressing my alienation to a church leader, I was rebutted with, “You need more emotion. You’re doing Christianity wrong.”

The intellectual wasteland of southern Alberta had devoured the last pint of my patience. A month after my eighteenth birthday, I packed my bags and fled for the Oxford Study Centre.



Do and Don’t: The Golden Rule and Its Negative Version

Do and Don’t: The Golden Rule and Its Negative Version

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

While at a British New Testament Conference in 2007,  I participated in a number of seminars focused on interpreting the New Testament in light of the literature of Second Temple Judaism. One presenter discussed the positive and negative formulations of the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It was noted that most often in the literature of the early church the rule appears in a negative form: “Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

Now, some have proposed that this negative form has a more limited force since it merely discourages doing harm to others rather than encouraging the doing of service for them. As such, the negative version may lend itself to a more restrictive application (e.g., “Hey, I didn’t hurt anyone!”). Also, it is conceivable that someone could use the negative form to justify inaction. However, others have proposed that the two forms imply each other. For me, while I could see the positive formulation implying the negative, the opposite is more difficult to manage.


Purpose and Meaning in Life

Purpose and Meaning in Life

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

A Summit alumnus had asked, so here are some of my thoughts regarding purpose and meaning in life. 

As I’ve reflected on this over the years, I’ve felt the modern striving for purpose and meaning somewhat self-centered, even ego-centric. It needn’t be, I don’t suppose, though it certainly tends to be. I’ve also wondered about just what biblical teaching or precedents might have a bearing on these sorts of inquiries. Here are my thoughts, at a glance.

• • •

What I’ve noticed is that often highlighted in the Bible are the patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, apostles – people in rather peculiar circumstances and particular positions. At times we read that God directly appears to or speaks to and through these individuals. I think it is rather natural to suppose that these are normal experiences . . . or, worse, that if we don’t have these kinds of experiences, then we’re not walking with God, or we’re not baptized by the Spirit, or otherwise are not attuned to hearing God’s voice.

I’ve wondered if we might not best see this as a range of mountains. Imagine that you are standing on a mountain, looking across a range of mountains. Imagine it is early morning and the midst yet remains settled in the valleys. As you gaze across the range, you see a series of peaks. You cannot see the valleys. Indeed, the valleys are not like the peaks. The peaks receive the sunshine directly, as well as the rain or the snow – whatever the precipitation. Then that precipitation runs down, from the peaks, cascading down the mountain sides and into the valleys far below, converging into streams that rush forth to the lands far beyond.

blue mountains

What if divine revelation is like that, like the precipitation that covers the peaks, that drenches them with the dew of the heavens, and then condenses into drops and streaks and trickles, then running into small channels, cascading down the mounting and coalescing into a canon of scripture that runs forth to the nations? 


Readings at Summit Oxford • Spring Term 2016

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening, perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation get to be a bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford • Hilary Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, approaching 2500 pages.

For the upcoming coming Autumn Term (September – December), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the ten volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Well, actually, several of them will be divvied up over the course of several days, with a chapter or section each day. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports/summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.



Islam, Refugees, and the Kingdom of God: A Potpourri of Thoughts

Islam, Refugees, and the Kingdom of God

A Potpourri of Thoughts

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

The world simply won’t stop spinning—more like wobbling on its axis. So much is happening right now, and so quickly, that many have retreated to the morally corrupting and mentally dulling practice of argument by meme regarding refugees. God forbid! Beyond this, there is simply a swirling torrent of very energetic and hasty opinions expressed on social media. Some seek the solace of slogans. Others establish cliques around clichés. We might suppose that it is all simply like the fog of war. I suspect it more likely is simply the heady fog of not thinking with care, of not caring to think, of failing to practice the discipline of seeking to enhance the well-being of others. Again, this is no more evident than in so many verbal ejaculations on social media. Of course, blurting and chiding, taunting and demeaning—such emissions may bring us pleasure, but they neither enhance nor reproduce life.  

Thinking about Refugees

How can we see through this fog? There is no easy answer, as if one could simply drive up, speak into a box, move forward, pay a modest fee, and get your answer in a small paper bag. Rather, I think it is a discipline, a patient discipline that we develop over years – years complete with a menagerie of missteps and mistakes and misperceptions and misconceptions. But they are years lived with friends and mentors and neighbors, listening to those who emulate the wisdom and uprightness, the charity and clarity that provide guidance through the cacophony of voices that distract us from diligence and yet vie for our allegiance. 

Below are some bullet-pointed thoughts interspersed with some resources that may help anyone interested in escaping the morass of memed opinions sloshing about online.


Jeffrey Reid on a Term with the Oxford Study Centre

Reflections on My Term at the Oxford Study Centre*

Jeffrey Reid

• • •

Oxford. Hopkins describes it as a…

Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded . . .

That is a description I love. There isn’t any place I’ve visited quite like Oxford, where history seeps from the stones while beauty blossoms on the trees.

Then there are the lovely and mundane aspects of Oxford: people turning in and out of shops, musicians busking on Cornmarket Street, and the peace and quiet at entering one’s college walls. Reflecting on this list, I am struck by how expected and unexpected pleasures are mixed throughout it. We simply cannot grasp all an experience will be before we are reflecting upon it. Unanticipated treasures are often some of the richest with which we walk away.

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Of Religions and Relationships

Not a Religion but a Relationship?

by Kevin James Bywater

It is common commonly said that “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” I see this as a false dichotomy, in essence, though, as an emphasis, it can be quite instructive. Permit me to explain.


The Religion Ditches

A while back I was speaking with a friend. He explained that many of the youth with whom he works fall into one of two ditches along their path of life (my metaphor, not his): some see Christianity as a religion in which one gains favor with God, and a place in heaven, on the basis of good works; others see Christianity as a religion in which, due to the righteousness of Jesus being imputed to us, our actions have no bearing whatsoever on our relationship with God, let alone our eternal destiny.

As we discussed these troubling missteps, it became increasingly apparent how helpful it is to see that our Christian faith indeed is a relationship with Jesus, a friendship, even a marriage.

When we see that our relationship with God is neither a works-based religion where we merit divine love, nor a license to do whatever we please, then we crave some clarity about just what it is. To my mind, it is much like other important relationships. Let us explore these for a couple of minutes.


Do Muslims, Mormons, and Christians Worship the Same God?

Do Muslims, Mormons,
and Christians Worship the Same God?

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

I would like to explore an important subject with you: the worship of God. I beg your patience as this is a longish post. The inquiry deserves careful and sustained attention. My thoughts are informed yet exploratory. So, with your permission, and with your patience, join me as we explore a very controversial subject.

Do Mormons and Christians worship the same God? How about Muslims and Christians? These questions occupy time in the minds of many just now.



Since 9-11 it has been common to hear that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, especially given that these three religions are commonly called “Abrahamic religions.” And some would add in Mormons, since Mormonism also resides in what could be termed the Abrahamic tradition.

When I ask Christians this question, most quickly answer in the negative. But a few answer in a hesitating affirmative.

What is the correct answer to this question? Or, alternatively, what if we have asked the wrong question?


Why Do I Write So Much About Mormonism?


Why Do I Write So Much about Mormonism?

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

It is no secret that I have written a good bit of material about Mormonism over the years. Some people wonder why. Some Mormons eventually ask. Permit me to explain.

This coming December will mark the 28th anniversary of my departure from the Mormon Church. More importantly, it will mark the month when I was embraced by the grace of Jesus Christ, and when I, in turn, by faith, embraced him. This might sound striking, perhaps even befuddling, or even offensive to Mormons. After all, the name of Jesus Christ is in the official name of the Mormon Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Yes, that much is true, but it also is very misleading.