This semester, theological conversations between students and faculty took place outside of the classroom as part of the Overflow theology project. The discussion series, which culminated April 27 after two preceding meetings, covers topics which are seen as too broad or too difficult to tackle in most classes but are still relevant for students to understand and talk about. The series was first conceptualized last December when theology professors determined that students wanted them to be more involved in discussions on campus, said theology professor Will Kynes, who has been heavily involved with Overflow.
Senior Heidi Biermann has been integral to the success of the series. Although she is a political science major and only a theology minor, she feels the professors in the department deserve to be listened to about different issues that impact Whitworth students daily.
“When people have questions about different issues and current issues, the theology department isn’t where they tend to look for guidance and information and we wanted to change that,” Biermann said.
“The truth is we all love doing that kind of thing,” Kynes said. “We all love interacting with students, we all believe that theology shouldn’t be restricted to the classroom, that theology affects all of life.”
The first discussion dealt with the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian in a secular world?” Professor-led, the meeting was attended by 12 students and featured six professors from the theology department.
After the success of the first discussion meeting, the faculty decided that the following discussions should be student-led, with professors acting more like guiding moderators than lecturers. Biermann and fellow theology minor senior Kevin Glover were asked to take charge and facilitate conversation in future meetings.
Attendance continued to grow during the following to meetings, which discussed the questions, “What does it mean to be a Christian university?” and “Do I have to sell everything? When is a Christian radical enough?”
Ideas for discussion topics were discussed by theology faculty and student leaders Biermann and Glover, collected from other students in the department, and generated by Overflow attendees. Because of the wide variety of students from differing majors and professors from departments other than theology, the ideas discussed were diverse and applicable to many students.
Reactions to the series has been positive and the department plans to continue and expand Overflow meetings next fall.
“Students were definitely piping up, sharing their opinions, sharing their ideas,” Biermann said, about student participation in the discussions.
Next year, the department plans to discuss some possibly controversial topics where students may need more guidance, such as sex and marriage, social justice and what a Christian perspective on environmental conservation might be. They also want to expand the Overflow leadership team so that students of different majors will be represented.
Overflow also offers professors the chance to converse with each other and learn more about their colleagues’ views on certain topics in order to work through them, which is a valuable thing for students to see, Kynes said.
“We think there’s a great value of us getting together, putting our heads together and thinking about how we might be called to pour into various issues that we face in life,” Kynes said.
Biermann hopes that through the Overflow series, students will see that the theology department is a place where meaningful discussions are constantly unfolding and where students can go for advice about the Christian faith.