Conference Explores Teachings of Sermon on the Mount throughout the Centuries

A conference hosted by Wheaton College brought together leaders and members of the Christian community to discuss and explore how the Sermon on the Mount has spoken to our world throughout history and today.

On Nov. 3-5, Christian scholars gathered at Wheaton College in Illinois for “Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Classic Christian Resources for Moral Formation.” Sponsored by Wheaton’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) and Department of Biblical and Theological Studies, the conference provided an opportunity to revisit Jesus’ famous sermon in Matthew 5-7 and relate Jesus’ teachings to contemporary issues.

“In particular, we wanted to create a forum for discussion about how Matthew 5-7 have shaped the church’s ministry of forming men and women of moral character,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Greenman, one of the speakers and organizers of the event.

“Why this text? Because there is no other passage that is more central to the Bible’s teaching on the Christian moral life. In days of moral confusion, the church should look to Scripture for guidance. Where do we look? The historic Christian answer has been to look, first and foremost, to Matthew 5-7.”

The text of Matthew 5-7 also challenges today’s society. As Greenman put it, the text of Matthew 5-7 presents “many thorny issues: Is it meant to be taken literally? Is it hyperbole, not to be taken all that seriously? Can people really live this way?”

Over the three-days, participants examined the writings of past and modern thinkers on the Sermon on the Mount, such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon, and John Stott. In addition to Greenman, other speakers at the conference included Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, Robert Louis Wilken, Margaret M. Mitchell, David Lyle Jeffrey, Susan E. Schreiner, William T. Cavanaugh, Jeffrey P. Greenman, and Mark Noll.

“The conference was a great success,” said Greenman to The Christian Post. “This event was so positively received because many Christians today, including many pastors and church leaders, are feeling a need to dig deeper in the roots of the Christian tradition.”

According to Greenman, scholars have recently begun to explore and discover a “rich resource” in the teachings of the early church.

“People are finding that the early church fathers have a lot to teach us, and that their sermons or commentaries on the Bible sound very contemporary to us in our culture today,” he said.

Wheaton College hosted a conference in 2002 on the Book of Romans that resulted in a book titled “Reading Romans through the centuries: From the early church to Karl Barth.” The recent conference held a similar vision to understand how the Sermon on the Mount has been interpreted over the centuries.

As was the case for the 2002 conference, papers presented at this year’s conference will be organized into a book, to be published next year.

Tentative plans are being made for another conference in 2007.