Years ago, several leaders in our Fellowship declared it the “Golden Age of Relationship.” The Charis Fellowship had found its stride in a common mission and identity. It linked arms with a global family. It rebranded and reformatted conferences to increase access to one another.
These were good days. I almost expected a resurgence of holy kisses at our national gatherings, focus retreats, and district meetings. Indeed, we welcomed one another, played nicely in our sandbox, but thankfully kept our kissing to a minimum in this Golden Age.
But a holy discontent lingered among a few Charis pastors and leaders. We wanted venues for theological dialogue that would not disrupt the unity of the Fellowship but would strengthen us through thoughtful, irenic, and constructive conversation. We wanted biblical truth and relationship celebrated together.
Sadly, our Fellowship has had a few raw moments when theological disagreements led to division. Worse yet, our divisive age turned disagreement into a dogfight. Thus, theological dialogue poses a threat. To create such a place would take prayer, tact, and trust.
In 2018, this gracious place was conceived. Pastors Adam Copenhaver of Mabton, Wash., Jeremy Wike of Columbia City, Ind., and I began connecting with Fellowship leaders to pitch the Charis Symposium. We heard affirmation from many, but no partners emerged. The Charis Symposium remained in utero.
However, by the end of 2018, our prospects changed. We found an ally in Phil Sparling, executive director of the Fellowship. Our vision for constructive, theological dialogue aligned with one of his core initiatives. After several conversations, Phil commissioned the Charis Symposium. At the 2019 Winter Fellowship Council Meeting, he assigned us our first topic: Gender Identity.
Flash forward three years—skipping a global pandemic and extreme polarization in our country—and the Charis Symposium moves toward its second year of official service to our Fellowship. In July 2021, we hosted our first event at Access Conference. More than forty people attended as eight presenters showcased eighty pages of research. We traced gender identity through Genesis 1–3 and Romans 1.
As the Charis Symposium has gained recognition—leading sessions a Focus Retreats and district meetings—so has our network of allies, contributors, and conversation partners. This is critical for its long-term service to our Fellowship: keeping biblical truth and relationship intimately tethered. We are a hermeneutical community, using a collaborative, multi-year approach to nurture theological dialogue for each topic.
- Year One: Setting a Biblical Foundation through Exegesis
- Year Two: Providing a Theological Framework
- Year Three: Offering Practical/Pastoral Responses
By the end of every three-year process, the Charis Symposium will amass hundreds of pages of original research from Fellowship leaders for Fellowship leaders and members. Whether providing footnotes for future Position Statements, articles for a forthcoming journal, or practical advice on complex issues, the Symposium will guide us toward a Platinum Age of Theology.
Perhaps this Platinum Age has begun. Hopefully, it has. For we certainly will need a gracious place for thoughtful, theological dialogue as topic two launches this fall: Men and Women in Ministry.
Written by Pastor Tim Sprankle. Tim is a husband, father, and pastor of Leesburg Grace Church in northern Indiana. He currently serves on the Fellowship Council and and co-leads the Charis Symposium. This article was originally published in the 2021–2022 Year in Review.