By Will Kynes and Josh Leim
Assistant Professors, Theology
The Overflow Program began as a response to a spring 2015 request from students who wanted to hear their theology professors' thoughts about controversial issues on campus. At the first meeting, the majority of the department faculty gathered with students to discuss the challenges of living as a Christian in a secular society. Students primarily listened as faculty members enjoyed a rare opportunity to debate ideas. As the meetings continued that semester and throughout the 2015-16 school year, the faculty shared with students the tasks of choosing topics and leading discussions. Now, five students form a leadership team with the two of us, to plan future meetings. Emily Larsen, '17, was attracted to the group's focus. "I also like that Overflow reaches beyond the theology department and offers the entire Whitworth community the unique opportunity and space to wrestle with hard issues through faith," she says. Carter Hudson, '18, another student leader, adds, "I think it provides a place for students to engage with one another and with professors in a unique context — a setting in which disagreement and critical dialogue are welcomed and encouraged as we consider what it means to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity."
At Overflow meetings, a professor — sometimes from theology, often from another discipline — begins the discussion with a 10- to 15-minute introduction to the issue; student-leaders then provide questions for students to discuss in small groups; next, the large group reconvenes to work through that issue. The discussion incorporates input from various angles: from the professor who starts things off, from the students, and from other professors who attend. A wide range of majors join to discuss topics ranging from evangelism to political engagement to environmentalism. Upcoming meetings will address the gospel and race, and mental health and Christian discipleship. In the spring, three-time MLB World Series champion relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt will speak on the theology of sports.
Both of us have high hopes for Overflow's future. Hudson invites students from other disciplines to bring their perspectives to the questions the group tackles. Larsen says, "My hope is that this event will continue for many years, providing relevant topics for students to discuss and exploring how theology and faith form their conclusions."