For the past several years, I have attended the annual and some regional Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meetings where I have learned a lot and met several great scholars. I never had the chance to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which usually met about the same time and in the same city as ETS–though not this year. Because of my new and recent theological investigations I decided to go to SBL this year. I am so very glad that I did!For those of you who don’t know the difference between ETS and SBL, here’s the deal. ETS is primarily faith-based while SBL is purpose based. ETS is for scholars who believe in two basic things (1) the inerrancy of the Bible and (2) a trinitarian view of God (a later stipulation that deals with any Mormons who want to get involved). SBL exists to encourage any scholarship of the Bible or any literature relating to it. Since it is not limited to a religious view, the scholarship is wonderfully broad which offers so many scholarly views of any given biblical topic or text. Pure gold to a biblical scholar.
Why go to a conference like this? There are several reasons. One obvious reason is to learn. From Friday through Tuesday morning scholars from all over the world present papers on new findings and new theories. Some people present papers just for the sake of presenting, some really want the feedback of the other participants so they can fine-tune their ideas, some people present ideas as precursors to published essays and books. On the downside, some papers promise a lot but really aren’t worth your time. Another benefit of the conference is the books . Numerous vendors sell their books and products at a huge discount. Additionally, you’ll meet editors at these booths with whom you can discuss publishing opportunities.
Another plus is networking and running into old friends. I met several old buddies and made many new connections while looking at books, eating meals, and traveling. It was over some pasta and a few drinks that I had one of the most aggressive and serious theological discussions I’ve had in years. Each of us made very strong points…and mine were the strongest . That was probably the greatest learning experience for me on the whole trip. It was so friggin’ awesome.
That leads to another reason to go to SBL–the hosting cities. The meetings are always held at great locations:
estaurants and sights. Of course, one evening I strolled to Giordano’s to get a stuffed pizza and ate it nice and slow. Another plus is the fact that you’ll do so much walking in Chicago, it helps offset the fact that you just ate ten thousand calories.
I am so going to do SBL again. I’m hooked.