This past Wednesday through Friday, I attended the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, which is the world’s largest gathering of evangelical Christian theologians and Bible scholars. As always, I could attend only a small percentage of the hundreds of presentations at the conference. I have summarized insights from a few presentations below.

Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research presented an update of ABR’s ongoing excavation of Khirbet el-Maqatir, which he has argued convincingly is the biblical city of Ai. The most important recent find at this site was a scarab which, according to Wood’s analysis, can be dated specifically to the period immediately before the biblical date of Joshua’s conquest of the city (1405 B.C.). This find was ranked by Christianity Today as biblical archeology’s most significant discovery of 2013. ABR is looking for volunteers for their 2015 dig at Khirbet el-Maqatir.

Daniel Lanz, who is a doctoral student at Wheaton and a personal friend, presented a paper in which he gave a technical explanation of the geographical references in Deuteronomy 11:30. Essentially, he was responding to a common viewpoint among theologically liberal scholars that this verse mistakenly locates Mounts Ebal and Gerizim by the Jordan, near Jericho. An outline of his paper is posted online here.

John R. Rice was one of the most well-known fundamentalist church leaders of the twentieth century. Matthew Lyon, who is a doctoral student at Southern Baptist Seminary, presented a paper on John R. Rice’s view of women. He argued that Rice held a much more reasoned position on the issue than what his opponents have portrayed him as holding. Rice argued that wives should be in subjection to their husbands, and that they should not be preachers or teachers in the church, although men and women are equal before God—a position not unlike that held by many conservative evangelical Christians today. What made Rice a lightning rod for criticism was his penchant for stating his views in strong and sometimes provocative language.

On Thursday, I attended a breakfast for alumni of Dallas Theological Seminary in which President Mark Bailey gave a report on how the school has done in the past year. Essentially, enrollment is steady and there have been some big construction projects started. The school is doing well financially. Bailey did not make reference to any of the theological controversies at the school. (Note: There are not just theological controversies at DTS—most evangelical seminaries are dealing with the same trends in scholarship and the same tensions with traditional scholarship.)

Daniel Janosik of Southern Evangelical Seminary presented research which shows how the repression of Christians in Islamic countries today is no different than the way Christians were historically treated under Islamic rule. The only period in the history of Islam in which Christians were treated well was the colonial period, during which European powers forced a greater toleration of Christians by the Muslim majority. Janosik’s paper is posted on his website.

Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis presented a paper in which he argued that the Bible does not allow for millions of years of death and suffering before the fall of man. One interesting point he made was that the Old Testament only uses the word “death” for plant life once, in a poetic speech in Job. Plants do not have consciousness, and therefore are really only complex machines. In response to a question from the audience, Terry stated that he does not know of any credible contemporary creationist who argues that the second law of thermodynamics was not in operation prior to the fall. He said that digestion of food is an application of the second law of thermodynamics, but digestion is not a moral evil. Another questioner asked whether Adam could have stubbed his toe and felt pain before the fall. Terry said he knows a 17 year old girl who was born without the ability to feel pain, and it has created great problems in her life. She cannot, for example, sense that she should take her hand off of a hot stove, because burning skin does not cause her pain. Terry’s point was that pain can be a good thing; it is a sense that makes us aware of our surroundings and keeps us from seriously injuring ourselves. Terry also pointed out that the curse of Genesis 3:16 promised to greatly increase a woman’s pain in childbirth, implying that childbirth would have been painful in a limited way even before the fall. Pain that is too great or too persistent could not exist in a world in which everything was “very good” (Gen 1:31), but limited pain would have been part of the prelapsarian world. An earlier version of Terry’s paper can be read online here.

Although this was not part of the conference, Ken Ham refers in a blog post to a recent article in a scientific journal that presents new neurological research which indicates that true atheism is psychologically impossible. If this is right, then people who claim to be atheists are attempting to suppress an innate belief in God that they can never actually destroy. (I do think that everyone has an innate knowledge of God, but there is a question as to the extent to which someone can ignore or suppress this knowledge; see, for example, Psalms 10:4; 14:1; 53:1.)

It was also great to meet with dozens of friends, old and new, at the conference. Looking forward to next year’s meeting in Atlanta!