The Caffeinated Thoughts Briefing, a Christian worldview conference for students and adults on October 15, 2016, in Johnston, IA, featured an impressive line-up of speakers and panelists.
“The conference speakers sounded a clarion call to the church not to retreat, but to stand firm in their public witness as Western culture grows increasingly hostile to God’s truth and Christ’s lordship over every area of life,” said Mark Van Der Molen, an attorney and URCNA elder from DeMotte, IN, who attended the event.
The Briefing format allowed a half-hour for each speech, followed by a 30-minute panel discussion on that subject. Shane Vander Hart, founder and editor of the Caffeinated Thoughts website/blog and co-host of the Caffeinated Thoughts radio program, explained how panel dialogue augmented the lectures. “We were able to drill down a little more on the topics covered, and it allowed attendees to interact with the speakers.”
The conference began with Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesperson for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, describing “A Christian Worldview.” The subsequent Worldview panel consisted of Dr. Beisner and Rev. Mike Ericson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church, which meets for worship at the Johnston Lions Club building where the conference was held.
Mike Ahmed spoke about “Responding to Islam” and participated in the follow-up discussion. Ahmad, who was an acquaintance of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, narrowly escaped death when he declined an invitation to the military parade at which Islamic fundamentalist officers assassinated the president. Among those in close proximity to Sadat during the assassination, 38 were wounded and 11 killed. That experience led Ahmed to question his Muslim faith. After moving to the United States, he converted to Christianity and has helped pastor churches in North Dakota and Iowa. He often visits Cairo, where he assists with planting churches in Egyptian homes.
Sue Thayer addressed “A Culture of Life” from her unique perspective as someone who managed a Planned Parenthood clinic for nearly 18 years. She is founder of Cornerstone for Life Pregnancy Resource Center and a lead strategist for Iowa Right to Life. For the past 26 years, she has parented over 130 foster children. Others who participated in the related panel included Jennifer Bowen and Tim Overlin. Bowen is CEO of Iowa Right to Life and serves on the board of directors for And Then There Were None, a national ministry that assists anyone desiring to leave the abortion industry. Overlin is the Executive Director for Personhood IOWA and speaks about bringing the church back to life.
Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, discussed “Responding to the LGBTQ Agenda.” He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and co-author of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Gagnon’s articles have appeared in various scholarly journals and theological dictionaries. He also has been quoted in or written for many popular magazines and news outlets.
“Dr. Robert Gagnon powerfully demonstrated that the LGBTQ movement’s inversion of moral authority is not simply some culture war issue ‘out there,’” Mark Van Der Molen said, “but the Truth of the Word and the church’s very confession of the lordship of Christ are at stake.”
Joining Dr. Gagnon as panel participants were Dr. Nathan Oppman and Kelvey Vander Hart. Dr. Oppman serves on staff of The FAMiLY Leader, a public policy organization located in Urbandale, IA, which seeks to strengthen families by inspiring Christ-like leadership in home, church, and government. He previously worked for the Family Research Council and the South Carolinians for Responsible Government Foundation. Kelvey Vander Hart is a social work major at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, MO, and a contributor to Caffeinated Thoughts and Hypeline.org. She has served as a student ministries intern and ministry leader at Grace Church in Des Moines, IA.
The final Briefing lecture featured Shane Vander Hart, speaking on “Our Religious Liberty.” He has served as dean of students for a Christian school and spent 20 years in youth ministry. He frequently speaks and writes about politics and policies and owns 4:15 Communications, a social media and communications consulting firm. The Religious Liberty panel also included Rev. Michael Demastus, pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, who has been active in the culture war and is often quoted on current and political issues in local and national publications.
Brian Myers, senior contributor at Caffeinated Thoughts and co-host of its radio program, organized this year’s event and served as emcee.
“I was pleased with the conference in terms of the incredible amount of information that was presented on some crucial subjects,” he said. “We always have a ‘content rich’ event, and our goal is that the attendees leave having learned a lot. This year’s event was exceptional in that regard.”
About 70 people attended the Caffeinated Briefing. Early registration was $20, while students paid only $15. Late registrants and walk-ins paid $30. Primary funding of the conference comes through a sponsorship program. Donors at different levels receive a variety of perks, including conference tickets, booth space, as well as website, brochure and/or radio advertising.
Caffeinated Thoughts was founded in 2006, and the first Briefing was held in 2014. Last year’s event focused on politics and featured three presidential candidates. While topics vary from year to year, the goal remains the same.
“Our goal has always been to provide those who attend with relevant information about issues that concern our readers and listeners,” Vander Hart said. “I think each year we’ve accomplished that.”
Caffeinated Thoughts addresses culture, current events, faith and politics with news articles, news analysis and opinion pieces written from a Christian and conservative point of view.
Caffeinated Thoughts Radio airs on The Truth Network, KTIA 99.3 FM in Des Moines, on Saturdays at 8 AM and 6 PM (Central). Broadcasts can be live streamed from thetruthnetwork.com or accessed from iTunes.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the November 30, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.