What is a Dead Thelogians Society?
Last week I received an email from Bob Trube, InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (GFM) Director, Ohio Valley. He shared with me Ohio State University’s Dead Theologians Society Reading List. What’s the inspiration? He “shamelessly stole the name and idea from Robbie Castleman, who led a group under this name when she was on GFM staff in Florida.”*
The Dead Theologians Society, or Delta Theta Sigma (DTS), started in the fall of 1990, on the campus of Florida State University, when some InterVarsity Christian Fellowship students began meeting weekly to discuss what they had each learned from reading Oswald Chambers’s devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest.
Dead Poets Society was then a recent movie, and the students agreed that a Dead Theologians Society was needed to promote the serious discussion of some of the best in Christian literature.
To promote the Society, the Greek acronym Delta Theta Sigma was adopted for the designation of the Dead Theologians Society.
Since that time, this idea of “discipleship through the Christian classics” has spread quickly, and DTS reading groups continue to develop. — The Dead Theologians Society: Pursuing Discipleship through the Christian Classics (Online resource accessed 6/10/2013). Links added for additional resourcing.
I remember hearing Robbie share about the Dead Theologians Society and that Bob had given the concept a try, but I had no idea that the group had flourished for fifteen years at OSU! Is there a Dead Theologians Society (or something similar) on your campus? If so, please let us know about it. We’re very interested in your structure, how you get the word out/encourage participation, what you (and others) have gained/learned from it, and your reading list (Note: doesn’t have to be as comprehensive as OSU’s Dead Theologians Society Reading List, a sampling is fine).
Interested in starting a Dead Theologians Society on your campus?
How It Works
The Dead Theologians Society offers an enjoyable opportunity to learn from those whose writings have stood the test of time.
Two “traditions” which have developed as a part of the Society are:
- During the discussion hour, no one may quote a living person.
- If a living theologian dies during the course of the discussion series, a “toast” is held in his or her honor, issuing a welcome to the Society with favorite quotations from all attendees.
Running a Dead Theologians Society series is quite simple. After an introductory week in which to discuss an overview of aims and to choose (or announce) the first reading, two questions form the basis for each subsequent discussion:
- What is your overall impression of the reading for today
- What stands out in a particular section that found helpful, questionable, or challenging?
— The Dead Theologians Society: Pursuing Discipleship through the Christian Classics (Online resource accessed 6/10/2013).
Logistics from a recent OSU email:
1. Our name comes from the fact that we read books that have outlived their authors. We interpret the theologian part broadly enough to include poets like George Herbert, novelists like Flannery O’Connor or Charles Williams as well as those who might more definitely fall under the “theologian” category such as Augustine or Calvin.
2. The group is comprised of grad students, staff, and faculty and one or two community friends. One of the aims is that through our discussions we might better bring the mind of Christ into our research or work.
3. We generally read a book (or two if they are shorter works) a semester, meeting weekly on Wednesday mornings at 7:45 am for an hour at Panera. We select the book as a group the previous term and I put together a reading schedule–generally 15-30 pages a week, depending on the book — we all read lots of other stuff so we try not to make this too onerous! Our first session of the term is always an introduction to the current Dead Theologian placing the work we are reading in the context of his life.
4. We are currently reading A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God which is available for free in a number of e-formats.
What a joy to be a part of such a community of learning as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA! If you have unique offerings on your campus to share with other Emerging Scholars, please email me. Thank-you. To God be the glory!
*Robbie Castleman (D.Min., University of Dubuque) is currently professor of biblical studies and theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR. She is also the author of several InterVarsity Press books.