2023 Fred D. Gray Plenary Speaker Dr. Willie Jennings

January 10, 2023

I am delighted to announce that Dr. Willie James Jennings will deliver the seventh annual Fred D. Gray Plenary Lecture at the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars Conference on June 9, 2023 at the Lanier Theological Library and Learning Center in Houston, TX, presented by Lipscomb University.

Dr. Jennings is currently Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University Divinity School. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dr. Jennings received his B.A. in Religion and Theological Studies from Calvin College, his M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. from Duke University.

He is the author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race published by Yale University Press, one of the most important books in theology written in the last 25 years and now a standard text read in colleges, seminaries, and universities. He is also the recipient of the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his groundbreaking work on race and Christianity.

In addition, Dr. Jennings recently authored a commentary on the Book of Acts, winning the Reference Book of the Year Award from The Academy of Parish Clergy. He is also the author of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, which won the 2020 book of the year award from Publisher’s Weekly. At present Dr. Jennings is working on a volume on the doctrine of creation, tentatively entitled, “Reframing the World.”

This plenary event is named for Attorney Fred D. Gray who earlier this year was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this nation’s most distinguished commendation. When African Americans were brutalized for challenging discrimination, with homes and property bombed and burned, facing threats, and harassment Dr. Gray was sustained by his faith and personal courage, successfully “destroying everything segregated he could find.” His legal victories established precedents and changed laws throughout the country.

It is fitting that Dr. Jennings be the seventh annual Fred D. Gray plenary speaker. A top-tier academician, Jennings is also a regular workshop leader at pastor conferences and a consultant for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, and for the Association of Theological Schools. Alongside his wife, the Reverend Joanne L. Browne Jennings, he has served as associate minister at the Mount Level Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. 

I am grateful to Dr. Joi Carr for her work in securing Dr. Jennings for Gray Plenary. Dr. Carr, a noted film scholar, a gifted interviewer, and Professor of English and Film at Pepperdine University, will be engaging Dr. Jennings in an interview format that will enhance our theme, “What Will Be Our Future?” As the title of a volume where one of her most recent published essays appears, Blessed Are Those who Ask Questions and blessed will be those who attend the CSC in 2023 at the Lanier Center in Houston!

David Fleer

CSC Director

Willie Jennings