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Acclaimed Yale professor to speak at CMU lecture and symposium

Dr. Willie James Jennings (photo: The Presbyterian Outlook) Dr. Willie James Jennings (photo: The Presbyterian Outlook)

Renowned scholar and theologian Dr. Willie James Jennings is in high demand across North America. On his schedule this month is a trip to Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), where he'll be delivering the 2023 J.J. Thiessen Lecture.

He will deliver his lecture, titled, "Gathering the pieces that remain: Weaving life together from the fragments of faith, race, and land" on Friday, October 27 at 7:00 PM in person at Marpeck Commons (2299 Grant Ave.) and via livestream.

Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He is known for his contributions on liberation theologies, cultural identities, and theological anthropology.

"He challenges the Christian reader in ways I think are really quite important," says Paul Doerksen, Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies at CMU. Jennings' writing "teaches the church a lot about how our imagination went astray and got distorted," Doerksen explains. "What I find especially edifying about his work is that even though he's pointing out severe distortions of Christian faith, which have very harmful effects, he doesn't toss it all out. He shows us a way forward that remains faithful to Christ and he does that in a way that's very challenging."

Jennings holds an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary and a PhD in religion and ethics from Duke University. He is also an ordained Baptist minister and has served as interim pastor for several congregations in North Carolina.

2023 J.J. Thiessen Lecture Poster

He has written numerous books, including The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale, 2010), which won the Award of Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Constructive-Reflective category from the American Academy of Religion in 2011 and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, the largest prize for a theological work in North America, in 2015. His recent book, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Eerdmans, 2020) examines the problems of theological education within western education.

Jennings will also participate in the closing panel at CMU's two-day symposium, "A Time of Reckoning: Telling the CMU Story," taking place alongside the lecture. CMU faculty, alumni, and church voices will reflect and dialogue on what CMU is today and where it's going in light of its mission.

"I'm looking forward to him bringing to our attention the importance of other dimensions of the world in which we find ourselves," Doerksen says. "For a university to think not only about our intellectual heritage...but also to have us turn our face towards questions of our faith and race and land, I think will alert us to things we might not even see ourselves right away.

Founded in 1978 by one of CMU's predecessor institutions, Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), the J.J. Thiessen Lectures are named in honour of a founder and long-time chairperson of the CMBC Board. The lectures seek to bring to the CMU community something of Thiessen's breadth of vision for the church.

Visit for details and to view the livestream.

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