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Alternative Christianities

April 28–29, 2017
Columbus, Ohio

The traditional Christian story suggests a steady development from Jesus to Paul to the Church “Fathers,” but over the last 150 years this story has proven false. Other Christianities less known, unknown, or previously ignored are challenging and changing our understanding of Christianity in the past and for the future. What were they like? Why were they lost? And what can we learn from texts like the Gospel of Thomas that were valued then much as Christians value the books of the New Testament today?

Photo of Celene Lillie

Celene Lillie (Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary) is the Director of the Tanho Center for a new New Testament and on the pastoral staff at Boulder First United Methodist Church in Colorado.

Photo of Robert J. Miller

Robert J. Miller (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate School) is Rosenberger Professor of Religious Studies and Christian Thought at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.

Program Details

Alternative 1: Christianity Outside the Empire

Christian tradition is more than a single story. Though it tends to represent Christianity only from inside the Roman Empire, at least one text, the Gospel of Thomas, represents a Christian experience from outside the Empire. Thomas shows little awareness of issues central to the texts that eventually became the New Testament. What is the origin and experience of this unique community in the larger picture of early Christianities?
(Miller & Lillie)
Friday evening, 7–8:30 pm

Alternative 2: Varieties of Spirituality

The 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi library proved that earliest Christianity was not really “Christianity,” at all. It was a movement filled with dozens of gospels, romances, treatises, apocalypses, and letters. Terms like heresy and gnosticism reduce and hide this rich variety of spiritual practices. How can we talk about Christianity in light of these previously unknown texts, and how do their insights speak to our world today?
Saturday, 9:30–10:30 am

Alternative 3: Wisdom-Centered Communities

Jesus was many things to his early followers. The biblical gospels portray him as messiah, miracle worker, martyr, and savior, but also as a teacher of wisdom. Most early Christian communities focused on Jesus the crucified savior, but a few developed into wisdom-seekers. The Gospel of Thomas opens a window into this fascinating alternative form of ancient Christianity.
Saturday, 11 am – noon

Saturday Lunch Option

If you plan to attend the Saturday Workshop Session(s) and would like a boxed lunch, Freedom a la Cart catering is available for $15 per box.
(Includes – choice of lunch item, chef’s seasonal side, salty snack, sweet treat).

More information online or in brochure (PDF).
Pre-order lunch online or via mail (PDF).

Alternative 4: Practices rather than Beliefs

Where did the notions of orthodoxy (“right belief”) and heresy (“wrong belief”) come from? They are not only troubling but historically inaccurate. In fact, ancient pluralism offered far more ways to discover and participate in the church than just dividing groups into believers and dissenters. What are some of those possibilities, and how can they be fostered in today’s communities?
Saturday, 1:30–2:30 pm

Discussing Alternative Christianities

A period of discussion, questions, and responses with Miller and Lillie
Saturday, 3–4 pm

First Community Church
Burkhart Center
Spiritual Searcher


First Community Church

Local Contact and Information

All events at:

First Community Church (South Campus)
1320 Cambridge Blvd.
Columbus, OH 43212

For local information, contact:

Natalia Jones
(614) 488-0681 x105


All Sessions

  • Individual Rate $75
  • Pre-registration Rate (by April 14) $60
  • Additional Family Members $50

Single Sessions

  • Friday Evening Lecture $20
  • Saturday Morning Workshop $30
  • Saturday Afternoon Workshop $30

Refunds are available until two weeks before the event if requested in writing, minus a $10 administrative fee. No refunds will be given after that date.