I have a long history of trying to go to the Evangelical Theological Society’s national conference. My first attempt was in 2010 when it was the much hyped showdown between N. T. Wright and John Piper in Atlanta. I was in my last year in Dallas and it was just too close to Thanksgiving to drive to Atlanta, and then have Ali get a plane ticket to meet there before we went to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. I guess it worked out since Piper ended up taking a sabbatical for most of the year so Tom Schreiner pinch hit. The resulting articles on justification in JETS the following spring were very helpful and I’ve shown how they can be harmonized here.
The next year, the meeting was in San Francisco and we had just moved to Florida so funds were pretty tight. I actually had to back out of playing in a friend’s wedding in Vermont, which I still regret. The following year, I had a paper accepted, but once again, couldn’t really afford to make the trip to Milwaukee to present. It was unfortunate on many levels, one of which I just noticed, namely, that John Warwick Montgomery was presenting after me. The following year, the meeting was in Baltimore but I was both burned out on scholarly pursuits and so not interested in making the trip even though I could have stayed with extended family in Maryland most likely (and did so back in the summer).
Ironically, it was not long after this that I ended up applying and getting accepted to the Ph.D program at SBTS and so made the trip to the regional ETS in Birmingham in March and presented a paper. While I had hoped to also go to the national conference, it moved back to the West Coast (San Diego, specifically) and lacking a network and school that would pay some of the expenses, it just wasn’t worth it to make the trip. I did though mention what I would have done had I been there.
This time around, I had been planning to go all fall. While I could have actually afforded it this year, I ultimately decided not to go and here’s why.
Financials are always an issue if all of your expenses are out of pocket. Even with the conference within driving distance and gas prices being reasonable, it still means time off work and potentially hotel accommodations. I actually had a potential place to stay, but it was north of Atlanta, so extra driving would have been required, plus probably parking, and meals, and well, you get the idea. This is coupled with the event being the week before Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season which is already a higher time of spending. It just didn’t seem wise to spend the money, and at the end of the day, I decided I didn’t want to anyway.
At the end of the day, I had to decide if I wanted to go and why. On the one hand, I do want to go, but it is primarily to meet people. In that sense, while it is an academic conference, I’d primarily be going for networking reasons. Since I didn’t submit a paper proposal in time, I’m not presenting a paper. While there are no doubt papers I’d like to hear, I could probably contact the authors and ask for a PDF. For the most part then, this would be a social trip, and since I didn’t do my homework and setup any meetups, it was going to be very hit or miss whether or not I found the time there fruitful.
On the other hand, I’ve been establishing some pretty good routines this fall and am starting to form a plan for Ph.D preparation. While taking a few days to go to Atlanta might not seem like a big deal, it required finding subs for two full days of classes (that’s 13 periods, for 5 different classes). For many of those, it is more work on my end to arrange for a sub to be there than there is for me to just teach the class. It would also mean giving up a week of teaching private music lessons, which is an additional income loss. Also, all of my students are off next week for Thanksgiving, so that’d be back to back weeks off. My parents are coming in town Friday and so my routine is off anyway for next week and going to ETS would have made two weeks.
I think because I hadn’t planned ahead well financially or socially, it just didn’t make sense to make the effort to get to Atlanta this year. In some ways, I think I might regret not going more than going, but that’s really hard to estimate. I regret not going when I had an actual paper to present, but I also don’t know what that would have done to our financial situation at that time since I really wasn’t earning enough money to warrant an expense like that.
It was also worth considering that right now I’m somewhat on the periphery when it comes to evangelical scholarship. I think if I spent more time this coming year actively participating, working on potential journal articles and presenting a paper at the regional conference, going to the national conference next year makes more sense. As it stands, I’m kind of an outlier, something I also felt like at TGC earlier this year. For that conference, it was good to meet up with people, but I also had basically no expenses because it was local and I was already off classes because of testing week. Had it cost me $500 or more dollars, it would have felt like a rip-off. In that light, I probably won’t ever make it to TGC again since to me, it’s not worth travel expenses.
For now, I’m going to start making connections earlier, plan a little better financially, and start contributing to the exchange of ideas and hopefully I’ll see you all in San Antonio next year!