The 8th annual onWORD Conference has added a new element for 2017: an art exhibit. Artists are contributing works that are related to our theme as a way for us to reflect and engage with our theme. These works of art will be available for sale through a silent auction.

Another highlight of the conference will be a first-century feast, complete with specially-sourced ancient ingredients. This is a fun opportunity for those who want to really understand and experience the culture and setting of this story.

This year’s event is centered on one of the best-known – and best – stories in history: the story of the Prodigal Son. This story, told by Jesus and recorded in Luke 15, has been described as “the Gospel in the Gospel,” and author Jill Robbins calls it “central” to the Christian imagination. We might easily believe that we know this story, but there is so much richness to explore and layers of meaning and insight. Indeed, artists continue to create films, paintings, poems, songs and books to plumb the depths of this intriguing story and its somewhat uncertain conclusion. There is much here to consider!

Among the speakers at onWORD are several people from Bethel, including poet Meg Ziprick-Rieder, Pastor Marv Ziprick and me. Among our special guests are Dr. Preston Pouteaux, a pastor from Chestermere and a frequent lecturer at CLBI, and Dr. David Gowler from Oxford College at Emory University (Atlanta, GA). Dr. Gowler has just written a new book titled The Parables after Jesus (Baker Academic, 2017), and will share some of the imaginative ways preachers and artists have understood and applied this story over the past 2,000 years.

The onWORD Conference was started in 2010; this year, the focus on the arts is clearer and stronger than ever. As mentioned, for the first time we have added an art exhibit. There is a youth category for teenage artists, and an adult category; prize money is being offered for first, second and third place in each category. Artists, please consider participating in this exhibit! Visit this page for more information and to see some of the submissions so far.

So – why explore scripture through the arts? Well, in simple terms, it’s because many times Christians view the Bible as a source of data, a collection of correct beliefs and doctrines. Since the Enlightenment – and maybe since the Reformation – the western church has focused less on story and mystery, and more on facts. It is worth remembering that a significant portion of the Bible is poetry, and much of it uses symbols and symbolic language; Jesus himself preferred enigmatic stories to simple explanations. Asking what the Bible means is noble and wise, but an experiential approach can help us know the Bible’s people and places in the first place.

Sign up for onWORD right away to take advantage of the Early-Bird rate -- just $99.99 until September 25th. (The regular price is $120.) Register at  

So join us! Let’s see what the Spirit might say to us as we engage again in fresh and fascinating ways with the Living Word!