The Caffeinated Thoughts Briefing was a Christian worldview conference for students and adults that we held in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Our last briefing was held on Saturday, October 15, 2016, in Johnston, IA.
In 2016 we asked as the Church intersects with our society and culture how should Christians individually and the Church collectively respond:
- To the rise of ISIS and Islamic terrorism, including homegrown terrorism?
- To the LGBTQ agenda and those who promote it?
- To the growing threat to our religious liberty?
- To the abortion industry and the culture of death our courts continue to defend?
- To a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith and biblical truth?
The 2016 Briefing Speakers & Panelists (and Videos):
Mike Ahmed (Keynote & Panelist)
Born in 1955 as Mohammad Ahmed into a Muslim family he grew up in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt with his brother and a sister. Religiously, his family observed the month of Ramadan where Muslims are guided by the Quran to fast and magnify Allah. The children were taught to respect their elders and a high priority was placed on their education. He was taught Arabic, and like all of the students, was forced to memorize parts of the Quran.
As a young man two near death experiences caused him to begin an intensive search for God, but it was the death of a President that caused him to question his Muslim faith.
While in college Ahmed became an acquaintance of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who was a family friend. Ahmed believes God spared his life when he was prompted to not attend a military parade he was invited to where he would have been in close proximity to the President. At that parade Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalist army officers. Eleven attendees standing close to Sadat were also killed along with 38 others who were wounded.
That event challenged Ahmed to reflect on the Muslim’s world of violence over the sanctity of peace.
He moved to Van Nuys, California at the age of 28 and while there he placed his faith and trust in Jesus Christ at a Bible study he was invited to. He later received bible training and helped pastor churches in North Dakota and Iowa. He currently is a member of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, IA. He is a sought after speaker on the differences between the Muslim and Christian faiths. He is an indigenous missionary to his people in Egypt where he continues to revisit Cairo, establishing new churches in the homes of Egyptian believers.
Dr. E. Calvin Beisner (Keynote & Panelist)
Beisner, an interdisciplinary scholar specializing on the application of Biblical world view, theology, and ethics to economics, environmental stewardship, political philosophy, public policy, and apologetics, is founder and national spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The Cornwall Alliance is a network of theologians, pastors, other ministry leaders, scientists, economists, other scholars, and policy experts committed to applying Biblical principles to the twin challenges of economic development for the very poor around the world and wise Earth stewardship.
Dr. Beisner was associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary from 2000 to 2008 and of interdisciplinary studies (focusing on the application of Biblical worldview, theology, and ethics to economics, government, and public policy) at Covenant College from 1992 to 2000. He earned his B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion and Philosophy at the University of Southern California, his M.A. in Economic Ethics from International College, and his Ph.D. in Scottish History/History of Political Thought at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He has been an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, planting a new congregation for the latter and serving on its pastoral staff for three years. He and his wife Debby, an accomplished portrait painter, have seven children and six grandchildren.
Beisner has written 12 books, edited over 30, contributed to over 35, and published thousands of articles, popular and scholarly, has lectured at universities, seminaries, conferences, and churches in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and testified as an expert witness on the ethics and economics of climate change and climate and energy policy before committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, briefed the White House Council on Environmental Policy, and presented a paper to a scholarly colloquium on climate change of the Pontifical Institute for Justice and Peace at the Vatican in Rome. In 2014 the Heritage Foundation honored Dr. Beisner with the Outstanding Spokesman for Faith, Science, and Stewardship Award at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change.
Dr. Robert Gagnon (Keynote & Panelist)
Gagnon is an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and has taught there since 1994, prior to that he was a visiting professor of religion at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Gagnon earned a B.A. degree from Dartmouth College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His main fields of interest are Pauline theology and sexual issues in the Bible. He is a member both of the Society of Biblical Literature and of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas [Society of New Testament Studies]. He is also an ordained elder at a Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh.
Gagnon is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, co-author (with Dan O. Via) of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. In addition, he has published scholarly articles on biblical studies in Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Novum Testamentum, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, and Horizons in Biblical Theology.
He is also author of article-length encyclopedia entries in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, and Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. In addition, he has been quoted in, or has written for, the New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, U.S. News and World Report, Christianity Today, Christian Century, and other news outlets and popular magazines.
Sue Thayer (Keynote & Panelist)
Sue Thayer worked for nearly 18 years as the center manager of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake, Iowa. She was fired in December 2008 when webcam abortion was being introduced in every Planned Parenthood in Iowa. Sue has gone on to become a strong voice for life and has been instrumental in educating the public about the tragedy of abortion and specifically webcam abortion. Sue led Storm Lake’s first ever 40 Days for Life campaign at the very clinic she supervised for so many years. Shortly after completing the 40 day prayer vigil, the clinic closed it’s doors forever.
Thayer’s passion for children has led her to be a foster parent to over 130 children, spanning the past 26 years. Her own large family is a delightful blend of cultures, including 3 adopted children. She is a tireless advocate for children, with a special love for the unborn. Sue’s unique experiences give her a distinctive viewpoint on life issues.
Thayer is the founder of Cornerstone for Life Pregnancy Resource Center which is dedicated to saving babies and speaking truth to the abortion industry. She is also a lead strategist forIowa Right to Life.
Shane Vander Hart (Keynote & Panelist)
After attending Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL Vander Hart enjoyed a 20-year youth ministry career. During that time he has served as a youth pastor in churches in Florida, Ohio and Indiana, was the Dean of Students in a Christian school, a speaker at youth camps, and most recently served high-risk youth and juvenile offenders in Central Iowa. Vander Hart has also served as an interim pastor, and has provided pulpit supply for various churches throughout Central Iowa.
In 2012 Vander Hart started 4:15 Communications, a social media and communications consulting firm that has served numerous clients including American Principles Project and the Republican Party of Iowa.
Vander Hart also writes at Truth in American Education, a popular education policy blog, and is a contributor for The Pulse 2016. He has had editorials published with publications such as POLITICO, The Hill, Daily Caller and Fox News. He has been recognized by Campaigns & Elections Magazine as one of the top political influencers in Iowa because of his political blogging.
Jenifer Bowen (Panelist)
Jenifer Bowen has been involved with Iowa Right to Life since 2001, joining the staff in 2007. Early in 2010, she began her present tenure as the CEO. She holds a B.A. in Counseling from Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and has counseled women in crisis in both religious and secular institutions. Prior to joining Iowa Right to Life, she served as Executive Director at Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines, Iowa.
In addition to her current role, she serves on the board of directors for “And Then There Were None”, a national ministry, founded by former Planned Parenthood clinic manager Abby Johnson, which provides financial, emotional, spiritual and legal support to anyone wishing to leave the abortion industry. In the four years since forming, they’ve already assisted over 242 now or soon-to-be former workers!
Ultimately, the impact of Roe vs. Wade on her generation is never lost on Bowen, who was born just months before the landmark decision legalizing abortion in the United States. “With parents who were young teenagers at the time and living in New York State where abortion had already been deemed legal, I could have very easily been an abortion statistic,” she said. “That’s one of many reasons I fight so hard to see that all life, born and unborn, is protected.”
Micheal Demastus (Panelist)
Micheal Demastus is the pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ on the south side of Des Moines where he has served since 1998. Having sensed the call to preach since the ninth grade, the Fort is only the second church he has served, and he plans for it to be, God willing, his last. He received his ministry training at Lincoln Christian University in Illinois.
Demastus has been politically active as a pastor, has been at the forefront of the culture war individually and with his church. He has been often quoted in both local and national publications about presidential race, cultural issues and Iowa politics.
Mike Ericson (Panelist)
Rev. Mike Ericson (B.A., M.A., M.Div., Th.M.), has been in the ministry for twenty five years has been the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, IA since 2001.
Prior to being installed as pastor at Trinity he served in the Presbyterian Church of America. Ericson holds degrees from Covenant College, Baylor University, and Reformed Theological Seminary.
Dr. Nathan Oppman (Panelist)
Dr. Nathan Oppman currently serves at The FAMiLY Leader, a Christian-based public policy organization located in Urbandale, IA that seeks to strengthen families, by inspiring Christ-like leadership in the home, the church, and the government.
Oppman has previously worked for the Family Research Council, Bob Jones University and for the South Carolinians for Responsible Government Foundation before joining The FAMilY Leader. Oppman has a B.A. in Political Science, M.A. in History, and EdD in curriculum and instruction and history from Bob Jones University.
Tim Overlin (Panelist)
Tim Overlin has served as the Executive Director for Personhood IOWA since its conception in 2014. He credits the passion he brings to his job to his father, who passed away in 2012 after a lengthy battle with cancer. From his father, he inherited a passion for life and an intolerance towards bullies and he views the fight for life to be a marriage of these two qualities.
Along with his position at Personhood Iowa, Tim has also recently spearheaded a Fellowship of like-minded Pro-Life and Pro-Family organizations from across the state of Iowa to band together as a united front. No matter what hat he is wearing, Tim has a central message: Bringing The Church Back To Life. He is married to Jas, a teacher of 23 years in West Des Moines, and the father TJ, 23 living in Oregon, and Whitney, 21 who is a senior at Heidelberg University in Ohio.
Kelvey Vander Hart (Panelist)
Kelvey Vander Hart, is a contributor at Caffeinated Thoughts and Hypeline.org. She is a homeschooling graduate and has earned an associates degree from Des Moines Area Community College. She is currently a social work major at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, MO. Vander Hart has been a student ministries intern and ministry leader at Grace Church in Des Moines, IA.
She has also served as the state chair of Millennials for Cruz that was part of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. She has also served for two years as a clerk in the Iowa House of Representatives for State Representative Norlin Mommsen (R-DeWitt). Vander Hart is passionate about Jesus, conservatism, and fantastic coffee.