"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
0 items in your cart
Blog // Thoughts
September 14, 2006

Theology In London? Really?

Thanks to Jason Clark for the link to the new Westminster Theological Centre . It looks like an exciting initiative (I‚Äôm getting the impression, that a lot of good theological developments are coming together in London). This centre looks good for a number of reasons. First, it locates theological education within the church; as an […]

Thanks to Jason Clark for the link to the new Westminster Theological Centre . It looks like an exciting initiative (I’m getting the impression, that a lot of good theological developments are coming together in London).

This centre looks good for a number of reasons. First, it locates theological education within the church; as an outworking of a resident theology, which is a model I have advocated for over a decade now. Second, it takes seriously the postmodern condition, the authority of the Bible and the work of the Spirit (a rare trinity). Third, it is located in London, where I one-day hope to return.

On this last point (theology in London, not my return to it) it was interesting to read Douglas Knight‚Äôs blog comments; in particular –

“There is plenty of good Christian theology going on in London. It is true that theology was driven out of the one place in London that could claim to offer academic Christian teaching at an international level, the theology department of Kings College London. But it is still going just going on informally outside the university. I’ll give you some examples of good Christian theologians at work in London.”

I‚Äôm not convinced. During my years at King‚Äôs there was a lot of ‚Äú good Christian theology‚Äù and ‚Äú academic Christian teaching‚Äù happening at ‚Äú an international level‚Äù outside the ‚Äú theology department‚Äù in (not to mention in other colleges, like Heythrop). I can‚Äôt comment on the new theology appointments at King’s, but there are still good people working in the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture (where I was involved).

I’d buy the conspiracy if the theology department, when I was there, was a shining beacon to the rest of the university Рan apologetic force or a real witness. I’m not convinced it was, even though some good work was being written and published. My time with the chaplaincy really opened my eyes to the far more everyday ways that faithful Christians within their own departments were witnesses to the faith. The subtle nuance that a Christian perspective had on research within other fields.

My two biggest attempts at theological discourse within the university were the PhD reading group in Theology and Culture (Coffee, Theology and Culture) and the Sacred Images faith and film series. Both explicitly Christian, both theological, both international, both pretty much ignored by the theology department.

That said, I regret caving in too often during those years to anger, frustration, or negativity about the situation. To be honest I was very naive in some ways. It was a revelation to me to meet people (not just within King’s but in other academic theological circles) who seemed to share my theology and many of my concerns for mission and the church, yet were not interested in co-operating Рin complicity.

It is no longer possible for university departments, especially in the humanities and arts to “silo” learning. All telling new work is interdisciplinary; the same holds for theology. A theology department that engages the university would build wide bridges with sympathetic academics in other fields, like education, sociology, literature, film studies, conflict studies, psychiatry and so on. I didn’t see that happening at that time with the theology department in King’s. In the absence of that, change is inevitable.

However, one problem with my thinking in those days, (something I only realised literally days before I boarded the plane to leave London for Delhi), was the significance I placed on the appointment, or non-appointment of certain people to academic roles within the university. This was reinforcing a bunch of the distinctions between formal and informal theology that I did not believe in. Such an outlook can make us obsessed with “who got what job.” We become focussed on gossip and we can only end up bitter.

But, wouldn’t it be better if the departments always had better quality staff? Perhaps, perhaps not; maybe it is not as important as we might think. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to be able to point to a few disappointments, where I was excited about appointment in colleges and denominations that failed to deliver, that I’m a little cynical about messianic assumptions in terms of appointments.

We live in a great era for theological students to be critically aware, with such a wide breadth of viewpoint easily available today. The savvy theological student can, via blog discussion access some great thinkers around the world in any area of theology and thus critically evaluate the content of the courses their colleges present to them. They are much less constrained by the quality of their faculty than I was a theology student only a decade or so ago.

Maybe what we need is less focus on who got what job and more focus on fostering a better, more sophisticated theological discourse amongst those that present for theological education, those in theological education and those in ministry of all types. Maybe, we need fewer, not more distinctions between formal and informal theology, between good and bad theology, between pure and impure theology.

One thing I always wanted to study about my home theological college in Australia, was the relationship between success in the study programme and prior exposure to theological study and discourse before entering the college. It seemed to me, anecdotally at least, that there was a strong correlation. The theological and ministerial formation you have before entering a theology programme plays a big role in what you get out of the programme.

Which is why, in my view, we need our best theologians in the church, not in the academy. OK, that is maybe oversimplifying a little – but only a little.

It is also why blogs and online networks are so important for theological education today; they subvert the territorial domination of theological education. For me, my library, especially it’s journal room and the large cache of 20th century theology (that were we seldom, if ever encouraged to really read), was a deeply subversive place. A lot of this stuff wasn’t just better than what I got in lectures, it was different and that difference what one of the biggest things missing in that college. More importantly, it gave me hope, fueled my imagination and in the end gave me courage to follow some different theological roads. I realised very early on that the theological discourse was bigger than the agenda of the institution. It drove me to make conenctions with creative thinkers outside my denomination. There is no doubt in mind, that were the internet available then as it is now, it would have provided a positive sense of hope and optimism during those tough college years.

Once we start to see the bigger picture, the larger discourse and the role of pre-programme formation I think we become less obsessed with who got what job and better able to focus on the missional issues.

Oh and speaking of controversy and conspiracy, I was reminded recently that King’s gets a mention in the book, The Da Vinci Code. It’s something I would have blogged on, but the ever diligent Dean of King’s, Richard Burridge has beat me to it with a good piece on both the college and the view of Scripture in the book.

[tags] King’s College London, KCL, Da Vinci Code, Theology, Theological Method [/tags]

Douglas Knight 18 years ago

I got punished for my Theology in London posting (which was whistling in the dark) by that very same diligent Dean. I dont think anything is coming together here in London, though agree with you otherwise

Enter your and your to join the mailing list.