An outspoken and eminent professor of philosophy at St Andrews University, the oldest in Scotland, has had the courage to say what the church mice have known to be true for a long time – that a lot of the ‘research’ that keeps people busy in universities is a waste of time and money. For more on his arguments, take a look here. Of course, there is some great work being done, but sadly much that passes for ‘practical theology’ is (as the old cynics have it) neither practical nor theology. We were reminded of that last month at a conference of missiologists in Denmark, where the one thing that nobody seemed to know how to speak about was faith. Some participants even expressed dismay when one of the speakers – leading a Bible study, no less – was bold enough to pray! And there was a general consensus that, whatever practical theology might be about it is not really concerned to engage with God. In such an environment, it is hardly surprising that the discipline easily descends into the sort of second rate social science that John Haldane complains about (though he targets the whole of the humanities, and includes the social sciences as well!). Even worse when practical theologians claim to know something about medical science, which is much harder to bluff about when you know nothing! Fortunately the two of us are now liberated from having to participate in this sort of charade, free to be both practical and (we hope) truly theological – and, even better, the only institution which we both work with most often regards the doing of theology (as distinct from talking about it) as something praiseworthy, not to mention the fact that there is a big market for it out there (which you might have thought would appeal to cash-strapped institutions like those that professor Haldane writes about). If only the British theological establishment knew how to do the same, the criticisms coming from St Andrews might not stick so easily. And maybe the use of ‘theology’ as a pejorative term in the wider public discourse might be toned down, if not disappear altogether (as when politicians dismiss pointless hair-splitting debates as ‘just a theological argument’). Whatever happened to the ‘queen of sciences’?
Archive for February, 2010
We’ve just come across this new blog, dedicated to telling us what’s wrong with emerging church and Fresh Expressions, complete with extensive sections naming and shaming the ringleaders. If you’re one of them you’ll probably want to check it out to see if what they’re saying about you is true. Lucky for the church mice, we don’t get a mention, which either means that we’re too insignificant to bother with or so totally heretical that they wouldn’t know where to start. The only question we have is what makes these people so angry? Which bits of the gospel do they not get? Who do they imagine might be attracted to a faith that seems to consist of putting other people right? Or maybe there is an alternative version of the fruits of the Spirit or the Sermon on the Mount which includes acrimony and aggression as hallmarks of discipleship?