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 the ‘Education’ Category
Rural Aberdeenshire has had a serious amount of snow for the past couple of weeks, and as we look out of the window in our rural home there is a pretty large amount of it – which, amazingly, hasn’t kept us in for even a single day yet. But it certainly makes life go slower, planning ahead to unfreeze the car rather than just jumping into it, and taking longer to do just about everything. You might think this would create plenty of time for reflection, but life goes on with the start yesterday of the winter quarter at Fuller Seminary – which of course is thousands of miles away in California! But through the miracles of technology, we can continue to work there while on the other side of the world. This quarter it’s the male mouse teaching a course on Theology and Culture, with 23 eager students signed up and already engaged with it, then next quarter the female mouse teaches one on ‘Theological and pastoral perspectives on the family’. Online courses really do work fantastically well, if they’re properly designed with a fully interactive website. Unfortunately, some colleges we know in the UK haven’t quite got that message yet and just post reading material onto a website, as if reading stuff on a screen makes it an online course.
So the weather outside says, ‘slow down’, while the students keep things moving on fast. Just one of the paradoxes of contemporary culture! Another one came in a posting from one of the students, based in Arkansas, who said that his community find it really hard to believe that Christendom is over, because reinventing and reviving the church there is so easy and is happening all the time. That’s probably also true, reminding us that it depends where you’re looking from as to what you will see. But that observation will be simple compared with the likely comments that will come up in the course on family. Last time around that enrolled students from China, Korea, Rwanda, and Mexico as well as several US states – so even getting them to agree on what they thought a family might be was an enlightening experience! One of the things we enjoy most about teaching these courses is that we always learn something new ourselves. Long may it continue.
We don’t normally draw attention here to events in which we are participating, but this one seems to have escaped the radar of a lot of people in the UK who would find it useful. Sponsored by the University of Aarhus in Denmark, and taking place at the end of January, the theme is ‘Church and Mission in a Multireligious Third Millennium’. As well as church mice it includes a line up of missiological stars including Stanley Hauerwas, Brian Stanley, Darrell Guder, Bryan Stone, Heidi Campbell, Pauline Cheong, and Andrew Walls – to name just a few. Further details are here.
Great excitement in Adelaide all this week, as we’ve been teaching at Tabor College. Lots of engagement with themes that, to be honest, we’ve become so familiar with that we’re surprised how much excitement we’ve stirred up. New forms of church, Fresh Expressions, Mission Shaped Ministry – all stuff that we take for granted in the UK, but which is news (and very good news, it seems) to Christians in this city. Meetings with the archbishop as well as students (all of whom are also church leaders – and from a wide variety of traditions and types of church). Some of them have found it a bit challenging hearing from a female church mouse, but that’s not especially new in the grand scheme of things. Overall, the experience has made us quite proud of all that has been accomplished in UK churches in recent years, and also makes a trip to the other side of the world worthwhile as we realize we have been bringing totally new thinking into this situation. Whoever would have imagined that tired mainline churches in the UK would have so much to share with others worldwide. Something to do with the missio Dei, probably.
While this blog has been quiet for a bit, we’ve travelled to Australia and taught a week long intensive course in Sydney – hoping that we might find an odd moment to blog here, but it’s all been so busy this is the first chance, now the course has ended. A good week with Australian church leaders, mostly young (20- and 30-somethings) and mostly seriously engaged with the missional questions of what church might look like for the 21st century. And the minority who weren’t quite ready to engage with all this at least kept their opinions to themselves and didn’t disrupt things for everybody else – which is probably about as good as it gets.
The questions here have a familiar ring about them. When is a spiritual engagement ‘real church’ being one of the most prominent. How do you tell the difference between something that’s an outreach activity designed to get people into the churches we now have, and a missional community that is itself ‘real church’? Issues of power and control surfaced perhaps more than they might in some UK contexts, and it’s probably fair to say that some people (maybe a majority) found it hard to believe some of the creative things happening in UK mainline churches. Just as well we have the Fresh Expressions DVDs to show them, and all the website resources connected with that, otherwise some would have thought we were making it all up. So we have ended the week with a feeling of gratitude for all the networks we are a part of in the UK, and those of you who are reading this in that context need to know that what we are all engaged with is out in front when compared with other places around the world. Of course one reason for that is the reality that we know our traditional churches are in bad shape. But we’ve also learned how to read the culture in such a way as to recognize signs of God at work. In one discussion this week, somebody commented that our emphasis on connecting with those people we have called ‘spiritual searchers’ wouldn’t work in Sydney, because there are none here. The reality is that Sydney is host to the single largest Mind Body Spirit festival in the entire world! How easy it is to be so insulated in our own spaces that we don’t see the bigger picture. Yet the importance of building bridges is right there in the city centre:
And we took this ourselves. Clearly, having something iconic helps develop your photographic skills.
Next stop is Canberra, and meetings with the Anglican diocese to help them work out how they might introduce Fresh Expressions and the Mission Shaped Ministry course there.
Olive is into week 2 of a ten week online course for Fuller Seminary, on the family. Details are here: it’s listed as the two of us teaching it, but John is still recovering from his course on theology and culture so guess who gets all the work to do with this one. With students in China, Korea, and Rwanda, as well as different US states, you can imagine that there are pretty diverse opinions on what a family actually is, even before they get into some of the more obviously contentious issues. So a fast learning curve for some, especially from more conservative and traditional backgrounds.
One of the great things about this online teaching is that every student has a voice, in a way that doesn’t happen in a classroom where only the noisiest get to share their opinions. Of course, all that depends on the web design – and there is no doubt Fuller is streets ahead of others in that respect. And yes, they really do deserve this free advertising! Go to http://www.fulleronline.org to see what else is on offer.