This is a follow up post on the European Evangelical Accrediting Association (EEAA) annual conference that I was at last week near London.
Alister McGrath was the guest speaker looking at the challenges, vision and changing context of theological education. Here is a snapshot of some things that stood out for me from the second lecture we got to.
And again I should say that these are just my impressions and notes – not verbatim quotes!
Staying rooted historically; staying engaged culturally. Challenges and concerns.
Prof McGrath sketched the task of theology – to remain faithful to orthodoxy while engaging with an ever-changing culture and the new questions it raises. And as usual a story gets this point across best.
He told the story of C S Lewis being asked to speak to RAF crews in 1941 and having to ‘translate’ his understanding of Christianity into the language of his audience. Lewis judged his first attempts a failure but he kept being asked back.
This is the theologian’s task – to translate God’s truth in understandable ways in his/her own context. Such translation is rooted in the past, and speaks into present. If we can’t do this, have we really understood God’s truth in the first place?
And from here McGrath appealed for evangelicals to be rooted in the past so as to speak with depth and meaning into the present. His concern is of evangelical shallowness and historical illiteracy and its rejection of the past. What C S Lewis called our ‘chronological snobbery’.
And he referred to the paleo-orthodoxy of Tom Oden, and the Deep Church movement in the UK (the name inspired by Lewis again) as examples of evangelicals in search of historical rootedness for the present. [Lots of other examples could have been mentioned like the late Robert E Webber and his Ancient-Future faith].
McGrath reminded us, that however cutting edge we think we are, our thinking will soon be out of date. Even a classic like John Stott’s Basic Christianity is becoming dated in its modern framework.
Knowing the past helps open our eyes. So read older books! Learn from other voices and see with other eyes. Read the theological giants of the past.
Seeing differently is a great model for theological education. So get students to engage with these thinkers. Reflect and learn from them. View these people as a resource. How did they do? How are we doing? Immerse students in the rich tradition.
If theological education fails to excite and thrill, then we have failed. The task is to first catch that vision for ourselves and pass it on. Theological education really matters. It is a privilege and a responsibility to have people ‘passing through’ your colleges. Excite them, connect them to the Great Tradition, help them translate God’s truth into their context, and help them see what difference they can make.
While he didn’t draw this out, humility is not far from the surface here. If our thinking will soon be out of date. If we can only have a partial and incomplete perspective. If we need to learn from others in the great story of the church … all of this should make us humble learners.
Comments, as ever, welcome.