A Unique Opportunity – study at IBI from where you are

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News of developments in Irish Bible Institute and new study options for the next academic year 2020-21.

We are very excited about the new possibility of learning at IBI from anywhere in Ireland. While we would prefer to be teaching everyone face-to-face within a Christian community, this new development offers a unique opportunity for students to study from where they live. Please come and hear about the new options, either at our Open Day or by giving us a call.  (01 8069060)

Steven Singleton, Principal

Unique Opportunity

Open Day

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Ephesians: walk in love

This is a short video I did (complete with lockdown beard) for an online Irish Bible Institute course on the book of Ephesians. We offered it free during the Covid-19 crisis and had nearly 500 people signed up.

Its focus is the link between love (agapē) and walking (peripateō) in Ephesians. What it means to be a Christian (follower of Christ, united to him in faith through the Spirit) is to walk in love. We may say that the whole purpose and goal of the Christian faith is summed up in that phrase.

Other video contributions from IBI teaching staff included: Grace Campbell (who runs our online courses and wrote and designed this outstanding module); Dr Steven Singleton (our Principal); Paul Perry (lecturer); Joan Singleton (lecturer). Thanks too to a whole bunch of volunteer moderators who helped facilitate discussion in over 20 groups of online learners.

PrBlomberg Cof Craig Blomberg, Distingushed Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, who teaches on our MA Programme, contributed a video and asked a bunch of other NT scholars who have published on Ephesians to join and they did.

 

So we have had excellent teaching from a range of other world-class scholars – thanks all for your time and expertise so generously given:

Cohick Ephesians

Dr Lynn Cohick, provost at Denver Seminary and professor of New Testament. Author of  Ephesians, New Covenant Commentary. Eugene, Cascade Books, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Bock Ephesians

Dr Darrell Bock – Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Ephesians (2019) Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IVP Academic.

 

 

 

 

 

Thielman Ephesians BECT

Dr Frank Thielman, Presbyterian Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University and author of Ephesians.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

Klein EBC Ephesians

Dr William Klein – Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of “Ephesians” in the revised edition of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

 

 

 

 

 

Witherington Ephesians

 

Dr Ben Witherington, Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Eerdmans, 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Bible Institute – One Word

Have a look at this if you have 53 seconds to spare – and share with others to get the word out. Perhaps consider joining us if you can or recommending to others …

Yes, I am biased, this is where I work and someone related rather closely did the video, but there is something special about seeing the enthusiasm and joy in these students’ (and some staff) words …

The phrase ‘Theological education’ sounds dry, but done in community and with a passion for loving God and loving others, it is clearly a powerful transforming experience.

 

Escaping the babylonian captivity of theological education (1)

ibi_logo_400x400At Irish Bible Institute we are embarking on a year-long journey of ‘re-validation’ with our partner university. Happily, this means that the university has agreed to renew our partnership for years ahead.

But it is not just re-signing a bit of paper, the process involves (and requires) us to think afresh about what we are doing and why. This isn’t just ticking boxes – our partner is committed to educational innovation and creativity and is pushing us to think afresh from first principles as to what we are doing.

The thing is, most theological colleges have some form of assent to integrative learning. But it is a very different thing to get beyond ‘ink on paper’ to genuine transformative learning that shapes the whole person.

Some paradigms of theological education, historically particularly within universities, aren’t that interested in this sort of learning, particularly if that university is, or has ambitions to be, a prestigious academic institution that prizes a particular type of educational success . This is one reason the Bible College movement began in the UK and Ireland.

It was Lesslie Newbigin who, paraphrasing Luther, talked about the Babylonian Captivity of much theological education. He meant by this the prioritization of a form of objective, scientific learning that imagines theology as an academic exercise of the detached neutral mind. It results in a programme where academic, cognitive success dominates all levels of the student experience – from advertising and recruitment of students, entry qualifications, the shape and structure of the classroom, the content of lectures (primarily information transfer), the setting of assessments, the criteria for grading, right through to qualifications, awards and prizes.

In other words, an Enlightenment paradigm of learning where theology is primarily the study of books and ideas, detached from personal faith, character transformation, practical skills for ministry, prayer, community and Christlikeness.

This is theology as mere acquisition of knowledge, the student as consumer of information, the teacher as expert distributor of information. It is non-relational and I would say, pretty well non-Christian in terms of an authentic preparation for forming people spiritually and preparing them for the demands and messiness of Christian ministry.

No wonder churches have long been sceptical of the value of going to study theology – whether at Bible College or university. No wonder, there is a lot of anti-intellectualism in the church if studying theology means that a student might be brilliant at writing a paper on Barth’s doctrine of election but have little humility and self-awareness or pastoral heart (nothing against Barth, but you get the point).

So, going back to first principles is a very good, and demanding and uncomfortable, thing to have to do. For, if you are like me, if we are allowed to, we tend to keep doing what we know, what we are comfortable with, what has worked in the past, without asking too many tough questions of ourselves and our organisations.

9781783689576To do this, we are working as a team together through Perry Shaw’s excellent and stimulating book Transforming Theological Education: a practical handbook for integrative learning

I’ve linked to Shaw on this blog before – see here, here and here for thoughts on integrative learning across cognitive (head), affective (heart)  and behavioural (hands) domains.

At the moment we are also doing a series of consultations with leaders, current and past students and others on some key initial questions. We need to answer these sorts of questions before we get into the nitty gritty of programme design and what modules we will offer and how they will be assessed etc.

Because it will the answers to these sorts of questions that will shape what we do. The biggest obstacle to change in any organisation I think is not being willing to ask and act on questions of purpose.

Shaw talks about the sorts of questions his Seminary worked through in their radical restructuring of their programmes. We are now doing the same:

I wonder what your answers to these questions might be?

What is the ideal church for our contemporary context in Ireland?

[assuming our continued purpose is to serve the Irish church it makes sense to think about what sort of churches are going to be best set to fulfil God’s missional mandate.]

What are the contextual challenges facing churches in Ireland?

  • Internal challenges?
  • External challenges?

What are the qualities and attitudes and skills of an ideal graduate in this context?

  • what sort of knowledge and thinking skills are needed for a faithful Christian to connect with the context and to continue to adapt and grow in a changing ministry environment?
  • what sort of character and attitude traits are required for Christian service in this context?
  • what sort of skills and abilities are needed so that the gospel can be incarnated in word and deed in the student and those he / she serves?

We are processing these questions and working towards the next steps

Your comments and thoughts are welcome to the mix

A farewell

After 25 years in the Republic of Ireland – 20 of those in theological education with Irish Bible School and later Irish Bible Institute – I’m moving North across the border to become Principal of Belfast Bible College.

It’s an honour and a challenge – one which is both exciting and daunting at the same time. BBC is one of the larger Bible Colleges in the UK and has a crucial place in broad evangelical theological education and training in Northern Ireland; it is linked with Queen’s University Belfast (post-grad and undergrad) and Cumbria University (undergrad); has earned an excellent reputation for Christian training; has a global missions perspective and has a very strong team, both teaching and support staff with whom I look forward to working and quite a few whom I know already.

The Board and staff have been very welcoming and my prayer (which you are more than welcome to join!) is that I will be a blessing to the college: in leading the team; in strategic direction; in teaching and working with students; and encouraging personal, academic and spiritual development.

That’s ahead. This post is looking back to say farewell.

Saying goodbye to many dear friends in IBI and in Maynooth Community Church is something that I didn’t think I would be doing.  We were married in Tipperary, our children have been born and raised in the Republic, we were settled in work, church and community and I had no plans to return North.

But I am sure that God has been gently pushing, directing and then opening the door to BBC.

So this is a very fond farewell to students, staff, teachers and volunteers at IBI with whom I have had the privilege of working, laughing, praying, hoping, planning and sometimes lamenting with. I will miss you all deeply. It has been quite a journey and I pray for God’s generous provision and blessing on the Institute in the years ahead as it continues to serve a vital function of training and leadership development within the Irish church.

Also farewell, in a more drawn out way as I commute for a while, to fellow elders and members of MCC. You have been and are close family who enrich and bless our lives beyond measure. I am deeply grateful to have been involved in MCC since its inception over 10 years ago under the leadership of Rev Keith McCrory. We’ve gone through a lot together and it’s a place where God’s Spirit is at work doing what he does best – creating self-giving loving relationships.

And, at the risk of getting too verbose (again), this brings to mind how, about 26 years ago at London Bible College (now LST), little notes with a cryptic imperative appeared in the students’ pigeon holes. They said

“Take Care of Tomorrow’s Memories.”

No-one had an idea what they were about until the next chapel service when Dr Peter Cotterell (one of my favourite teachers and supervisor of my undergrad dissertation in missiology) spoke. The notes were his typically creative way of getting people interested and thinking beforehand (must have worked – I still remember it).

His text was Romans 16 and Paul’s long and rich list of people he has worked with. It’s a fascinating glimpse of  the relational network of the apostle. We love to abstract and theologize Paul as if he was some sort of disembodied mind producing finely crafted systematic theology for scholars to write books about. But here he is commending, thanking, greeting and encouraging; talking fondly of numerous ‘dear friends’, co-workers, fellow apostles (including Junia) – as well as Rufus’ mother who had been like a mother to him.

Peter’s theme was the importance of loving, deep relationships at the heart of all Christian ministry. His cryptic imperative was always to keep working at relationships, not as an optional secondary aspect of ministry, but as the actual context in which authentic Christian ministry takes place. For how we relate today soon become tomorrow’s memories.

Thank you to all who have given me good memories to treasure.

A Dangerous Business

Here’s the text of an article I wrote on the ‘Dangerous Business’ of theological education, published in the latest Irish Bible Institute newsletter. One of the most encouraging things for me in re-reading this is how it ties in with what students actually said themselves about the transforming power of theological education. In other words, the three themes talked about below are actually happening; it isn’t just theory or nice ideas or empty words.

Feel welcome to contribute to a discussion on these. If you have studied at a theological college, what sort of experience did you have? Are you put off going to a Bible College for some reason (other than time and money)? How well can the sort of things described below happen outside a college setting in a local church? Would you list different priorities of what theological training is all about?

A DANGEROUS BUSINESS

January 2015 marked 20 years that I’ve been involved in theological education. So this is a good time to reflect! What difference does Bible College actually make in the lives of students? Let me share three themes that I hope and work and pray to see develop in the lives of students who come to IBI.

  1. Learn more about God’s redemptive story and your place within it

The ultimate source of Christian theology is the Bible. Therefore the Bible is (or should be) central to all Christian ministry and all theological education. So far, so obvious – I teach at a Bible Institute after all. But what do we mean when we say the Bible is central to Christian training?

When I started out teaching, I assumed that the ‘right’ way to introduce students to the highpoints of Christian theology was in systematic categories. Isn’t that what most evangelical statements of faith do? – a series of bullet point summaries of what is believed about God, Scripture, Man, Jesus, Spirit, the future and so on. But after trying this for a while I (and I think the students) felt increasingly something was missing.

Now of course this might just have been the teaching (!) but it felt too much like a series of disconnected topics. It also felt too much like the purpose of the exercise was primarily to ‘know’ the ‘right’ information and so the content became too much about ‘us’ – defining ‘our’ theology. The biggest problem was that there did not seem to be much connection to mission and discipleship – the heart of the Christian life.

I’d better throw in two clarifications here. I believe in the importance of right doctrine and the supreme authority of Scripture. But over time I’ve come to love and appreciate the Bible more and more as one great all-embracing narrative with Jesus Christ at the centre of the story. And the purpose of that story is not given to us just as interesting information, but for personal and corporate transformation.

The Bible tells the (true) story of universal history. Its opening chapter begins with creation and its closing chapter ends with new creation. In between, we are given the story of Israel which, after many twists and turns, culminates in the promised saviour. Jesus is the ‘shocking’ Messiah no-one expects: a crucified man who is also creator, judge and resurrected Lord of both Jews and Gentiles, before whom every knee will bow (Phil 2:10).

Too often we reduce this story down to Jesus as my personal saviour. While this is true for every believer, on its own it individualises the gospel and narrows the Bible story to be ‘all about me’. This is why I have re-shaped my teaching to a more narrative shape. This changes how we ‘do’ theology profoundly. It is the Bible asking questions of us. It puts us and our narrow concerns off centre and in their proper place within the flow of God’s work in the world, and taking our (small) place within the story of God’s people (more of that in a moment).

The more you read the Bible this way, the more all the great doctrines of the Christian faith – such as justification by faith, sin and salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the mission of the church, the future hope – make sense. I want students to ‘get’ the biblical storyline, and how the myriad of sub-plots fit within the redemptive mission of the triune God. This draws them in afresh to that story and their place of serving the Lord within the story of their own lives. And that’s one of the most satisfying and exciting things to see happen in someone’s life.

  1. See your whole life as a calling to participate in God’s mission within God’s people

But there is more to biblical theology than even this. It’s also exciting to see students ‘get’ how intimately the gospel is connected to God’s choice of a people to bear his name. In other words, understanding the Bible as a narrative connects individual faith with the mission of the church.

This goes against the grain of our individualised, consumerist, Western culture where, even for Christians, church becomes an ‘optional extra’ to ‘my’ faith. But the Bible will have none of this. The identity and mission of each individual Christian is to be worked out within the role given to the church within the mission of God. It is an incredible privilege and high calling to be invited by God’s grace to join in with others in his redemptive work in the world! How many job offers like that do you get in a lifetime?

This leads to how good theological training is taught and lived out with others in a local church community. A goal of going to Bible College is therefore far more than mere academic progress; it should help to equip and train students to preach, teach, do pastoral care, evangelism, lead, listen, and model a life of service to Jesus alongside other brothers and sisters within the family of God, wherever exactly God has placed them (Eph. 4:11-13).

  1. Being transformed by the Spirit to love God, love others

A third theme is how God’s primary agenda for students, and for every Christian, is personal transformation into the likeness (image) of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor.3:18). As Jesus both taught and demonstrated, love is both the motive and the practical form of a truly Christian life. Love is the primary result of the Spirit’s transforming presence. It is love alone which is eternal (1 Cor. 13:13) and without love all Christian ministry is a waste of time (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Love is most supremely demonstrated at the cross of Christ and gives shape to all Christian ministry (1 Cor. 9): it is not about the self – our own agendas and ambitions and achievements, but about loving and serving others for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11). And for many Christians globally, sacrificial love leads to suffering.

So it has become clearer and clearer to me over the last 20 years that love is the first and most essential ‘mark’ of authentic Christian ministry. It is why ‘character’ or ‘Christian maturity’ is in Scripture the primary ‘qualification’ for any ministry. This is why the relational track record of someone in life and ministry is of primary importance, not just a footnote at the bottom of their CV. Therefore any form of theological education that does not place a high importance on Christian character is failing to do its job.

Conclusion

Understanding the Bible; knowing your true identity and calling; joining with others in serving the risen Lord; participating in God’s mission to redeem this broken world whatever the cost; being transformed, head, heart and hands, to love God and love others – this is what going to Bible College is all about. It’s a dangerous business – might God be daring you to give it a try?

Patrick Mitchel

The Future of IBI: reflecting on the present

As a Bible Institute we ask and encourage students to do a lot of critical self-reflection – within a mentoring programme and within many assignments. ‘What have I learnt through this experience?’ ‘Why did I think, act and feel that way before?’ ‘What influences have shaped my theology and how has it changed and developed in light of what I have been studying?’ ‘How will I seek to act differently in the future and why?’

So it’s only right that I do a bit of critical self-reflection from an IBI perspective about where we are.  And let me say that what is said on this blog represents my personal views and are not representative of IBI or anyone else ..

If the last post was about the PAST, this one is about the PRESENT.

We’ve launched an appeal to raise €1million. This would have the wonderful result of dealing with current loans and future costs that total up to near €4 million at a 75% ‘discount’. Being debt free will be strategically crucial for ongoing ministry and for future development in years to come.

So far there has been a very encouraging response. We are already at over 20% and there are a couple of good potential developments that could make a significant difference as investors and Trusts consider possibilities.

As this process unfolds, here are three issues and questions swirling around in my mind. I have thoughts on them but it would be good (I think!) to have other’s opinions. And I guess these sorts of questions apply to all sorts of different ministry contexts, especially in the West:

An ethical question

IBI is not the only Christian organisation facing the fall out of the economic ‘great reversal’. Many individuals are struggling to keep their heads above water with unemployment, negative equity, rising taxes and costs, falling giving. Local churches are struggling. A primary calling, it seems to me, of the church, is to help the poor and keep focus on the bigger picture of ‘the mission of God’.

Is it right of IBI to launch a fundraising campaign for €1 million in such a context? Is it asking too much of already hard-pressed supporters? Is it putting too much pressure on finite resources? Or another way of putting this – what are some criteria that need to be fulfilled before going asking for a lot of money from other people?

Related to this is how to ask for money in a fundraising campaign. Where is the balance between a ‘positive message’ that communicates a vision and compelling reasons for an appeal, and when such positivity becomes ‘spin’? For example we’ve emphasised the appeal as one-off unique opportunity [which it is]. But is also an unplanned response to events out of our control that need a fairly urgent solution.

A strategic question

A wider question that this sort of appeal raises is has the funding of an institution and a building become too expensive? Are there different, less expensive, models of delivering good quality theological education in Ireland? Is a change of model desirable and possible? How can IBI remain ‘light on its feet’ in future? These are big questions facing many theological colleges and the answers are complex.

This of course is one of the big criticisms of missional church thinking regarding established, inflexible Christendom church structures that focused on real estate and a ‘come to us’ approach to mission. Just look at shrinking denominations lumbered with expensive, old and empty church buildings. But it can go for more modern churches too. One mega-church pastor remarked recently that it took a $1 million to run his local church each week. When does such vast expense become unconscionable or is it all relative to size?

A responsibility question

As Jesus repeatedly says, money and what we do with it is an integral part of life within the kingdom of God. It is a profoundly spiritual matter. Lots tends to get written about the need to give generously as a sign of God’s grace working in a Christian’s life (Zaccheus for example). But less is said I think about those receiving the money. There is a huge issue of trust here and I’ve felt this more than ever before in the last few weeks.

It has been deeply humbling to receive gifts, large and small, from all sorts of quarters. Receiving such gifts brings a responsibility not only to be accountable, but to ask and keep asking hard questions about how best a finite resource can be used within the kingdom of God. To not fall into a trap of appealing for money just to keep the status quo going. The act of asking for money has to go with a transparent willingness to be cross-examined and questioned by those who may well see more clearly than those in the organisation doing the asking who could be suffering from ‘institutional myopia’

The future of Irish Bible Institute: reflecting on the past

The Future of IBI and the ‘Great (economic) Reversal’

As a Bible Institute we ask and encourage students to do a lot of critical self-reflection – within a mentoring programme and within many assignments. ‘What have I learnt through this experience?’ ‘Why did I think, act and feel that way before?’ ‘What influences have shaped my theology and how has it changed and developed in light of what I have been studying?’ ‘How will I seek to act differently in the future and why?’

So it’s only right that I do a bit of critical self-reflection from an IBI perspective about where we are.  And let me say that what is said on this blog represents my personal views and are not representative of IBI or MCC or anyone else ..

First, let’s remember that there is no sacred / secular divide: this post may be ‘business focused’ but it is still about ‘spiritual’ things. All of life before God is ‘spiritual’.

I think that there are two areas for questions at least – the PAST and the PRESENT, and it’s the PAST in focus in this post.

  1. THE PAST: Were we wrong in discerning God’s will? Did we act unwisely? Were we sucked up into the myth of the Celtic Tiger like everyone else and are wrestling with the consequences now? And if we weren’t wrong, what is there to be learnt as Christians from this experience?

The details of the deal are all public (see this previous post) so there is no problem talking about it. Nor am I transgressing into confidential Board business.

General reasons to press ahead with the 2005 deal:

IMPACT FOR THE GOSPEL: It represented a new and creative way forward if IBI was to grow and make a bigger impact across Ireland. And the shift from borrowing offices, and packing up the library to a purpose designed facility did make a huge difference. Not only physically, but in terms of credibility, quality of student experience, university validation, student numbers, reputation and so on.

MOTIVE: The whole deal was non-commercial. It was an act of faith and grace by the business partners. It would enable us to move into new premises without a huge fundraising campaign and would eventually ‘pay for itself’. Sure motives are always mixed and the human heart deceitful – but there was no personal gain for anyone. I really don’t think it was an issue of ‘consumerist greed’ for bigger and better.

RELATIONSHIP: relationships are, in my humble opinion, the most important factor in any working together – especially in Christian ministry but also outside it. This deal emerged out of a relationship of trust and goodwill.

DILIGENCE: it was complicated. A lot of time and effort was spent by people with outstanding expertise in the right areas; legal, financial, evaluation of risk etc. The risk factor was not being able to find commercial tenants or losing tenants for a long period. In 2005 this risk was judged to be acceptable.  Of course, this was the issue that came back to bite us when tenants left in June 2011 and no new ones were around in the crash.

PRAYER: much prayer went on around this whole issue – for wisdom, guidance and discernment. Everyone together agreed to press ahead.

‘PUT AND CALL’: this was a ‘put and call’ agreement whereby IBI entered into a legal agreement to buy back the building for €3.5 million at the end of a 14 year period. This is a huge amount of money, but the asset was the building. (It had doubled in value to c. €7 million even by 2007). It was estimated it would be at least worth double the €3.5 million in 2019. So, if all went according to plan, the whole idea would be ‘debt free’.

REGRETS?  Would we do the same thing again? Did we ‘mis-hear’ God?

I think we would (nearly) do the same thing again but not the ‘put and call’. Experience would make me more cautious, especially around a future debt of €3.5 million, even if (apparently) comfortably secured on a building. Being in debt gives control away to others (like a bank) and can tie a millstone around an individual’s or an institution’s neck; it removes flexibility and limits options.

But there is another reason I’d be more cautious. The crash has exposed the hubris, self-deception and out of control greed of a largely unregulated capitalist system. Let loose, it ran itself into the ground and much of the global economy with it – and I think there is much worse to come – Spain anyone? Being in debt to such a system, emeshes you in its grip. The crash should, I think, make Christians especially, cautious of being under the power of a system that ultimately cares only for capital.

I’m no economist or banker, help me out here, but it seems to me that Christian organisations should be very wary of taking on long term obligations of debt around buildings and should aim to grow and develop debt free as much as possible.

HUMILITY: There are a lot of humbled tycoons and property developers and ordinary investors around Ireland today. [And plenty who should be humbled and contrite but aren’t – but I’d better stay on point!]

And it’s obvious too, that for IBI, things did not go according to plan. Despite all the planning and experts and advice, the truth is we all have very little idea what the future holds. That truth should make us humble. Jesus’ hard words about the ‘rich fool’ focused on his arrogance and self-sufficiency apart from faith and trust in God. While we did take a lot of time to seek God and the decision itself was soaked in prayer, the need to raise €1 million was not part of the original plan. It has thrown us back on the sufficiency of God alone for it is ‘beyond us’.

GUIDANCE: Without getting too lost in Calvinist, Arminian or Open Theist debates, let me ask you a question: if things don’t work out the way you expected or hoped, does that mean you ‘missed’ or ‘went against’ God’s will? 

Of course there are many things we do that are against God’s will – the Bible has a wee word for it called ‘sin’.

But if we make decisions in good faith, seeking wisdom, taking counsel, through prayer – how are we to interpret subsequent events that seem to question the rightness of the original decision?

I was talking with friends recently who, with hindsight, would make very different choices. And I guess you can think of plenty of things you’d do differently too (I know I can!). How are we to think theologically about past decisions that we wish we’d not made?

Sometimes living with the consequences of those decisions can be very very tough, without much discernible redemptive bigger purpose, where there is not a nice happy ending.

And sometimes things DO in the end work out in an amazing way. [And coming back to IBI, the current opportunity is an amazing one for lots of reasons]. Does that ‘confirm’ our decision was all part of God’s bigger plan?

I have some thoughts on these questions, but this a blog for conversation. so comments, as ever, welcome

In honour of IBI students

The past week was a huge encouragement as well as being too hectic – the buzz of a start of the new IBI term. Lots of new faces as well as returning students – all embarking on something sacred, personally challenging, and designed to be about spiritually transformative learning in community.

So, this in honour of IBI students:

1. The passion and enthusiasm of students:

Committed Christians studying theology and the Bible are, in my experience, overwhelmingly very hard working, keen to learn and are open to integrate that learning into life and ministry. That journey can be tough and unsettling as well as rewarding – no (?) other subject goes as deep personally and spiritually, as well as being an academic challenge. One of the most encouraging things for me over the last 10 years has been (by and large) the absence of cynicism and jadedness and the presence of a sincere desire to know and serve God.

God knows, Ireland could desperately do with some Good News.

2. The sacrifices many make:

I’ve been involved in many interviews over the last while as well hearing many stories from students of what it has taken for them to get to (and stay in) college. In the brutally bad Irish economic context  – with its ever rising unemployment, disappearance of part-time jobs, zero state grants to students of private colleges, churches struggling with budgets, and uncertain future of the entire Eurozone – I’ve been humbled again and again by the determination and thirst of students to study and learn and by faith being put into practice, often at real personal and financial cost.

3. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27:

Paul’s statement may have a had a bit of baggage behind it (the Corinthians’ self-regard) but it goes to the heart of the identity of the church as a community of ordinary people who are there by grace alone. At IBI we have made a sustained effort to reflect that diversity. Students (and staff) have struggles, sins, failures, burdens, fears and worries (just as much as any other group of Christians in any local church do). It is in that reality, honesty and reflective self-awareness that (I think) God does transforming work through his Spirit. Our focus is on learning – which includes academic biblical and theological learning of course, but that needs to be combined with growth in humble self-knowledge, Christ-likeness and loving God and others in actual day to day practice if it is to be authentically Christian.

Lots more could be said about what the particular challenges of theological training but that’s for another day. In the meantime, do pray for those starting (and re-starting) at IBI – they need it!

Comments, as ever, welcome.