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My new book! Faithful Living: Discipleship, Creed, and Ethics

I’m a little late flagging this up here, but my book Faithful Living: Discipleship, Creed, and Ethics was released by SCM Press in December 2019 — a little bit earlier than expected (and hopefully in time for a few last-minute Christmas presents!). The basic premise of the book is a bit of a thought-experiment: I am interested in the kinds of decisions and actions that may be inferred or implied for those who believe and regularly recite the Nicene Creed. I don’t pretend this is an exhaustive moral commentary, nor that the basic approach isn’t without some qualification, but I do try and join the dots between the confessional substance of the Christian faith (with which many worshipers are familiar because of liturgical confession) and the every-day choices that most Christians are required to make. It comes from the conviction that doctrinal commitments implicate our moral lives. The blurb summarises it as follows:
How can the things we do and say in Church impact our lives and shape …
Recent posts

There's No Theology Without Prayer

It’s about fifteen years since I first read Helmut Thielicke’s masterful work “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians” (first English publication was 1962). I have read it at least biannually ever since: it usually takes an afternoon to get through, followed by a week or two for recovery and application! His wisdom is at once simple and profound; his manner simultaneously pastoral and commanding. Thielicke was a churchly theologian who knew the power and responsibility of theological study. It is not something to be undertaken lightly — for it trains those who are called to serve the people of God; nor should it be worn too heavily — for its speech about God is contingent.

This time in reading it I have been struck by Thielicke’s remarks about prayer as the proper context for theological study. It’s not a new idea, and is certainly something we pursue at St Mellitus College. But there’s a freshness in the way Thielicke expresses himself:

“Faith must mean more to us than a mere commodi…

Truth and Unity with Karl Barth

I am enjoying reading Barth’s letters from the final years of his life - Karl Barth: Letters 1961-1968 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981) - and came across another gem recently. This one concerns the heart of the ecumanical project, and in particular the possibility of closer ties between Reformed Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. In a written reply to The Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Belgium, in 1962 Barth thanked the sisters there for their initial contact with him, and their feedback on his own theological work. He then comments on their corrspondence - they must have said something about the importance of loving one another - and he writes,

'You are right to tell me that much of the route to the unity of the church is laid when we come together again in love. Being the friend of many Roman Catholic theologians, I add that I am happy to affirm that in truth as well we have come closer on both sides than could ever have been imagined fifty years ago. One thing …

'...but the greatest of these is charity.' Hunsinger and the Barth-Revisionists

If in some mind-bending moment in the life of the Church of England, I was put in charge of all training for all clergy and lay-ministers, everywhere, I would require that trainee ministers take classes in how to read. I don’t mean remedial English. I mean hermeneutics at its most basic level: how to read and inhabit someone’s argument, thought processes, ideas, and perspective — even, or especially, when you don’t agree with their final verdict. I have sometimes wondered about setting a debate as a final assignment, in which students must opt to argue for a position they cannot stand! The idea is not to increase piety for piety’s sake (though a bit more piety may not always be a bad thing), but rather to increase our ability to dialogue and disagree well, by which I mean in an informed and intelligent way. The latest wrangling in the C of E about sexuality will require exactly this sort of thing (and, so far, it seems to me there has been little attempt to really inhabit and underst…

Brief Admonishment from the Old Man of Basel

In 1961 Karl Barth wrote a letter to one of his theological students, whom he had recently supported in a grant application for funding to study in Edinburgh, to chastise him about his general outlook on life and his attitude to theological study in particular. It’s a short letter in the collection Karl Barth: Letters 1961-1968 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), and is anonymised for the sake of the student in question. The most pertinent section of the letter - the bit I’d like all of my students to read (!) - is as follows: ‘Before one can say (or meaningfully ask) anything, one must first listen, and before one can write anything, one must first do proper reading. If you cannot or will not learn this, you had better keep your fingers out of not merely academic theology but theology in general.' The discipines of listening and thinking, reading and seeking to understand, are significant not only for young academics but anyone holding a pastoral office in the Church. They are the ba…

Humble Confidence: The Appropriate Theological Attitude

I've just got round to reading January's International Journal of Systematic Theology (IJST). I really look forward to it coming in the post: it is the universal problem of research-students-who-are-within a-few-months-of-submission that we become so engrossed in the topic at hand (in my case Karl Barth) that other things pass us by. So, IJST affords me the opportunity to lift my head from the Barthian-pit and read a few other things and have those bits of my mind that remember what it was like to read freely in any area of systematics re-enlivened (avoiding the Barth essays within the journal...for now). Normally I skip over the editorials and head for the articles, but last night I read Steve Holmes' editorial for the January edition. In it Holmes, senior lecturer in Systematic Theology at St Andrews University, considers with what attitude the discipline of theology must engage with other academic disciplines. He outlines two, before settling on the third.

The God We Worship: Liturgy and Theology

Following my reading of +Robert Atwell's book on leading liturgical worship, today I came across Nicholas Wolterstorff's latest project in the form of the Kantzer Lectures: The God We Worship. The videos for each lecture last about an hour, and are really interesting to listen to. So far I've had time for just two of them, but they are quite enticing both because of their peculiar approach to theology and also for the depth of their content.

Wolterstorff sees his project as something similar to Barth's Dogmatics, which he argues is grounded in the proclamatory activity of the Church (which is essentially, he argues, about preaching). For Wolterstorff, liturgical theology is about making explicit the implicit theology of the liturgy, articulating that, and then defending it. It is at the core of the Church's life because worship is a core activity of the Church called and purposed by God. Drawing on the work of Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmeman he develops his…