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brilliantly put, Jonny. Thanks. ANd yes, lots and lots here I agree with, especially the rarification of theological colleges.
THing is, that's NOT THE SAME as theology as a discipline. WHat we need here, I think, is to rehabilitate theology (and absolutley NOT just applied theology) and rehabilitate the connections to ministry. THe worst possible thing we could do is, in response to the inadequacies of the structure of theological education, abandon theology as a discipline.

I actually think that studying theology in an UN-applied way (i.e. just reading Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Moltmann... etc., to find out what they thought, who the God is that emerges fromk the picture) is much more useful and much more likely to give relevance, than studying theology with instant application in view. If you spend an afternoon reading Bonhoeffer, and then go and spend an evening with a roomful of friends who aren't CHristians, the connections are clear, useful and obvious. But if you spend the day studying how to plant a church, that's no use whatsoever over dinner...

This is in haste; I'll blog more in reply to your post later. THanks for putting this so well.. :)


maggi said "...and then go and spend an evening with a roomful of friends who aren't Christians..."

What a radical idea! You mean like listen to Jesus teaching on the mountain, and then go and hang out with the tax collectors and prostitutes? Do you mean even the non Western/uneducated/working class ones? Don't go doing that! Goodness knows what it might do to your doctrinial/biblical/applied theology.

Seriously, my 3 years at 'vicar factory' were an immense priveledge which gave me many treasures. BUT moving my family across the county to go and do the training resulted in almost no life outside of the college community where we could "spend an evening with friends who aren't Christians"

Richard Baker

I very much agree with the problems around the "Vicar Factory". It would appear though that the issues are with the full-time vicar factories. I think of a number of curates I know who were ordained a three years back who had been through a part time course. First it meant they stayed in the world, in the securlar jobs with secular contacts, and pressures it also forced them to face the contrasts of the theology they were learning with what they were experiencing and give them a chance to test their thinking. But finally the part time courses were multi-flavoured, those in training were made to study and discuss with others from across the theological, ecclesiastical spectrum. May be the extream solution is to demolish all the full-time vicar factories, so that the trainees are required to be teleworkers, living, working and learning in the real world.

At a recent Grace meeting Bishop Pete (Broadbent) had expressed the concern about the increasing age or ordinands, most people not coming to the ministry until 30's or later. From experience I would consider this good thing, too often I have seen vicars who graduated straight from university into the vicar factory, from one institution to another. The result is they fail to engage with the world that the rest of us live in. This of course also raises the profile and importance for culturally relevent mission of NSM (unpaid clergy in securlar employment or at least self funded).

Who gets to swing the demolishion ball?


Jonny: I have been following this debate from afar, and this is the first I have commented on it. I think you hit it dead-on. There is a place for training. There is a place for the academy. We need Brueggemann and Wright et al. But other than Maggi, Alan Roxburgh and AKMA, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone from academia that is even engaging the wired world. That is not my only criteria for being active, but it is some indication.


Thanks for this Jonny - great vanguard action!

Maggi comments that "I actually think that studying theology in an UN-applied way (i.e. just reading Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Moltmann... etc., to find out what they thought..."

And I think it is this that is the problem for me, because it appears to assume that these people were above and outside their own cultures, sociologies etc. As I've said before, none of us have seen God, so I simply don't believe that theology can ever be abstracted from culture or society, because we can't talk in rational, measurable terms.

Again, I think maybe it boils down to sources: may be those who define themselves as theologians, and others as not, are those who use 'Christian sources' - like those mentioned above, or Scripture. But Scripture has very little theology - it is a lot of stories and letters etc., all of which need unpacking if they are to communicate stuff to us about God...

I'm not claiming my book to be some major theological tome (and when is it going to appear on your book list Biker?!) but I refute the fact that it is low on theology - I have just used some different sources, all of which are trying to talk about God... Which is what theology is.

Now shoot me too!


i found this statement once that was made for people to dwell on: 'The Bible was written by the poor for the poor. So the rich - that's us - will be severely handicapped in really understanding the Bible.' I want to change this around a bit to get a reaction: 'The Bible was written by the simple for the simple. So the complex - that's us - will be severely handicapped in really understanding the Bible.'
i know its not really the same, but one of the dangers in seperating oneself from the average person of the world is it is very easy to lose touch with the real average joes of the world. complex thought and theology are wasted on the bulk of humanity, not that they are all dumb as bricks, but it is very easy, too easy, to make things more complicated than they really need to be. Another danger is that as one becomes more educated it is easy for a prejudice and an outright snobbery can come about in which those who do not have the education, opportunities, or ability to understand certain things and cease to give them or their opinions any real respect or interest. In my work, here in North Carolina, USA, i have had to deal with migrant workers from Mexico and other spanish speaking countries teaching English as a second language, most of who have not been in school since the fourth grade. I have had quite a few students who are in their 50's and 60's who have never been in school before. In dealing with them i have had to closely monitor my use of the language and have been forced to simplify everything that i try to teach. i have worked with intelligent youth who are foreign exchange students who want to find out more about Jesus and, keeping in mind their limited English vocabulary skills have tried to keep everything in very simple English. i give them the Easy-to-Read version of the Bible (http://www.wbtc.com/articles/translation/erv_intro.html) so that they can have a Bible in English that they can understand with their limited but growing vocabulary. I also have the priviledge of working in a small farming community in the hills of NC where the majority have, at best, only a high school education. I have had to force myself to challenge them to grow in their relationship with God and the community of believers here without overwhelming them with ideas and language beyond their ability to grasp. MAny of them grew up in churches or families in which the only acceptable Bible was "THE HOLY BIBLE" (code for the King James Version) which they did not understand at all. I have been successful in getting them to turn to some more modern translations that use an easier and simpler English.
Believe it or not, these people all are created by God to have a realtionship with Him and are equally important in His eyes with those in the ivory towers. They deserve to know the gospel and they make up the vast majority of people on our wonderfully made planet. We need to grow and learn as much as possible, but we need to always be grounded in reality, which is difficult to do in institutions of learning being taught by people whose only existance is within those those towers associating only with like-minded people. It is easy to desire to be like them and get a superiority complex of our own.


hey jonny,
I will bring in a gun tomorrow to shoot you with - maybe I can pick up an apple one from macexpo ;-)

I think we are again getting into a rather polemic debate - but anyhow... and we are still confusing theology as anything that speaks about god and theology as an academic line of study. Kester you also seem to have a very narrow view of theology if you don't think there is much in scripture - what about narrative theology??? I would say the whole of scripture is theology in many and varying genres. From existentist theology (Ecclesiastes) to narrative (gospels) wisdom theology (Proverbs) more systematic theology (Romans) etc...

Jonny are you and Kester equating academic theology with systematic theology??

I don't think Maggi assumes that Barth, Moltmann etc were outside their cultures - as you say Kester that is impossible, but they do write stuff that is more systematic, it takes time to work out how what they say can affect your context as it was written into their context.

As for theology and the academy - this is a massive debate, one which raises very difficult questions. How are Christians to study? If we want to gain accreditation within the university system I'm afraid that colleges (like lst, all nations etc...) loose out on ther ability to build courses how they like, they must be academic in nature and content or they will failt to comply with government regulations. The other alternative is to run something like an independatn training course that is self-regulating, the danger with this is that it will only teach one type of theology or schema of interpretation and not allow deviant theologies to be held - this type of approach would typify the Charismatic independant leadership training route such as NFI's.

Jonny the concerns you raise with regard to this are ones that are raised in the academy every day (well they were at lst anyway) - so its not like Christian training colleges set out to provide everyone with a theological training programme that will not help them after they leave, that simply is not true. Its just the more and more colleges are recognising that the cultural situation the church finds it self in has changed and they are having to rethink what they teach and how they teach it - I think we can help move that conversation and process along a bit by raising the sorts of issues you are raising.

Sorry this post is very bitty.


Yes, but....I've posted on this and it's not merely about getting outside the ivory towers: it's about getting into the areas and with the people that are marginalised. And this is where there is often a huge credibility gap with alt worship/emerging church...


I have sympathy with your views about the 'vicar factory', Jonny, but have to point out that most of the training for the ordained Baptist ministry is now church-based, with students working in placement churches for 4 - 5 days a week and being in college 1 - 2 days - for many people this works very well.

Also, the average age of entry into training for ordination in Baptist colleges is something like 32 which means that most students already have experience of the real world on which they can reflect theologically. I was 38 when I went to Spurgeon's College, with 18 years experience of working in social care, health and higher education behind me.

Having said all that, I have to say that there is no college-based theological training which will completely, 100% prepare the student for pastoral ministry in all its glory - but it can provide a theological framework upon which the new minister can build within the real world.

Tom Allen

It seems to me that your argument/case is gradually disolving. Sure there are some older academic theologians who work solely in "ivory towers" - but they are a declining minority which enable you to perpetuate the myth. I have been looking at MA Theology courses over the past six months and the most noticeable thing for me is just how "related" the staff's areas of study is to everday issues and practice. Could I suggest that the fact that you don't know them doesn't suggest that they don't exist. Because they have a spell in their lives with an academic focus - does this make them ivory tower. Doug Gay has recently focused on academic study is he in an ivory tower? Did Graham Cray suddenly lose all reality when he was principal of a theological college? I think not. What is needed is for the academic and practice to clearly relate - the academic world is working very hard at it and would welcome a positive response from the wider Church. I have this afternoon being looking at a syllabus for one of the leading evangelical theological colleges - far from it being " mostly theology" in fact my fear is that there is too little.


As a person currently...um...trapped in a vicar farm, I wanted to share a metaphor - the veal farm. Let me preface this by copping to being a carnavore with Anglo-Cath guilt - it saddens to know how my food is raised, enough to get me to contribute to PETA (or cliam to) but not enough to stop ordering it on the odd night when my wife & I go to a fancy-schmany Italian food joint. So veal - they are thrust into a narrow pen, then stuffed full of antibotics and a grounded-up mix of grains to fatten them up. At some point, they actually can no longer walk - their legs have atrophied and their body weight is too much to handle, but the pen sustains them. After they reach the optimal weight, they are slaughtered and served in cozy establishments at a huge mark-up, slathered with too much sauce to cover up for the fact that they taste like soggy leather or cardboard.

What is my point ? 3 things:

the diet in seminary needs to be rich and varied - spicy one day, soothing the next - but to step away from the meal just because the ranchers in this metaphor may have the mix wrong is compounding the error

the pens are too narrow - more & more, seminary can be an echo chamber, peopled with nice folks just like me(or at best one standard deviation away)

most impotantly, the animals gotta walk - the theology must be in a virtuous circle with the culture that it is hosted and experienced in

There is nothing magical about the ivory tower or with the street - neither has a greater claim on "real life". What sobers me is the moats that we construct, the silos we maintain, the fear of cross-talk between bubble gum, nano-technology, Kylie, Barth and the sermon this Sunday.

BTW, I am here all week - try the veal......


A (non-veal related) follow-up: I am in the midts ofa a paper for my MODERN CHURCH HISTORY & THEOLOGY COURSE and I stumbled upon a definition for modern theology that resonated with this thread:

a willingness to adapt theology to contemporary culture, the belief that God in present in culture and uses it as a vehicle of revelation, and the belief that humanity is approaching "realization of the Kingdom of God”

What does that say to the post-post world so many folks find themselves in ?


This is really a side conversation, but Bob's last post set me to thinking (as we say here in the southern US). A lot of what we are talking about is the unwillingness of theologians in the academy to address contemporary culture. Yet, isn't that exactly what the liberationist and contextual theologicans have been doing, only to be attacked as "unbiblical" or outside Christian tradition? We have to acknowledge the tension between new and old that we walk in, using the old to inform the new ways of understanding who God is. Those understandings are always rooted in a community, of course, which is part of what Jonny is asking. I wonder Jonny if you're concern is that the community of academic theologians isn't somehow out of touch with the community of the church? Our response then moves toward how we rebuild those connections rather than bemoaning the lack of relationship.


I have to say, though in too much haste to explain at length, that Academic does not equal systematic - systematic theology is one methodology among many, and one of our standard questions to the undergrads at the moment is something along the lines of "is systematic theology possible in the postmodern context?" (to which there may be a variety of possible answers, but it highlights the fact that it's only one approach). Arguably Systematics broke down in the early 20th century; look at the reasons Rahner wrote Investigations instead of systematics, for instance. And in the joins between Biblical Studies and Theology there is also the study of "The theology of... " (insert name of any particular book or group of books of the bible). You might also consider a handful of other theologies that are not, strictly speaking, "systematic" but are still thorough going theologies - e.g. Patristic, Confessional/first person, Investigational, Thomist, womanist, feminist, liberation, Black, medieval...

Maybe a theology primer for interested CHurch persons, de-jargonned but hitting all the major points, would be a useful book. SHall I write it? Would anyone buy it?


Also in those joins, there is the (admittedly problematic) category of biblical theology - something which I find few fellow curates have encountered on their respective courses. To enter the alien world of the bible and allow it to read us (our presuppositions, ethics, values, spiritualities, stories), seems to me to be a vital task in postmodernity (and something open to all...not just those academically trained).


Also in those joins, there is the (admittedly problematic) category of biblical theology - something which I find few fellow curates have encountered on their respective courses. To enter the alien world of the bible and allow it to read us (our presuppositions, ethics, values, spiritualities, stories), seems to me to be a vital task in postmodernity (and something open to all...not just those academically trained).

Van S

I think a book like that would be good, maggi. But this raises the issue of how to do theological education outside of the academy. I think Robert Banks' book on theological education (I think it may be called Reinvisioning Theological Education) is helpful. Do we make theology increasing user friendly (sort of like the way Bible translations are going...I guess that means we'd get a "Message" version of Barth)? Or do we increase the quality of training within the Church? Or both? How do we help people learn the value of theology? There is an anti-intellecualism that is almost insurmountable in almost every tradition. How do we reconcile the idea that some may be called to be theologians in particular, but all are called to be theologians to some degree?


In the states, there are two programs that I know of (http://www.sewanee.edu/EFM/EFMhome.html http://www.upperroom.org/academy/) that attempt to disciple to the the greatest opportunity, rather than the material that stands in for disciple-ship nowaday that seems like it is playing for the lowest common knowledge.


I commented thusly at Maggi's and hope it's not unwelcome here to cross reference.
It depends what we think we training for? The CofE, for example, says it's training people for ministry but it acts as if it's training lecturers. I say we should think of ourselves as training community theologians, community leaders, spiritual entrepreneurs and in some cases administrators and taking training analogues from other professions ...
I've said a bit more in a section called 'post academic training' at http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2004/11/reenvisaging-cofe-2.html


As an artist, I sympathize with the scientist. As a worship leader, I sympathize with the theologian. I believe that one without the other is useless.

Yesterday, I heard Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, begin a talk to pastors and church staff with the disclaimer that he was not a theologian. After hearing him speak on the active role that the Church (and church) should play in the world it was hard not to think of him as a theologian. Indeed, theology takes on many forms, but we are all theologians.

I really appreciate what maggi and jonny have said and I don't think their thoughts need to live independent from each other. For a long time, the conversation has revolved around a new way to do & be church and it is interesting to see the discussion shift towards a new way to do & live theology.

‘In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.’
James 2:17-19


A number of thoughts.

First. What is the applied theology that is spoken of. I have recently completed a course, the title of which contained the words "applied theology". For me, in my experience, applied theology did not involve sitting around discussing how to "plant a church", rather, I was encouraged to learn/develop/use tools which would enable me to apply theology to my everday life and youth work.

Second thought. Laurie Green's "Lets Do Theology". I found it helpful

Third thought. A quote from Leonardo and Clodovis Boff's "Intoducing Liberation Theology"

"Liberation theology could be compared to a tree. Those who see only professional theologians at work in it see only the branches of the tree. they fail to see the trunk, which is the thinking of priests and other pastoral ministers, let alone the roots beneath the soil that hold the whole tree - trunk and branches - in place. the roots are the pracitcal living and thinking - though submerged and anonymous - going on in tens of thousands of base communities living out their faith and thinking it in a liberating key.

From this it will be seen that attacking the so-called liberation theologians merely lops off a few top branches. Liberation theology continues living in the trunk and still more so in the roots, hidden underground"


I accidently posted this comment under the wrong posting -sorry! So here it is again under the proper heading.
I would like to commend the idea of using the scientist-practitioner as a paradigm for what we want to do with training. See http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2004/11/training-church-leadership.html for more explanation. The nearest everyday example of a scientist practitioner is a GP, I think ...

Ian Mobsby

Responding to Jonny's response above following on from discussions on the moot and maggis blog.

Jonny, I think you are taking a very narrow view of the academic disciplines of theology - I am not sure why you and Kester persist with such a view - may be some form of bad experience - but it really does not connect with my and others experience, and I don't think mine is out of the ordinary.

For example I am studying pastoral theology - which at a basic level is about taking real situations, and reflecting on a dialogue between theology, sociology, the arts, psychology and anthropology to inform a life of orthopraxis (right action). For me this experience has been liberating, real, earthed, and very much rooted in living in our complex and real world. The MA I am completing in this form of theology is at Cambridge through a 'vicar factory' as some have called it.

Yes there are some theologians in accademic institutions that do ivory tower - as Maggi says - this happens in all parts of life, but to 'dis' this so much for me is a steriotype and dare I say it - slightly prejudiced - as it does not bear up to most of those on the blog's experience. Hence why ALL of Moot have disagreed with your and Kesters stance


ian glad you are able to represent ALL of moot so succinctly - are you a priest or something? ;-)

i (and kester) have said several times now that we are not dissing theology per say... i can't shout it - but i do like talking about god i.e. theology. (if you read the intro to alternative worship it opens up with a reference to gutierrez notion of theology as a second moment, one that comes after praxis where the people of god reflect on what they have been doing. the intro goes on to point out how alt worship has been informed by liberation, feminist, political and a whole bunch of other theologies along with the history of liturgy, biblical studies etc... i.e. the emerging church in my experience at the alt worship end is that is very theologically informed and literate)

what we are trying to say is that it needs reframing. you started this off i think ian by having a pop at kester's (and others such as pete's liquid church) book saying that the emerging church debate is being informed by sociology but not much theology. i haven't said it before i don't think but i will now - that simply ain't true - kester's book is theology. pete's book is theology - ok it's not 'pure' but that is why they are great books. what is pure theology anyway?! the energy is in the connections of the disciplines and relating them to our contemporary context. i love pete's stuff on the body of christ as it relates to organic networks. i love kester's notion of jesus rearranging the dirt boundaries. this is theology. period. you might not like iot or think it's any good but that is a different issue. my problem (one of several) is that i simply am not persuaded that reading augustine is theology while thinking about the body of christ as a network is sociology, - rubbish - they are both theology. or that theology that systematises talk about god into previously defined categories is any more theology (btw point taken maggi that theology isn't systematic theology - thank god or we're all up s**t creek).

i am actually quite encouraged by this debate because it seems that people who have been through ministerial training or are there seem to be saying that there is a shift going on which is great. tom you say my argument is dissolving (and i do agree with your point that there are a lot of great MA courses around). but if theology in the acadamey is so fantastic and relates to the real world so well and if ministerial training (the theological education end of it ) is so wonderful and applied how come we are having all this need for reports on mission shaped church? emerging church? and reconfiguring the church for a post modern (or whatever you want to call it ) world? isn't the church in huge decline over the last 20 years? i still meet thousands of people who can't relate to what goes on in church and who find the 'theology' espoused in sermons sends them to sleep - it isn't answering the concerns/questions/struggles they have, and that the structurural ways of being church permissable or on the map are very narrow. people are walking out in their droves. maybe i've missed something. maybe i'm on another planet. but theology in the academy and theology in the ministerial training colleges may just be part of the cultural upheaval that the rest of us are in?... i simply don't buy the arguments saying that it is so wonderful - it's great that it is changing. but there is an old world that is passing and dying and it's alive and well in both those places. a new one may be emerging too...


Jonny - I both agree and disagree: you could say the mission shaped church report has happened precisely because the people who went for training and academy have emerged from there wanting to re-shape the boundaries. I think it's a bit of both really, and I also think that however much reshaping we do it will never be done.

As for "is it theology" - from where I'm looking the only thing that matters is that we don't lose the heart of Theology - i.e. prophetic discourse about God in the presence of God - in a sociological (i.e observational study) of what the church might be like in the light of current cultural development. That's still not a value judgement - the one informs the other. And, indeed, some of the recent sociology of religion has brought some great corrective to some of the self-indulgent aspects of philosophical theology. But recognising each for what it IS, instead of calling sociology of religion "theology" might well be important in keeping the WHOLE discourse going. Why does it matter? because theology that only talks ecclesiology and mission is incomplete, and runs the risk of creating God in our own image.

This is such a helpful conversation - really enjoying your and Kester's input, along with Pope Ian [ ;) lol ]


umm Ian speaking for the whole of moot? I keen to avoid this descending into a moot vs jonny & kester - although that would make for an interesting MTV tag team animation ;-)

I think from what you are saying Jonny it seems like you want to :-
- reclaim the term 'theology' from being both anybody talking about/reflecting on God and a seperate term that refers to an academic discourse and instead for theology to remain as just the former.

- to unlink theological training colleges from the academy and for them to become independant entities free from the reigns of having to do certain 'boring' 'ivory towers' stuff in order to gain accreditation. Making them free do teach courses that are practical and based in the 'real world'.

My problem with both of the above is that if you had done this 60 years agi we would have no Barth, Brunner, Moltmann, Fiorenza, N.T.Wright, Pete Ward, Boff & Boff, Comblin, Hauerwas, Wink, Breuggemann etc... They would not have access to the academy for peer review and cross studies development/dialogue, they would not have been able to connect globally, they would not have had the academic background that allowed them to use academic ideas in new ways.

All those theologians that you like because they engage with real world issues within the academy would not have been able to do so because you are suggesting a retreat from the academy - like it or not the academy is both the reason why we have a developed and fairly rigorous (though by no means complete) liberational, feminist and political theologies AND the reason why we have courses that do not, as you put it, engage with real issues of life and faith in todays world. You would be sawing off ones of the legs on the stool you are sitting on.

So I think a better option would be to try and reform the present academic courses that theological institutes run - helping them to react to the changing contours of todays global situation.

As for kester's and pete's book not being theology, if they were to be put into a academic library they would be shelved under sociology - as they draw mainly on academic sociologists work as opposed to academic theologians work. This distinction is there to help catagorise peoples work so we can best understand what they are doing. Of course at one level they are both theology, but thats a different point than the one people were trying to make.

Ian Mobsby

Responding to Jonny

Apologies - did not mean to speak for moot - danger of not checking your post before submitting!! I meant to reflect back that many in the discussion on the blogs have disagreed with you...... I was tryingto unpick why that is.

I think we are not going to agree, which is fine. I have already said that Kester's book is excellent - but that it raises theological questions that need to be engaged with. To be true to Kester, I am half way through a reflection on this to post on Kester's site. Regarding Pete's book - important as it is as an excellent kick start for the whole issue of 'liquid church' it does however take a narrow line on the meaning of 'the body of Christ' key to our discussions. Personally I think there is a lot more in theology about this further to Calvin's teaching, and interpretations of 'being in Christ' that Pete covers on this that we need to consider. No one is talking about pure theology - more about including more depth of theology in our explorations. I think that much of the academy is committed to this more than it has in the past out of engagaing with those who are doing - through praxis. I hunger for greater collaboration and experimentation rather than 'who or what is in and who or what is out', which for me is a return to old (and bad) ways of doing things. We need the academy, when the academy has played its part in developing some of the key theologians you have mentioned. This discussion is healthy, and hope it has challenged us all - and maybe exercised some ghosts and untruths. I am also encouraged that people are engaging in considered experimentation is something sustainably new is going to emerge.



You lot must be reading different postings to me!

It seems to me that this blog thread is a little bit hair-splitting (and side splitting).

The only ivory tower that I can see is you lot going into paroxysms over what type of theology box you want to tick or not tick.

I've never studied theology academically before, but I read a lot of it in my spare time - including alll the people you name-check, and am engaged in an alt worship community, as well as doing a job that doesn't involve me being a proffessional christian.

I have no idea what type of theology box any of this fits into, but it all seems pretty relevant to me and my community on a day-to-day level. CHILL OUT PEOPLE!

I dont remember anyone on moots blog slagging off Kester's book for not being theology! If there was any problem, it looked more like to do with thecontent of it than what category it comes under!

I thiunk Gareth said it was a fine book that should come under sociology, and that a bit more theology mighth be helpful.

It seems to me that a polemic discussion like this one just makes everyone a bit prickly and defensive. How about a more collaborative approach, rather than everyone taking sides!!!


Jonny and me vs Moot in MTV style tag animation? That's the next London Zoo sorted then! We'll have the lot of you you langers!!!

Lol, again, thanks Jonny for putting what I'm thinking well... Can I try to speak for us both though: WE LOVE THEOLOGY. We don't hate it, want to diss it at all... and that's the issue. We don't want the fun fenced off by academics.

I think the point about the Library is a good one:

"if they [complex christ / liquid church etc.] were to be put into a academic library they would be shelved under sociology - as they draw mainly on academic sociologists work as opposed to academic theologians work"

My point exactly: it boils down to sources, and I simply think this is, to turn a phrase, an 'academic' distinction that, if people are going to properly re-engage with God, needs breaking down. Perhaps it's the librarians we should be after, and the Dewey system we should be riling against... And maybe some people need to spend less time in the Library, and get some fresh air. [I know, I'll pay for that remark! ;-p ]

Now where's my spandex wrestling suit?...


If we're talking (as in fact we are) about whether to shut down whole colleges, it's not just hair-splitting but significant to the development of the church. But anyway, why think anyone's "versus" anyone? Jonny, Gareth, Ian, Kester - we're all friends; we're all about thinking through being Christian; we like making each other think harder. I love the conversation and I love the people in it.


PS - spandex, Kester? What a cheering fantasy on a Friday afternoon coffee break ;)


I've only just caught up with this whole debate and there are a couple of things I'd like to say as someone who has been through the 'vicar factory' and is ordained but now does a 'real' job while working NSM.

Vicar factory is not about theology - there are theologians there and theology may 'happen' but it's main purpose is to give trainees a grounding in their faith and give them some space to think about it. The greatest value to me being at college was being able to think experimentally about my faith and question things in a way that straightforward training would never bring about.

Theologians (like Maggi and many others who contribute to this blog) should be free to theologise in it's pure (academic) sense as long as there is a communication with the rest of us about that, so that our understanding becomes more informed through the spurs and provocations that that process throws up (like this series of blogs).

Using the web to do that is an obvious and natural way for a new generation of thinkers and we're all priviledged to be around at the birth of that, which also explains why there are so few theologians doing it at the moment - after all the church was never the earliest of adopters when it comes to technology!!


I'm well up for the MTV tag team thing for the next london zoo - I tell you Ian is one mean mother f*&^* with his swinging thurable ;-)
'super G man'


what a great conversation!
like some others, i have just finished 3 yrs in a vicar factory, though it was a part-time degree in contextual theology. that means that i was working full-time (and when i was ordained they replaced me with 2 full-time posts) in one of teh more difficult and rapidly changing urban priority areas of teh country. so, study and work was full-on!
apparently the training college i attended was doing some of the more radical and challenging styles of training around the country - which helped me feel both depressed and hopeful depending on what frame of mind i took to college on any given night.
anyhoo, my experience in relation to this discussion has made me wish there was a training institution that was staffed by some great theologians who were able to communicate with average punters called into vicar-type ministry, and that the insititution itself was able to respond to contextual issues brought to the classroom by the students themselves.
for example, a couple of years ago(sept 10, 2001), in our backyard, the excel exhibition centre held the dsei arms fair for the first time. gues what happened next day...
as part of our church mission we were running (and it still runs) a small community cafe that was heavily committed to opposition of the arms fair being held. here was an example of international importance that needed the weight of collective theology to be brought to bear to an incident affecting local sociology that was mixed with issues of fear, hatred of the other, war, folk-religion ideas of what a chrsitian is - to name but a few. i really wanted the college to stop what we were studying at that moment and travel with me in helping me deal theologically with this imoprtant issue in my, and my church's, ministry. but the college couldn't, because it had a syllabus to get through.
i think the church would do well to consider setting up something like a parallel training institution that calls people to ministry, ordains them in some way, and trains them in context over a longer period of time.
maggi's great, and i'm sure a lot of her colleagues are great too, and i know that most of my lecturers were great, but i wonder if they are as frustrated by teh system they are constrained by, as those of us who are teh products of acadeamia.
i think i've strayed from teh original argument...sorry

Tom Allen

Thanks for the response: I am not suggesting that everything is wonderful particularly as I minister in Yorkshire which is hard ground compared with the South. But that makes it all the more important that we aim for the things that need changing rather than tilt at things which are already changing. I have posted some thoughts on my blog, which suggests that there might be a natural alliance between emergents, academics and theological trainers if we get beyond the stereotypes. Its good to see that people with current experience of training are seeing the potential as well.

Dave K

I'm not sure that the problem of theological training being disconected from the 'real-world' is a university problem. From my experience (2 years at a 'bible college', 2 years theology undergrad, 1 year theology postgrad - and no, I never ever, ever intended or intend to be a vicar!) universities are some of the (very few) places in our society where theology can engage with 'real-life' - whatever we mean by that - most closely, because theological questioning and self-critique is freely encouraged, which it certainly is not in the church. Many of the people I've met doing uni courses in theology abhor the church and everything it stands for, yet are intensely interested in 'doing theology', practically as well as academically. Yet I never ever experienced any kind of cultural, ethical, environmental, social, engagement when in bible college. Perhaps (some) university theology departments are doing the work of the church far better than the church?
I think the disconnection between 'vicar factories' and the 'real-world' is mainly down to the fact that during ordination training you're too darn busy to have a social life beyond uni. Perhaps the industrial chaplaincy model should be the norm and not the exception?

Just my 2 cents....


my last 42 cents.
We all have minds that were designed and structured purposefully (and wonderfully) for specific purposes. We were designed to be fascinated by certain things and the capacity to learn more about those things. We were designed to be able to find people with similar fascinations and desire a beneficial relationship with them (that, many times, can be very frustrating). This was, among other things, because most people have only certain people that they will respond to. We have these traits and designs within us so that when we come to know the King Eternal and have tasted the sweetness of Jesus’ love that we can find others yet to experience that bliss and help them achieve it. Some of us were designed with incredible patience to reach those who demand a lot of patience. Some of us were designed with an incredible capacity to nourish and heal so that those damaged by living in a fallen world can know a loving touch. And there are those of us who are designed with the ability to search and understand many of the deep and complex mysteries of life and who also have an unquenchable zeal to understand all that they do not know so that they can reach those who are among the most intelligent of skeptics and be seen as someone who has not come to the decision to surrender themselves to the grace and also the mysteries of God as a blind fool, but as one who has studied and fought and came to God with eyes and mind wide open.
We should not bemoan others whose gifts are not ours, complaining about the legitimacy of those gifts (who were, in fact, given by the ever- discerning Holy Spirit), or complaining about how they are not being used in a way they think should be.

There is an old Native American (supposedly) adage that says: God grant that I not criticize my neighbor until I walk a mile in his moccasins.

May we not be quick to criticize the gifts of others and their use of them. There is, after all, reasons that we were not blessed with other peoples gifts, God saw fit that they and not we should have them. God saw fit that we should have different gifts. God wants us to be humble. God wants our attention spent on using our gifts to His glory.

Peace to the family of God


anybody need an american wrestler on their tag team?


Favourite theologian - George Herbert - poet, pastor, priest, lived a long time ago, didn't tag wrestle...


...i think


Interesting debate & I don’t think it’s restricted to those of you in the emerging scene. I studied theology for three years – yet I never left the real world to do this. All through college I was still engaged in the youth work I’m now responsible for.

That said, I’ve done three years study, got a 1st and still, theologically speaking feel a novice and that much of my thinking has gaps or is disjointed. Perhaps 3 years is not enough to theologically train vicars / pastors? Perhaps in our busy lives / ministries we don’t allow enough time to reflect? Perhaps for many the pressures of life mean we resort to pragmatics, knowing we need to think this through but lacking the time or energy. I guess this is a long way of saying we need those who love God, and are passionate about his church to help us who love him too, are passionate about the world he loves, and yet lack the time to think, research & discover. Let’s work together with mutual respect.

Sarah Dylan Breuer

Ray said:

"The Bible was written by the simple for the simple. So the complex - that's us - will be severely handicapped in really understanding the Bible."

Ray, have you ever read St. Paul's letter to the Romans -- especially in Greek? Paul was definitely not a simple writer, and a lot of his thinking (not to mention his syntax!) is very nuanced and complicated. I encourage you to spend some time exploring the wonderful (and very applicable to the Church!) complexities of our New Testament theologians. Paul is by no means the only NT writer whose work is rich enough to reward digging deep and making use of every brain cell God gave us!

I have a good friend who is fond of saying that Jesus taught that the first commandment is "Love the Lord your God WITH YOUR MIND." God gave us minds that are capable of following complicated strains of thought not to trip us up, but to enrich our lives and the life of the Church and the world.




...plus Ray, if you read the book, 'complex' is not meant in the sense of 'complicated'. Simplicity and Complexity are thus not opposites.


yes, i have read it many times and know that there are many complex thoughts and that he was primarily speaking to well educated roman citizens who knew much about law and that he had to constantly struggle to convince these people intellectually. i know that there has always been people who approach things in a very complicated manner and cannot accept the simplicity of life or, especially, the message of the cross. They were not designed to do that. Some of us were created with minds that view things very simply (which is a blessing) and others were designed to search the complexities of life (which is also a blessing). We need theologians who were designed to search and grasp the complexities of God and His Word to reach out to those who will only consider God if they can have their very deep and complex concerns addressed.
We also need people who can translate the thoughts of theologians to the majority of people in our world who get lost or confused or bored and lose interest because of how complicated things can become. We do not have to know everything, nor can we. We should have a desire to know more about God and crave the meat that is within His word, searching relentlessly its depths and riches, but always know that the message of the cross is essentially very simple and all that we really need to know is that we were lost to the Father and that the cross made possible our reconciliation. That is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2: 1,2 - "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." We can lose that simple truth as we become consumed with searching the infinite mysteries of God and lose others in the process.
this might relate: i spent a couple weeks in the home of a brother in aylesbury, eng. who was the editor for a hymnal that is used by many churches in the UK. He turned me on the rich literature and wonderful thoughts that is prevelant throughout the old hymns that i had overlooked because i was so disinterested with old hymns that used archaic language thinking that they could not benefit my life in this contemporary culture i found myself. later, i spent some time in the house of another brother in aberdeen sotland who shared with me a recording by Gavin Bryars, "Jesus' blood never failed me yet" that revolved around a very simple line sung by a some old english tramp. All he sang was "Jesus' blood never failed me yet/Never failed me yet/Jesus' blood never failed me yet/There's one thing I know/For He loves me so...". i said to that brother, "i sure would love to find the rest of that song, there is so much more that could be said. its a shame that there isn't more." his reaction to me was, "but ray, what more do you need to know?" that response shook me up and has since effected the way i approach my ministry to others, especially those who are in the dark. i have to constantly remind myself to 'Keep It Simple, Stupid' when reaching out to a people who have at most only a high school education.
there is much that we can know, but only little that we absolutely need to know. Could it be that the complexities are there within the Word are there for those that are too smart and complicated to realize the simple beauty of God's love?


ok, with that view of complex, kester, i do view the complex Christ as a blessing because it makes Him a more universal Savior who can found by every single uniquely designed person with thier unique needs and concerns being addressed. i do need to get a copy of your book. it is now on my Christmas list so hopefully it will show up under the tree. (unless you want to float one across the atlantic to me here in north carolina!) although you wrote your book to deal with life in an urban setting, the principles, from what i could tell, would help with those in very poor rural regions.
thanks, k,

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