Finding the focus

17 Jan

Back on deck: a new year and (I hope) some new and fresh challenges.
I have long since known the importance of making it, or allowing it to be, a new year and not just another year repeating what happened last year.

I do have at least one new challenge: I have been asked to serve as Acting Principal of Whitley College for the year, which will stretch me in a lot of directions, as I will still need to exercise my other role as Dean.

Which brings me to the question of focus.
I was asked by a denominational newspaper to write a short piece of where our college’s focus would be this year.
It’s a good question. I think in fact the focus in theological education has shifted quite significantly in the last decade.
For me, the most important element is the shift from an almost exclusive stress on the life of the adademy, in which elements to do with the lived experience of faith and ministry had constantly to prove their ‘relevance’ or academic merit, to a renewed appreciation of what I call ‘the formation agenda’.
This is the focus for me: all theological education must be about the formation of people, in their lives as disciples, believers, questioners, and so on, but also as active participants in the work of God in the world.
All theological education must be about ‘ministry’—the ministry of all, not just the ‘ordained’ few.

This brings us back to what used to be called a seminary.
The word has some useful connotations, and some unhelpful ones.
The most difficult one is the historic idea that only those who are to be ordained go to seminary.
The most positive idea is that this is a place for the formation of lives: here people grow and they become people who help others to grow.

But in my recent experience, we have to be much more effective in establishing the actual links between the ‘seminary’ as an institution and a place, and the actual contexts in which people live and serve – the places where people are ‘the church’.
It is not just, as I have put it, that we do theology about the church, nor even for the church: we need to do theolgy with the church and with the churches, the people.

And more than that, we need to enable all the people of the churches to see that they are, in different ways and forms, theologians. We need to evoke the theology of and from the people.

This week I recieved the hard copies of an article I published in the international journal of the World Evangelical Alliance theological commission, Evangelical Review of Theology (Vol. 30, No 1, January 2006, pages 4 – 12).
It’s a piece reflecting these ideas: It’s called ‘Enabling local congregations to become theological communities.’ The article draws on some experiences as being ‘theologian in residence’ with several local churches. It also identifies what I see as the most basic task of local groups as theological communities: the imaginative reading of the Bible, together. If pastors and leaders can facilitate this, local churches become theological communities.

For me the focus for this year is to explore this idea: finding more specific ways to shape the theological ‘college’ experience, within the formation agenda and towards this wider vision of the whole Christian community discovering itself as ‘faith seeking understanding’ and sharing its knowledge of God in appropriate articulation.
That’s enough to be going on with!

3 thoughts on “Finding the focus

  1. Seminaries and Formation

    It is good to see Frank Rees posting again at To Be Frank. His opening reflection for the year explores the shifts that have taken place in theological education towards the “formation agenda” and he seeks to recover that notion, and the idea of …

  2. Frank,
    Your last sentence is so important and rings so true for me. If someone were to find themselves among thousands of people who suddenly had their lives changed enormously by a tsunami then “faith seeking understanding” becomes essential. But it must be followed by “appropriate articulation” among people who are left wondering “why?”.
    You played a very important role in this process for me. Congratulations on the new role. Couldn’t be a better person for the job.

  3. Yay – to be Frank is back in 2006!
    To me the “appropriate articulation” of our faith is one of the most significant challenges facing the Christian community today. So often I have felt like church is a place where we all assume that “we know what we mean” and don’t really have to be able to talk about our experience, faith, questions or ideas in a way which is understandable to others.
    Your goal for this year is a really worthy one. Having said that, Whitley is already one of the places I know of where this “appropriate articulation” is sought and encouraged in an ongoing way.
    But can this be taught? It seems to me that enabling ‘formation’ is much more difficult that the more definable ‘education’. In a theological institution this is no doubt quite challenging to those with a confined idea of orthodoxy. “Appropriate articulation” is surely contextual, and therefore requires a spiritual and intellectual openmindedness which is difficult for some.
    Shalom for the journey Frank!

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