SST Meeting 2018

The annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Theology will soon arrive. We asked Dr. O’Donnell, an Executive Committee member of the SST, to share her thoughts on the upcoming meeting. For more information, visit http://www.theologysociety.org.uk


This April will see the gathering of the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Theology (SST) at the University of Nottingham, 9-11 April. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Theology, Culture, and Unbelief’ with keynotes from Miroslav Volf (Yale Center for Faith and Culture), J. Kameron Carter (Duke Divinity School), Katie Edwards (Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies), and Julian Baggini (Philosopher and founder of The Philosophy Magazine). Alongside these outstanding speakers we will also be hearing from our President—Karen Kilby—in her presidential address, and Robert Beckford (Canterbury Christ Church University) will discuss his 2014 monograph Documentary as Exorcism: Resisting the Bewitchment of Colonial Christianity (London: Bloomsbury) on a panel with Carol Tomlin (University of Wolverhampton), Chris Shannahan (Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations, Coventry University), and William Ackah (Birkbeck University of London).

This incredible line up of speakers and panelists will be joined by presenters of a wide variety of short papers on the conference theme on the Tuesday. This year we are also convening, for the first time, a special stream on Theology and Popular Culture. It’s not too late to propose a paper on the conference theme (deadline 29th Jan 2018). More information on how to do this, as well as an outline of the call for papers, can be found on our website at http://www.theologysociety.org.uk/short.asp.

The Wednesday of the SST conference is always an opportunity to hear papers on the seminar topics. These are theological papers not associated with the conference theme but with one of our regular seminars. These include Philosophical Theology, Christology, Sacramentality, and Ethics as well as a number of others. The deadline for papers is also the 29th Jan 2018 and more information on the call for seminar papers is available here http://www.theologysociety.org.uk/seminar.asp.

SST also features a call for posters on either the conference theme or other theological research with a £50 prize for the best poster. We are also pleased to offer a bursary fund to support postgraduate attendance at the conference. Again, more information about both of these can be found on our website pages, as can information about our mentoring scheme if you would like any guidance and support on proposing a paper.

I first came to SST as postgraduate student and found it to be a very welcoming and stimulating environment—I liked it so much I’ve been back every year since, and am now a member of the Executive Committee. It is a brilliant place to present your research and receive thoughtful and insightful feedback. It’s also a great opportunity to hear about the brilliant theological research that is happening across the world. The atmosphere is very friendly and the conference offers plenty of social time to enjoy catching up with old friends and making new ones—the onsite bar is always very popular for this! We look forward to welcoming you in Nottingham later this year. In the meantime you can keep up to date on conference news using #SST2018.

 

Karen O’Donnell, Research Fellow in Digital Theology & Pedagogy, CODEC Centre for Digital Theology, Durham University. SST Executive Committee member. @kmrodonnell

Welcome to the Roundel

The Roundel is the graduate blog of the School of Divinity’s Systematic & Historical Theology subject group. It is named after the Roundel, the distinctive 16th-century tower, overlooking St Andrews Cathedral, that houses the School of Divinity’s PhD workspaces.

The blog features career advice, info for incoming students, seminar recaps, research synopses, book reviews, and news from the School of Divinity. It is intended for current students, alumni, applicants, and those interested in academic theology.

Master’s in Systematic & Historical Theology – Reimagined

An interview with Prof. Judith Wolfe, Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews

The Roundel: Systematic & Historical Theology at St Andrews has been changing. Can you tell us about some of what’s new?

JW: Over the last few years, Systematic & Historical Theology has built closer ties with the interdisciplinary Institutes within the School of Divinity: the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, and the Logos Institute. Each of these Institutes runs its own Master’s and PhD programmes, but staff work together closely on research projects, seminar series, and conferences. (The Institute for Bible, Theology and Hermeneutics is a smaller collaboration without own teaching programmes, which has traditionally organized our Scripture and Christian Theology conferences.)

These exchanges have kept the field vibrant and active during the time of transition that followed the death of Prof. John Webster, who was very much at the heart of our work in Systematic & Historical Theology.

During this time, we were also searching for someone of international stature to succeed Prof. Webster in the 1643 Chair in Divinity. I’m happier than I can easily express that Prof. Dr Christoph Schwöbel is taking up that post. I hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes by saying that he is perhaps the greatest living theologian in Germany today, who holds the senior chair in Tübingen and has shaped contemporary work within the fields of Systematic and Historical Theology, within the Lutheran church and its ecumenical initiatives, and increasingly within the interdisciplinary spheres that are so important to us.

The Roundel: Yes, we PhDs are very excited about this appointment. When does Prof. Schwöbel arrive, and how much will he be involved in teaching and PhD supervision?

JW: Christoph and his wife Katrin Bosse will be with us from September 2018. Both will be involved in undergraduate teaching in theology and religious studies. But Christoph’s main focus is likely to be the graduate community. He is accepting applications for PhD supervision, and will be co-running the Theology Research Seminar. As you know, we usually read a text or group of texts together in Martinmas term, and have guest speakers in Candlemas term. Next Martinmas, we plan to read Anselm of Canterbury, on whom Christoph has done some very interesting work.

I’m especially glad that Christoph will lead our MLitt in Systematic & Historical Theology. We’ve just informally agreed the programme for next year, and to be honest, I wish I could go back to school and take it.

Reading group

The Roundel: Are you able to tell us about the programme?

JW: Well, nothing is official until the course catalogue goes to print in March or so, but the plan is to offer a coherent, integrated programme that will give students a secure sense of the architecture and the development of Christian thought. We want to anchor theology in its most basic and enduring form, the reading of Scripture, by beginning with two complimentary half-semester modules: The Origins of Christian Theology (co-taught by T.J. Lang and S. Holmes), which traces the development of theological method and thought from Paul to Nicaea with close attention to primary texts; and The History of Biblical Interpretation (M. Elliott), which focuses on the ways different biblical themes were read through the centuries.

At the same time, we want to give students a rich historical sense of the development of major Christian loci. So in the second half of the first semester, students will take The Doctrine of the Trinity (C. Schwöbel), following developments of that central doctrine from Nicaea to modern times; and in the first half of the second semester, they will examine the development of Christology (C. Schwöbel), particularly in Scholastic and Reformation theology, and again up to modern times.

These thematic modules will be complemented by two modules that encourage the close reading of theological texts, and closer attention to different theological methods, by focusing on single theologians. In the first half of the second semester, students will take A Selected Medieval Theologian: Bonaventure (W. Hyland) and in the second half, A Selected Modern Theologian: C.S. Lewis (J. Wolfe).

Students will be able to substitute some of these for modules from our other programmes, if they’d like to specialize more. But this, we intend to be the standard programme.

 

The Roundel: C.S. Lewis isn’t often taught in theological programmes, is he?

JW: I don’t know of any other Theology department in the UK that teaches him. But I think he’s an immensely deep and rich theological thinker, and that he’ll be remembered as one of the 20th century’s most important. Although – or maybe because – my main field of research is 20th-century philosophical theology, particularly Martin Heidegger and his circle, I find in Lewis a better conversation partner than in almost any other 20th-century theologian. So I’m very much looking forward to this module. Since our Journal of Inklings Studies has its editorial office here at St Mary’s College, I’ll also be scouting for talent of course.

The Roundel: Some of our graduates are part of the editorial team, aren’t they?

JW: Yes, exactly.

 

The Roundel: You’ve mentioned modules, but no dissertation. There is one though, right?

JW: Yes, sorry, I got distracted by Lewis. The capstone of the programme is a dissertation of about 15,000 words – that’s 50-60 pages double-spaced – on a research topic of the student’s choice, under the supervision of a member of staff. Most of the dissertation work is done after coursework finishes, so between May and August. Of course students are encouraged to start discussing and reading things earlier.

The dissertation is intended equally for those who are applying to move up to the PhD (which, as you know, is entirely dissertation-based) and for those who take the MLitt as a free-standing degree or for professional development. Those who are preparing for PhD work can try out a topic to test its potential for a longer project – or they can get something out of their system that they don’t think they’ll want to work on again, but would like to try their hand at. Those who take the the MLitt as a standalone degree often come with particular questions or challenges, and the dissertation gives them the chance to spend a significant amount of time on that question with an academic guide and conversation partner.

The Roundel interior

© SierraWhiskeyBravo

The Roundel: In the Roundel, where the PhDs work, tensions usually run high in March, just before the first-years submit their probationary review papers. I remember the MLitts feeling that way in early August. It usually seems to turn out alright….

You said you wish you could take the MLitt yourself?

JW: I often think it’s a shame that we academics can’t do more coursework – in fact, to be honest, many of the conferences I organize, I intend as sort of surrogate classwork for myself. But I said it about this MLitt in particular because I think it does something that’s hard to find nowadays. Increasingly, I think, undergraduate degrees in theology and religion offer so much choice that students get a really good sense of particular themes, theories or loci, but often come out of their degree without a secure grasp of the overall coherence or interrelatedness of Christian thought, or of its complex historical development. That’s exactly what we’re hoping to provide: both the knowledge and the tools to receive, integrate and innovate. And I’d love to take classes with Christoph, or Bill, or the others.

 

The Roundel: That does sound great. Where can folk get more information if they’re interested?

JW: All the official information is on the University of St Andrews’ postgraduate course pages. There’s additional, more informal information on the MLitt page of Systematic & Historical Theology’s WordPress site. And of course people are welcome to email any of us staff.

 

The Roundel: We students are also happy to talk to folk who are interested in coming. I think all our profiles are on the WordPress site.

JW: Yes, both current PhDs and current MLitts are listed at http://theology.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/people/students/. Thanks for that offer.

 

The Roundel: Pleasure. Thank you very much for your time; this is all very exciting.

JW: Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about it.

Announcement of Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel

The School is delighted to announce that Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel will take the 1643 Chair in Divinity in September 2018. The chair fell vacant at Prof. John Webster’s death in 2015.

Prof. Schwöbel is presently Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, where he has been since 2004; prior to that he held the chair in Systematic Theology and Ecumenical Theology in Heidelberg. He is the author of six monographs and editor of twenty two academic volumes, and he has also published approximately two hundred articles in academic journals or scholarly essays in books.

Alongside his research publications, Prof. Schwöbel has served the academy and the church with great distinction through his career. He has served on many significant academic committees in Germany, and chaired the Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft für Theologie 2008-11. He has a particular commitment to engaging in dialogue with theologians from Asia, and is a founding member of the East-West Theological Forums. He has been editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie since 2007, and is on the editorial boards of several other leading journals.

In the ecclesial realm, Prof. Schwöbel’s contributions to ecumenical discussion in particular have been immense. He was a member of the Leuenberg Fellowship 1989-1994, and drafted its influential statement, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ’; and he co-chaired the Meissen Conference 2004-2010. More recently, he has been very influential in developing Christian-Muslim dialogue in Germany.

He will be joined in St Andrews by his wife Katrin Bosse, who will take an Associate Lectureship in the School, teaching in the areas of systematic theology and the theology of religions.

Head of School, Steve Holmes, said, ‘We are delighted to welcome Christoph and Katrin to the School, and greatly look forward to working with them over the next years. By any estimation Christoph is one of the leading systematic theologians in the world today, and his arrival in St Andrews continues and strengthens our commitment to being amongst the best in the world in that area. Katrin will help us in our ambition to develop new programmes in religious literacy, helping the School to respond to changes in the cultural context we serve.’

Enquiries from prospective doctoral students who would like to study with Prof. Schwöbel should be directed to the School postgraduate secretary. Prof. Schwoebel will also take a leading role in our MLitt in Systematic & Historical Theology, for which applications are now open.

Why Take a PhD to Pastoral Ministry

Dr. Joey Sherrard

Dr. Joey Sherrard recently defended his PhD thesis in St. Mary’s College, and he now serves as Assistant Pastor of Discipleship at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  We congratulate Dr. Sherrard on his successful thesis defense and wish him the best as he ministers at his local congregation. This post continues our blog series on pastor theologians.


Why Take a PhD to Pastoral Ministry

When I decided, after six years of local church ministry as a pastor, to move across the Atlantic and to begin a doctoral program in systematic theology, what already felt like a lonely endeavor seemed even just a little bit lonelier. When I matriculated at St Andrews, I did so with a clear sense of calling that I would return to pastoral ministry upon the completion of my degree. Many of my colleagues at St Andrews, while sympathetic to intellectual demands of the task of ministry and committed to the local church in their personal and professional lives, came to St Andrews to pursue a vocation in academia and the specific context of institutions of higher learning. The clarity of their own calling and the relative straightforwardness with which they could integrate the work into their preparation for their careers contrasted with my own. How exactly did the work of seminar conversations about the doctrine of divine simplicity and papers presented on the extra Calvinisticum justify the significant commitment that my family and I had just made?

I’m grateful that in my first year at St Andrews I discovered the Center for Pastor Theologians and began almost immediately to be involved in their work. That institution, alongside the example of other pastors, the encouragement of friends and colleagues at St Mary’s, and the last two post-St Andrews years of work as a pastor, have helped me begin to articulate the immense blessing it is to be bring a PhD to the local church and the acute need there is for pastors who have completed the kind of intellectual formation required by a doctoral degree. What follows are three reasons why men and women discerning a call to ministry might consider doctoral work and why those currently undertaking a PhD can find their work well put to use in pastoral ministry.

The Fragmentation of Late Modernity

The lack of a coherent, shared intellectual framework and the abundance of identities now available in the modern marketplace has been well-documented by scholars such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor. Modern Western culture is a confusing place to be a human being, let alone the shepherd of a group of men and women who bring into the pews each Sunday the questions and opinions they’ve formed from the various theological, media, and relational wells they have drawn from in the past week. Whereas in previous generations pastor and congregant might be able to agree upon a relatively narrow set of first principles that guide preaching, worship, and pastoral counseling, in most contexts this consensus has largely been lost. And this is the reality not just outside of the pastor, but also inside of him or her as well.

The gift of a doctoral degree is not only the opportunity to go a mile deep on a single biblical or theological conversation, but also the opportunity to think synthetically across the disciplines and historically across the ages. The pastor-theologian already has a tendency to be a generalist; the work of a doctoral program allows one to be a much more knowledgeable one. Seminars invite you to learn about much more than your own project. And (at least at the Roundel in St Andrews) lunchtime and water cooler conversations about colleagues’ interests are where much of the learning takes place. All of this is a significant asset that the pastor-theologian can bring into the study and the pulpit. In the middle of a time of intellectual and spiritual fragmentation, a doctoral program allows the pastor-theologian to begin to integrate.

The Intellectual Demands of Discipleship

This aforementioned integration is a much-needed asset for the pastor-theologian as he or she seeks to shepherd the flock toward Christian maturity. While there may be reason to sympathize with the pragmatic orientation of discipleship that is found in many contemporary churches, a deep acquaintance with the Scriptures and the Church’s theological tradition reveals the thinness of what can pass for spiritual formation. My own work in systematic theology at St Andrews has provided for me a number of tools that have been brought to bear on my work as a pastor: a greater attention to the doctrine of creation for understanding the ends of formation, an appreciation of the structure and depth of Christian catechesis, and a deeper understanding of the ways that doctrines relate to one another.

The work of discipling men and women in the local church is quite different than the work of constructing a 80,000 word doctoral thesis. In many ways it is more complex, requiring relational sensitivity, wisdom, and persistence. But it is not less than a robustly intellectual task that requires the fullness of the Church’s theological resources. Pastor-theologians can be an asset to the Church’s witness in the task of discipleship.

The Beauty of Theology in the Local Church

A doctoral program, and particularly the research-intensive structure of UK doctorates, affords one an immense amount of time to engage with the great texts of the Christian tradition. This time, alongside the habits of attentiveness and charity that the St Mary’s community encouraged in me, led me to an increased appreciation for the Spirit’s work in the Church and the lives of the theologians who sought to be faithful to the witness of the prophets and the apostles in their works. Experiences such as a semester spent reflecting upon the elegance and beauty of Augustine’s City of God leads one to a greater appreciation of and confidence in the riches of the Gospel of grace.

But there is an equally profound beauty found not only in discovering these works and in furthering the conversation about them with the academy, but also in seeing their truths forged in the lives of the saints. In our age of anxiety and uncertainty, there is a deep satisfaction to be found in bringing Augustine’s abiding confidence in the City of God to bear upon the hearts of those in the local church. This is a work that requires not only wise and learned pastor-theologians but also production of robust theology by these same men and women to encourage and edify fellows pastors and followers of Jesus in their calling.

For these reasons and an abundance of others, doctoral students and discerning pastors will find their PhDs put to excellent use in ordained ministry in the local church.

A Journey Through Lent in Monastic Company

Dr. William Hyland

This semester, Dr. William Hyland, Lecturer in Church History at St. Mary’s College, will offer a series of blog posts on monastic spirituality. They originate from a series of lectures he delivered at All Saints Church in St. Andrews. We are grateful for the many ways in which Dr. Hyland contributes to our academic community, and we appreciate his expertise in this area. This first post serves as his introduction to the series.


This past Lent on five consecutive Thursdays I gave a series of talks at All Saints Church in St Andrews on how aspects of monastic spirituality could possibly be helpful for Christians who are living in the world. To do so I drew upon writers from the Benedictine tradition, but also many other writers, male and female, from the wider monastic tradition of East and West from the patristic era through the late twentieth century. In each talk, accompanied by visual imagery, I tried to illustrate the various points through quotations from various monastic spiritual teachers, and relevant imagery.

The first talk was entitled The Benedictine Way of Attentiveness. Here I pointed out many similarities between Benedictine and Anglican approaches to holiness.  After an overview of monastic history before the sixth century Benedictine Rule, I focused on the balance in the latter between 3 aspects of prayerful attentiveness that made up each day in the monastery: liturgical prayer, manual labor, and spiritual reading. If all of these activities are approached in a prayerful way, they help cultivate an awareness of the presence and transforming power of God in each moment and in the everyday tasks of life. I also discussed how the vows of the Benedictine life, namely stability, obedience and lifelong conversion of life, can be very helpful when creatively applied in a lay context.

The second talk, entitled Lectio Divina: Praying with Scripture, was concerned with some of the ways and methods that characterize the use of Scripture for private prayer in the monastic tradition.  One method discussed was that taught by John Cassian in the fifth century, which he in turn had learned from the Desert Fathers. As discussed in the ninth and tenth books of his Conferences, it involves the frequent repetition of a single verse from Scripture, Psalm 70:1, “O God come to my assistance, O Lord, make speed to help me.” By giving oneself over to what Cassian calls ‘the poverty of the verse”, we gradually allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray, and to let prayer permeate our whole life in this way. I then went on to discuss the quintessential monastic prayer known as lectio divina, or sacred reading. This ancient practice was discussed in its definitive form by the twelfth-century Carthusian monk Guigo, where he describes the four stages of praying with a passage from Scripture as Reading, Meditation, Prayer and Contemplation.

The importance of Scriptural prayer for growth in the spiritual life was carried over into the next talk entitled Overcoming the False of Shadow Self. This talk examined how a twentieth century Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, discussed the role of the Psalms and all Scripture in helping the Christian to develop authentic ways of self-examination, and also to allow the God who is Love to speak to us through the Scriptures and transform all of our relationships, with God and one another. After discussing Merton, I showed how what Merton expressed in a modern idiom for his twentieth-century audience had deep roots in the psychology and spiritual teachings of his great twelfth-century Cistercian forebears, particularly Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St Thierry,  and Aelred of Rievaulx.

The fourth talk was entitled Sacrifice. First of all, it examined the various ways that liturgical prayer, particularly the Divine Office, has been described as a “sacrifice of praise.” I then discussed the ways that the monastic tradition, including St Augustine, has brought out the rich aspects of how our own lives can be joined to the Sacrifice of Christ. I then discussed, using modern writers such as Dom Columba Marmion, Catherine de Hueck Doherty as well as older writers such as Brother Lawrence and various monks from the Syriac tradition, how these ideas of liturgical “sacrifice” flow into and enrich our everyday lives and relationships with other people, and then in turn our everyday lives enrich our liturgical experience.

The final talk was on how throughout the history of the Church the monastic tradition gives us various approaches to meditating on the events of the Passion, and what they can mean for our own spiritual life. We also discussed through imagery how portrayals of the Passion through art have followed these different trajectories of the tradition, and illustrated this through many quotations from monastic writers and mystics, including men and women from the Franciscan tradition, and many others. This was accompanied by a practical discussion of the variety of ways to think about the Passion in prayer and reflection.

Each of the talks was preceded and concluded by appropriate prayers chosen by the Rector, which sometimes included singing a final hymn together. The discussion following each talk brought out certain aspects of the topics, including members of the group sharing their own experiences

Pastor or Theologian? Rejecting the False Dichotomy

Gerald Hiestand. Photo courtesy of CPT website.

This post is authored by Gerald Hiestand. Gerald is Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, and co-founder and executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan), and Becoming a Pastor Theologians: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic). His most recent edited volume is Beauty, Order and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (IVP Academic).

St. Mary’s College is grateful for its connections with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Dr. Scott Hafemann, Reader in New Testament at St. Mary’s, is a Senior Mentor at the Center. The following St. Mary’s graduates and current students are active participants in the Center’s fellowships: Dr. Tim Fox, Dr. Trygve Johnson, Dr. Mickey Klink, Dr. Joey Sherrard, and Matt Ketterling.


I’ve been asked to contribute an essay here in light of my work as executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians—a network of broadly evangelical clergy committed to ongoing theological scholarship on behalf of the church. But in order to introduce the CPT, let me first say a word about the times in which we live.

There are Christians in every generation who rather forlornly assume that their generation, beyond any previous generation, has at last hit bottom. For my part, I’m not certain our generation is really any better or worse than the ones that have gone before. But I am certain that our generation faces intellectual challenges never before encountered by our forefathers in the faith. The waters we sail are uniquely choppy.

Questions related to human cloning, new definitions of marriage, gender reassignment, the advent of social media, computers in our pockets more powerful than what NASA used to put the first man on the moon, religious relativism juxtapositioned against militant Islam, an ever shrinking social and economic global community, an increasingly post-Christian western culture, the rise of the ‘new atheists’, global warming, and more. If ever there was an age that called for careful, theological, and intellectual leadership, it is surely our age.

In past generations, such leadership was primarily the domain of the Church’s bishops and pastors. But since the Enlightenment, the pastoral community has increasingly (and now almost universally) quit the field. The university professor has replaced the pastor as the assumed theological leader of the church. Pastors, we are told, care for people, preach sermons, visit the sick and provide spiritual counsel. Professors, on the other hand, stay above the fray so they can have time and space to think deeply and write penetratingly about the pressing intellectual questions of the day.

The primary problem with this division of labor, of course, is that pastors remain the theological leaders of the church, however much they might wish to delegate this responsibility to the academy.

The capacity of the people of God to think theologically and Christianly about immigration, ISIS, transgenderism, gay marriage, the possibilities and perils of social media, human cloning, and global warming, does not come from what the professors in the universities are saying, but from what their pastors are (or are not) saying. This is not to minimize the important work being done by academics in the universities and colleges. But the burden of leading the church theologically (with all the attending inevitable ethical implications) is a burden that rests squarely upon the shoulders of church’s pastors.

Theology, as a discipline, has the primary function of answering questions that the Church needs answering. The abdication by pastors of this responsibility has, in the main, resulted in a theologically anemic church, ill-equipped to face the brave new world in which we find ourselves. And insofar as post-Enlightenment theologians now reside almost exclusively in an academic social location, Christian theological reflection at the highest levels has tended to become ecclesially anemic, too often disconnected from the real concerns on the ground. We write deeply about interesting ideas, but we’ve forgotten why those ideas are, in the end, important.

But Christian theological reflection is meant to flourish within the ecclesial community precisely because it is the ecclesial community that theology is meant to serve. And it is the Church’s pastors who are tasked with thinking from within and for this community. The people of God will never rise above the theological leadership of her pastors, however theologically astute our Christian professors are in the academy.

Cue the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT). The CPT is a broadly evangelical organization dedicated to recruiting, networking, and resourcing pastor theologians to provide faithful written, intellectual and theological leadership on behalf of the church, in light of the cultural challenges and opportunities of the late modern world.

The CPT operates with the guiding premise that pastors are indeed the theological leaders of the church, and that the pastoral community must once again self-consciously assume the burden of the Church’s intellectual and theological leadership. We at the CPT have in mind a vision of the pastor theologian that extends beyond pastors acting as mere theological middle-men—as though pastor theologians were simply pastors who translated academic theology into terms the laity can understand. Such a vision is helpful insofar as it goes, but sells short the vision of the pastor theologian in it most historic and robust conception. In every age, and most especially in ours, the Church needs pastors who not only translate theology, but who also construct theology. Or again, the Church needs pastors who are writing theology not just to their congregants, but to other ecclesially minded theologians and scholars (a genre of theological discourse that I have termed ‘ecclesial theology’, as distinct from academic theology). The Church needs pastors who operate at the highest intellectual levels, and who are able to tap deeply into the Church’s theological heritage and traditions, who are able to construct theological syntheses that answer the most pressing intellectual questions of the day. The Church needs pastors who do the kind of work done by previous generations of pastor theologians—pastors such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, the Cappadocians—bishops all.

Not every pastor is called to the highest levels of the theological task, of course. Just like not every professor in the academy is a prolific writer and scholar. Some pastors will discharge their theological leadership solely in the context of a local congregation. Well and good. But the time has come for the emerging generation of ecclesial leaders to press into a new future (which is really just a return to our past) where the pastoral community once again considers itself—collectively—to be a body of theologians.

My congregation is the appropriate soil out of which my research projects have grown; their fears, concerns, doubts, joys, and sufferings inevitably become my own, shaping the questions I ask, the way I read Scripture and how I access the rich textual tradition of the church. The books and articles I write, while not always written directly to my congregation, always have my congregation in view. I have found few things more satisfying than seeing the fruit of my theological reflection winding its way into the lives of those whom I love and serve—bolstering faith, steadying weak knees, encouraging love for God and neighbor, and inspiring hope.

I’ll not pretend. Being a theologian in a local church is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been hacking away at it for a decade now, and it is not all rainbows and rose petals. Local churches very frequently lack the institutional infrastructure so crucial to the theologian’s task. Access to scholarly resources is often a challenge. The relational remove from a community of like-minded scholars can be isolating. And many congregants look with suspicion on a pastor who spends time reading and writing about things that congregants themselves don’t understand. But pressing through and beyond such obstacles is worth it. Being a productive theologian in a local church is indeed possible. It won’t look quite the same as being a theologian in the academy. (I’ve written about that here). But for those so called and gifted, I can’t think of a more fulfilling vocation.

For too long now those with intellectual and theological capacities have not considered the pastorate to be a viable vocational home for a theologian or scholar. This false choice has impoverished (indeed imperiled) the church. The nearly sixty fellows of the CPT are evidence that such a vision can succeed. Not every theologian is called to be a pastor. And not every pastor is called to be a theologian (in the most robust sense the term implies). But some pastors are called and gifted to be theologians, and some theologians are called and gifted to be pastors. If such is the reader of this essay, then reject the false division and embrace the historic vision of the pastor theologian.

Nobody is Hiring, So What Can I Do with My PhD in Theology?

Nathan A. Finn. Photo courtesy of Union University.

Dr. Nathan A. Finn contributed today’s post. Dr. Finn is Dean of the School of Theology and Missions and Professor of Theological Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, USA. We are grateful for his contribution.


For eight years, I served on the faculty at a large theological seminary, where I was part of a committee that redesigned our PhD programs in Historical Theology and Systematic Theology. I continue to teach and supervise several students studying historical theology. For the past two years, I’ve served as the dean of a college that focuses on theological education within the context of a Christian liberal arts university. One of my responsibilities as dean is hiring new faculty in my school.

As both a supervising professor and an academic dean, I spend a fair amount of my time talking to men and women who are pursuing advanced studies in theological disciplines. Almost all of them want to know what they can do with their PhD, especially in a job market where few schools are expanding the size of the faculties. I believe there are several ways a PhD in a theological discipline can be useful, even if you can’t find a permanent teaching post in a traditional university or seminary.

First, you can pursue ordination to the clergy and serve in a local congregation. A growing number of clergy, especially those of evangelical sentiments, have become interested in the “pastor-theologian” model that blends advanced theological studies with pastoral ministry. Like some of the faculty members who are or have been a part of St. Mary’s College, these pastor-theologians believe that theology is a discipline from and for the church, not just the academy. But they also believe that full-time pastors who are able to should write academic theology that contributes to the guild, and not simply pastoral theology that is geared for laypersons (though the latter is also really important). If you’ve sensed some sort of call to pastoral ministry alongside your desire to pursue advanced theological studies, then perhaps the latter should be put in service to the former. (A similar argument could be made for parachurch work rather than ordained ministry.)

Second, you can pursue adjunct teaching opportunities in addition to working full-time in a non-academic field. To be clear, there isn’t an endless supply of adjunct opportunities, either—but there are far more of these positions than there are permanent teaching posts. Furthermore, with the proliferation of extension and online programs, there are ways to serve as an adjunct professor without having to live physically close to a university or seminary. I’m increasingly seeing bi-lines on the back of books that say something like “Jehoshaphat Jones is pastor of Calvary Church in Eden Prairie, MN and serves as an online adjunct professor of Old Testament at Freedom Christian University” or “Talitha Tuttle is a systems analyst for Major Corporation and teaches biblical studies at Evangelical Bible College.” Perhaps you would find personal fulfillment and be able to use your training in a meaningful way by teaching part-time, but also having a full-time career outside the academy.

Third, you can teach in the majority world. Thanks to scholars such as Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins, most of us now know that most of the Christian growth of the past century is in the Global South rather than North America, Europe, and Australia. In many of these contexts, theological education is a growing priority. With a PhD in a theological discipline, you might be able to secure a permanent teaching post in a university in parts of Asia, Africa, or South America. Or you might be able to teach in a seminary or theological college that focuses on ministerial training. Or you might be able to be a part of a ministerial training initiative that isn’t tied to a brick-and-mortar institution, but takes theological education to indigenous pastors and evangelists. Some positions require relocation to a new country, while others are roving positions that enable you to live wherever you wish. The sky really is the limit if you have a PhD and feel a sense of calling to advance theological education in non-Western contexts.

You’ve spent a lot of time working on that PhD, and hopefully you began the program “eyes wide open” when it comes to job prospects in the academy. Keep writing. Keep accepting short-term teaching assignments. Keep attending professional conferences. Keep networking. Keep sending people like me your updated Curriculum Vitae! But as you do these things, be open to other opportunities and even vocations where you can use your training to advance Christ’s kingdom, serve his church, and contribute to human flourishing.

Reflecting on The Spring 2017 Theology Seminars

This past semester’s theology seminars featured quality speakers who addressed interesting topics. Together we examined everything from the ethics of eating animals to theology’s relationship with science. The students of St. Mary’s College are grateful to Dr. Judith Wolfe, Dr. Tim Baylor, and Dr. Stephen Holmes for organizing these meetings.

Reading group

Student Discussion in College Hall, the Site of our Weekly Seminars

We are also grateful to Rebekah Earnshaw for her tireless work of documenting many of our sessions together. Rebekah posted blog updates on this website that provided detailed accounts of the paper presentations we heard and even the discussion questions that they engendered.

I provide below links to Rebekah’s posts. I hope that they help students who were interested in this semester’s discussions. Students who could not attend the theology seminar may also find them useful. Readers will find a schedule for the Spring 2017 theology seminars here: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/current/pg/seminars/theol/

Christa McKirland, a Ph.D. candidate with the Logos Institute, also composed a quality post for us in which she offered her reflections on Seminar Four: http://theology.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2017/02/26/how-did-this-get-on-my-plate/

Book Review: The Freedom of God for Us—Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity

Today’s post features a book review by Jared Michelson, a postgraduate research student in St. Mary’s College. We are grateful to Jared for his contribution.


The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian D. Asbill, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-5675-2071-5), pp. 240.

In The Freedom of God for Us: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Aseity, Brian Asbill undertakes a dogmatic and genealogical sketch of Barth’s evolving account of divine aseity. This essay, which began as a dissertation under John Webster, succeeds with impressive brevity in accomplishing three tasks. First, Asbill carefully excavates the development of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity with special focus on the evolution of the doctrine from the Göttingen Dogmatics (GD) to Church Dogmatics (CD) II/1, without neglecting the breadth of Barth’s career. Second, Asbill situates the doctrine of divine aseity within the larger setting of Barth’s doctrine of God. Third, Asbill locates Barth’s account of aseity in, and puts it in conversation with, the development of the doctrine in the western tradition—his brief but helpful narration of the doctrine’s evolution stretches from Anselm to Pannenberg—and contemporary debates in Barth studies.

Let me briefly summarise the argument. Chapter one identifies the historical antecedents of Barth’s doctrine of aseity, identifying the key dogmatic functions of aseity in the tradition. He concludes the chapter by identifying four dogmatic questions in contemporary Barth studies which Asbill hopes his retrieval of Barth’s doctrine of divine aseity will clarify. Chapter two outlines Barth’s evolving account of aseity. Asbill largely accepts McCormack’s portrait of Barth as an enduringly dialectical theologian, and intriguingly contends that corresponding to this dialectical consistency there exists an ongoing commitment to divine aseity. Chapter three is a description of Barth’s revelational objectivism and actualism. Chapter four discusses the employment of noetic and ontic dialectics in the GD and CD. Asbill likewise distinguishes between a complementary dialectic characterised by ongoing polarity and tension, which he associates with Hermann, with Barth’s supplementary dialectic, in which the divine No and veiling is teleologically ordered to be sublimated by the divine yes and unveiling. Chapter five argues that in the GD, Barth employs the dialectic between personality and aseity in order to identify the inherent insufficiency of creaturely concepts to denote divine perfection. Asbill likewise contends that at this stage, Barth is in danger of projecting the Realdialektik, which characterises divine revelation to creatures, into the divine being itself. Barth’s struggle at this stage to adequately affirm the undialectical peace of God’s life in se sets the groundwork for CD II/1. Asbill outlines the resolution of this tension in chapter six, as he argues that in CD II/1, divine veiling is Christologically ordered to unveiling and the dialectical denkform between love and freedom is employed not to create tension with God’s life, but to emphasise the final unity and compatibility of the divine perfections. Chapter seven provides an anatomy of the fundamental features of Barth’s account of aseity, as Asbill contends that Barth’s account of aseity grounds revelation in God’s self-demonstration and self-movement, affirms God as this particular triune God rather than generic deity, binds creaturely knowledge of God to God’s self-interpretation, and ensures that divine aseity denotes God’s readiness for movement towards the creature. In chapter eight, Asbill explicates the dogmatic functions of aseity in the CD. The weight of the chapter distinguishes Barth’s account of aseity as the self-sufficient readiness of God to be ‘with us’ in Jesus Christ, from abstract accounts of aseity which threaten to undermine the dignity and integrity of creaturely existence. Asbill closes the volume in chapter nine offering a few critical questions of Barth, wondering whether Bath’s account of aseity, despite his stated aim of rendering a trinitarian account of the doctrine, pays sufficient attention to the operations of Father, Son, and Spirit. Additionally, Asbill questions Barth’s dialectical ordering of love and freedom, negatively evaluating its serviceability for Barth’s aim of articulating the unity and peace of the immanent divine life. Asbill concludes by reassessing the four debates within contemporary Barth studies which he introduced in chapter one.

Given that Asbill does not hesitate to address himself to some of the most controversial debates within contemporary Barth studies, and equally, is not reticent to offer some critical corrections of Barth’s account, it would be impossible for him to please all readers. However, his synoptic approach, which always keeps an eye on Barth’s broader dogmatic aims, makes Asbill’s portrait of Barth’s account of divine aseity difficult to dismiss. Asbill addresses four contemporary debates: assessing whether God’s pronobeity is contingent or necessary in light of divine aseity; evaluating accusations that Barth’s account of aseity is a reversal and extension of modern conceptions of the autonomous subject; determining whether the dogmatic function of aseity is to establish the divine presence with creatures or to safeguard the integrity of God’s immanent life in his revelatory acts; and finally, appraising the debate between traditionalism and revisionism with reference to trinity and election. Of these I was surprised to find that I was least satisfied by Asbill’s answer to the question of whether Barth’s account of divine aseity is overly determined by modern notions of autonomous subjectivity. Asbill responds to this charge by contending that such a reading of Barth only succeeds by falsely substituting an abstract voluntarism in the place of Christology. However, one need not have reached a decision on the question of whether Barth’s doctrine of God is overly determined by this modern vision of the autonomous subject to wonder if mere recourse to Barth’s Christological determination of the divine will is sufficient to settle the question. One might wonder whether Barth’s portrait of God as a self-positing being, of the trinity as an I-Thou relation, and of God’s self-determination and self-affirmation through the language of ‘decision,’ are sufficiently serviceable concepts for safeguarding Barth’s affirmation that God is utterly a se in his condescension pro nobis. A stronger version of this worry concerning the relation of Barth’s doctrine of God to modern conceptions of autonomous subjectivity, would not straightforwardly (and incorrectly) insist that Barth inserts indifferent voluntarism in the place of a willed determination to be pro nobis in Christ, but might wonder about the fittingness and serviceably of Barth’s portrait of the divine being-in-act which undergirds and explicates the Christological determination of the divine will. This should not be read as a criticism of Asbill, but a testament to the insightful and pressing questions which are raised in this impressive book. The Freedom of God for Us is an indispensable entry, not merely into discussions surrounding divine aseity, but to the wider field of studies concerning Barth’s doctrine of God, and likewise, to the most heated debates in contemporary systematic theology ‘after Barth.’