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  • "Good Theology does not come from Bad History"

    So says Rowan Williams on page 2 of Why Study the Past: The Quest for the Historical Church.  It's only a little book and it doesn't use hard words, but I have to concentrate to read it!  I'd say it oozes Williams - I can hear him saying it as I read it - and like so many other people he had all my best ideas before I did.

    He helpfully (for my purposes) links the writing of history to change.  Page 5:


    "When you sense that you cannot take it for granted that things are the same, you begin to write history, to organise collective memory so that breaches may be mended and identities displayed."


    One key theme that runs through Christian history, he asserts - and I think I agree - is that there is both change and continuity.  People in the past times are not, as he keeps reminding his reader, twentyfirst century folk "in fancy dress," we cannot simply assume that they thought like we think or that we can recapture their world, nevertheless, whenever a Christian undertakes to study the work of past Christians, there is a connection as members of the Body of Christ, fellow participants in the Eucharist and prayer, who read the same scriptures and in whom the same activity of grace is at work.  In other words, overt or not, the 'God-factor' is part of the process, part of what shapes the work - one of the constraints if you like, upon the student.  Page 28:


    "For the historian who has theological convictions, [the] challenge is to discern something of what is truly known of Christ in the agents of the past"

    "What we are attending to is the record of encounter with God in Christ"



    That all recorded history has an aim, plot, trajectory, is as true for Christian history as any other type, page 23, "To relate the story of the Christian Church is always - at least for the Christian - to look for a 'plot' in the record."  By choosing some examples he illustrates this - Eusebius has a theme of suffering and vindication, Bede a battle between the true church and the false church, the writers of the Reformation a need to reconstruct the truth from the original sources of the Fathers (rather than as mediated through Rome).

    Importantly, "[h]istory will not tell us what to do, but will at least start us on the road to action of a different and more self-aware kind, action that is moral in a way it can't be if we have no points of reference beyond what we already take for granted." (Page 25).  I think he is right, it is by engaging with an 'other' whether that is someone/thing in the past or a different viewpoint in the present that our thinking is stretched and we begin to understand better why we are as we are, and are open to be transformed ever more into the image and likeness of God.

    Now I need to go and read chapter 2!

  • By Jove, I think I've Got It!

    With apologies to GBS.  And I've probably only got it until it all slips away again later on today!  'It' being an insight into just what it is I think I'm wanting to research...

    OK, so here goes...

    I am undertaking an exercise in Practical Theology, which is a wide-ranging and diverse discipline.

    Within that discipline, I am undertaking an exercise in the field of Congregational Studies, an area which is also multi-faceted and complex.  One essential ingredient of, or motivation for, all Congregational Studies seems to be the issue of 'change' whether internal or external, chosen or imposed.

    If I accept the typology of Guest, Tusting and Woodhouse, which is far better than anything I could come up with in the time available, I am working mainly in the area of Church Health - enabling churches to handle change more effectively/successfully, which is a form of 'Extrinsic Congregational Studies,' i.e. one that seeks to identify general principles that are broadly applicable rather than something specific only to one congregation.


    I am looking to introduce historical resources (Church History as conventional 'umbrella' field in theology) as a tool to aid reflection.

    In order to do this, I need to gain an understanding of the hisotorical task and how it has developed and changed over time, spefically learning from contemporary historiographers.

    This is turn raises questions about what kinds of historical resources might be more or less helpful to the process, and how suited those which are available may be.  For example, many people access their history only by secondary rather than primary sources, which adds layers of interpretation of which they may be unaware.

    Further, my focus is on English Baptists, and so is in some senses a more 'Intrinsic' approach in so far as what is deduced is of value even if it speaks only within a Baptist context.  If there was a spectrum from 'Extrinsic' to 'Intrinsic' I guess it would be somewhere around the middle.

    Within the 'Intrinsic Congregational Studies' sub-division the work of such people as Hopewell or Becker resonates with some of the work on historiography and helps secure the otherwise tenuous link.

    What will hopefully emerge at the end of all this is a greater understanding of 'how a knowledge of the past can inform our present and shape our future.'  This will, of itself, raise lots of questions, e.g. the 'authority' of non-canonical historical resources (be that Biblical or Baptist canons!); the writing of 'God' into or out of history; the local/universal nature of what is found, etc. etc.  Overall, I think it's likely that it may help to address an apparent gap in much practical theology which is very much 'of this moment' or at least in relation to the very recent past.

    By this time tomorrow, I will probably have lost it again, but for now, I think I can see a glimmer of a 20 minute presentation emerging from this waffle - and if I can't I'm sunk!

  • Off to "Teletubby Land"

    Yesterday I spent the day with the 4+ department at the local primary school where I am one of the Community Governors.  I seem to have fallen into this role because the 4+ Governor was ill and I was asked to stand in at a meeting - six months later and I am 'it.'  The 4+ team have a tough task, not least because many of their colleagues, even, it seems, in what used to be called the infants (nowadays Keystage 1) refer to their area as 'Teletubby land.'  Sixty little people with some aged just turned 4 in September and others almost 6 by the time the school year ends is not my idea of an easy life.

    I have had to learn a whole new langauge very rapidly - phonemes, graphemes and synthetic phonics.  To be honest I think the terms are used rather loosely, and I'm glad I'm not trying to explain to a child of 5 what I mean by a 'phoneme frame' (for the inititiated, a grid where you write one sound per box to build up a word e.g. c-a-t, sc-r-a-p).  It is all a fancy name for the way I learned to read in the late 60's and early 70's, just that flashcards have given way whiteboards.  Already the range of abiltiies is very evident, reflecting the enormous difference of 25% life experience between the eldest and youngest children, whether they have siblings, their place among siblings and their socio-economic background.  From some who struggle to sit down and be quiet or are just getting to grips with their letters to others who can readily read and construct five letter words, it is a challenge and a half.

    One more amusing task was carrying out an informal assessment of the risks posed by the radiators in the class rooms - in a meeting discussing health and safety it emerged that a realtively high number of accidents occurred from chidren falling against radiators and gashing themselves.  Never before have I had to write in a risk assessment that I was concerned about a play house called 'dino den' with no back to it set right by a radiator!  It all looked a bit preposterous when I listed my qualifiactions at the end, but it was fun to do some,thing that connected to my past life.  For the record, I concluded that the risks were generally tolerable, but that by some simple rearrangments of furniture, they could be reduced at no expense to the school.

    It was good to work a bit at building a stronger link with the school, as it is actually very hard to get in to do assemblies (not that I would choose that, not my thing) or RE inputs (which I don't mind at all).  Interestingly, I discovered that our hiring of their premises puts them in line for extra funding for site work, so in an obscure way we already benefit them.

    I enjoyed me visit to Tellytubby Land - but am glad to be back in the La La Land of my everyday life.

  • Dratted Technology - and Local Apathy

    That's how I'd describe today's Lent study!  The laptop I borrowed was decidely sick and it didn't help that its owner had the sound on mute so that when I tried to launch a CD from PowerPoint no sound came out through the speakers!  Then the DVD clip for some reason did not project (appeared on the laptop screen but on the projection just a back background) - this must be the laptop as the projector worked fine last time I tried to do this.  Well, it mucked up my slot well and truly, so I get the prize for worst session this year.  Fortunately I knew the material well enough to speak to it.

    The final exercise, after thinking about Helen Prejean's work, was to identify five issues of concern for prayer along with something practical that could be done.  Here I entered that minister twilight zone of thinking 'I inhabit another universe to these folk.'  The issues of concern were - with one exception in my view - valid, but the repsonses so very disappointing.  One group said 'the war in Iraq but there's nothing we can do only pray' - what about lobbying MPs, the 'stop the war coalition' etc, etc.  Another group said 'the shortage of wardens in sheltered housing but we can't do anything about that' - what about being a voice for the voiceless, campaigning local government etc etc.  The one I didn't rate was 'all these laws and especially PC nonsense.'  The only really constructive one came from my Anglican colleague who said we ought to be petitioning local and national government to increase taxes by a penny or to in order to have a budget to provide services - now that would be radical.

    All in all, I came away feeling people had not got any real grasp on the connection between faith and life or 'prayer as caring' as the study called it.  It is troubling how our faith is so perosnal and privatised, about tickets to heaven and not getting into anything political or grubby.  Of course we should pray about these issues but we should also be ready to hear God saying that we, too, are part of the answer.

    Here endeth the rant -and I'd better start saving for a laptop of my own!

  • Prayer Diaries

    This week, finally, the church prayer diary was reissued - it's only taken 6 months since we 'approved it.'  I don't really care for the wording at the start - it is pious twaddle in my view... 'pray for these people/organisations on the date specified and on other occasions as the Holy Spirit leads.'  It sounds ever so holy but what does it really mean?  Pray when you remember I guess.  Still, it is overall an improvement as we do now pray for the local community - schools, businesses and so on - as part of our cycle of prayer.

    It got me thinking about the huge pile of prayer diaries that occupy my prayer time - BUGB, BMS, TLM, NBC, SU, Tearfund... Did I miss any?  Hope not!  They vary wildy in their style and, well to be frank, usefulness.  I am often asked to pray for so-and-so on the XYZGP&F committee, not that I know what this committee does, or the role of so-and-so within it, but pray for them anyway.  I get asked to pray for Anytown Bapist Church in the Somewhere-or-Other Association but without knowing if this church is small or large, inward or outward looking, let alone its needs (nice idea to pray for 365 Baptist churches, but not very helpful just to have their names and need my direcotry to find out anything about them at all).  I get asked to pray for You-know who and their family working You-know-where.  The least bad diaries offer a bit of information about the situation and identify some specifics for prayer but on the whole it is hard to pray more than 'God bless you, every one.'

    So what should I do?  Abandon the diaries all together?  No, they act as a good reminder to pray for these organisations/people.  I guess I use them as creatively as I can, not always praying exactly as guided and sometimes praying as much for wisdom in my reading as for the requested topic.

    Does anyone have any good advice in this area or have you just abandoned the diaries as a disaster?