The Table You Choose…

There are two tables set before us. Nowhere in the Gospels is the contrast between the banquets—the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world—more stark than in Mark’s gospel. Both Matthew and Mark set the story of John the Baptist’s beheading right before the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, but Mark makes the arrangement feel even more intentional by telling us that Herod “prepared a feast” (Mark 6:21, CEB). Looking at the two feasts side by side, one can’t help but notice the differences between the two kings and the kingdoms they represent.

For one, the people at the feasts were vastly different. Herod prepared a feast for “his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents” (verse 21, CEB). This was a party for the power players, for the “who’s who,” the movers and shakers. Herod was in control of the guest list and made sure there were only guests who could give him something. But Jesus found a crowd who had invited themselves. These were people from various cities in the area who arrived at the spot where they anticipated Jesus and His disciples would be. These people must have been desperate for something.

At Herod’s feast performance was everything—please the king and you just might get what you want. A girl’s dancing pleased him and got him in a request-granting mood. He told her to ask for whatever she wished, up to half his kingdom (see verse 23). At Jesus’s feast compassion was everything. Jesus saw the uninvited crowd and “had compassion on them” (verse 34, CEB). He taught the crowd “many things” (verse 34, CEB), and then He fed them. The people never asked for something to eat; Jesus knew that they were hungry. They didn’t have to perform for Him to notice them. He saw them from the beginning. And He loved them. So He fed them—with His words and with bread.

The climactic moment of Herod’s feast was someone’s death. The execution of John the Baptist was the real story of Herod’s birthday party. The conclusion of Jesus’s feast was abundance. There were twelve baskets filled with bread and fish, and everyone there had already eaten till they were full. At Herod’s party there was never enough—never enough power or pleasure or control. Someone had to lose for someone else to win. Someone had to die for others to live. But at Jesus’s banquet there was more than enough. There was enough for everyone to be filled, and then some more.

At the two feasts there are two different ways of becoming a guest, two different ways of making a request or getting a need met, and there are two different ways for the story to end. The first story is about power, performance, and ultimately death. The second story is about desperation, hunger, and ultimately life. Feast with Herod and you may feel powerful, but you will be bound to perform. The end is death. Feast with Jesus and you can come desperate and needy, tired and hungry, and you will be fed and nourished. The end is an abundance of life.

But this is not just a story about two feasts; this is about two kings and two kingdoms. Mark tells us that when Jesus saw the crowd, He had compassion on them for “they were like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 34, ceb). This is not a throwaway line. The shepherd imagery in the Bible is not some sort of therapeutic image of care and nurture. A shepherd was the most comprehensive metaphor an agrarian society could come up with: it represented a protector, physician, provider, and guide.

It makes sense, then, that when the prophets and poets of Israel wrote about their king, they referred to him as a shepherd. One prophet, Ezekiel, had a particularly scathing review—offered on behalf of God—of the kings of Israel. He called them the shepherds of Israel but then accused them of having only “tended themselves” (Ezekiel 34:2, CEB). Instead of tending the sheep, they drank the milk, wore the wool, and slaughtered “the fat animals” (verse 3, CEB). They didn’t “strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” Instead, they used “force to rule them with injustice” (verse 4, ceb). In short, the shepherds of Israel had not lived up to the metaphor; they were not protectors, physicians, providers, or guides. They failed at the job description for a good king. The very next verse of Ezekiel’s divine tirade includes the lines that Mark would quote: “Without a shepherd, my flock was scattered; and when it was scattered, it became food for all the wild animals” (verse 5, CEB). Then the Lord declared through Ezekiel that He is “against the shepherds” (verse 10, CEB). And not only that, He will come to do the job Himself.

Now we see it: the feeding of the five thousand is not Jesus doing some sort of party trick. It was a sign that the kingdom of God was arriving and that Jesus Himself was the true King. Herod was not the real king, and his banquet was not the real feast. Jesus is the king who provides a bounty for the people.

So where are you feasting? Are you at Herod’s banquet, hoping to satisfy yourself on the kind of power and pleasure the world can offer? Are you chasing influence and significance the world’s way, by working harder or trying to get in with the right group? Are you obsessively posting on social media, trying to get your “likes” and “views” up, hoping to be seen? That feast won’t fill you. It will lead only to death. Or are you desperately following Jesus, clinging to every word, hungry and needy? Are you opening the Scriptures, sitting and listening, shaping your life by His cross-shaped love? It will be for your good, bringing you nourishment, healing, and health.

The table you choose reveals the king you serve.

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Adapted excerpt from Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus. Available now wherever books are sold. Official Amazon link.

Two Ways to Be Lost, One Way Home

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The story is commonly called the parable of the prodigal son, but that is too narrowly focused. It might be more aptly called The Tale of Two Lost Brothers. And in the way Jesus told this parable to conclude a set of three parables, there’s a buildup we must not miss. The first story is about a lost sheep. One out of a hundred sheep had gone missing, and the farmer left the ninety-nine to go in search of the one. The next story involves a lost coin. A woman had ten coins and lost one. She turned her house upside down in search of the one. In the third story a father had two sons. One asked for an early inheritance—a slap in the face to his father—and then added shame to scorn by squandering that inheritance on wicked living.

But you see, Jesus told these parables to show escalating ratios of lostness. Each story ups the ante, increases the probability that His listeners were lost. When they heard the first story, they may have thought, One out of a hundred? Yeah, I know someone just like that. It’s too bad they’re not around to hear this message. And then with the story about the coins, they may have chuckled and said, “Yeah, one out of ten—that’s more like it. Lots of bad people out there.” But when Jesus moved to a story about two brothers, His listeners might have felt their heart pound just a little more in their chests. “One of two? That’s 50 percent! I didn’t think there werethat many rebellious, wicked people around! But, you know, things are getting worse in our world. Thank God I’m not like them!”

And when the final moment of the third parable arrived, they may finally begin to see it: Both brothers were lost. Both sons left the house.

There was no escaping it now. The people in need of saving are not those people. It’s me: I need saving. I am lost.

This is what keeps us from welcoming others into the family. This is what prevents us from extending the blessing to people we do not like: we have forgotten that we, too, were lost. It hurts to say it. But only when we do are we able to see the stunning love of God.

You see, the father left the house to come after both sons. With the younger brother, in his shame and brokenness, the father held him and wept. With the older brother, in his pride and resent­ment, the father came to plead and persuade. The father’s love wouldn’t let go. God comes after us in our shame and in our pride, in our mess and in our self-righteousness. Both rebellion and reli­gion can make us leave the Father’s house. But only the love of the Father can call us home.

When you see that you, too, were lost, when you understand that all of us like sheep have gone astray—not just one out of a hundred—you understand how magnificent the mercy of God is. Oh, what love the Father has lavished on us!

__________

Excerpt from “Blessed Broken Given”. Order wherever books are sold. Official Amazon link HERE.

The Blessing is for You

God found Hagar by a well in the wilderness. She had stopped at a spring for what could have been one last drink. And then an angel of the Lord met her there and called her by her name.

“Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8). Yes, God was aware of her station in life, and He knew that she was a female Egyptian slave. He also knew her name.

And he asked her two questions: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

When God asks a question, He’s not launching an interrogation; He’s staging an intervention. These two questions were about origin and destiny. Hagar thought she knew her origin and her destiny, where she had come from and where she was going. But God was about to rewrite her story.

God told Hagar to go back to Abraham’s house, not because God condoned Sarai’s mistreatment of her, but because there was no other way for Hagar to be saved. She would die in that wilderness. But in Abraham’s house she would still be covered by the blessing. God’s hand was on that household, and Hagar would benefit from it; she would be sustained and fed. And when the time came for her to leave, God would provide for her and her son in a new way.

For the time being, God wanted her to know there was a way for her to share in the blessing. She was not an outsider. She was not unnamed and unseen. He knew her name, and He saw her. The angel said to Hagar, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 16:10). Did you catch it? This was Abraham’s blessing. This was the promise that was restated when God made a covenant with Abraham in the chapter right before the Hagar story—that his offspring would be like the stars, too many to count. Right from the start, God made it clear: He wants everyone to be able to get in on the blessing. He desires all to be swept up in his saving and redeeming love.

When Hagar understood this, she was in awe. She hadn’t seen just a concept or an attribute of God—she had seen God! This is what God is like! Later, Moses would glimpse God and know that He is abounding in mercy and rich in love. But long before the great prophet Moses would see it, the female Egyptian slave Hagar saw it…

God sees you. God hears your cry. God knows your name.

Forget the names you hear in your head. Never mind the other names you’ve been called or the ones you’ve called yourself. You are not an outsider. You are not unnamed and unseen.

God is rewriting your story, changing the way you answer the question of where you have come from and where you are going. The way your story began is not the way it will end. Your family of origin will not have the final say about who you are. Your current trajectory is not fixed, and your future is not predetermined.

Yes, your life will be a journey. No, it will not be easy.

But God has found you in the desert, and He wants you to know the blessing is for you.


Excerpt from “Blessed Broken Given”. Pre-order wherever books are sold. Official Amazon link HERE.

Two Ways to Study Worship With Me

Want to study about worship with me? OK, that’s a funny way to say it. But from time to time, people ask when and where I’ll be teaching in an academic context, since it is not what I primarily do. Occasionally I teach a seminar or a workshop at conference or university. Those events are listed here.

But, now, there are two exciting new academic modules that I’ll be teaching in the 2019-2020 school year. One is for Doctoral students (the basic requirement is a Master’s degree); the other is a Master’s degree course. One is in Denver; the other is in Durham (England).


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DURHAM UNIVERSITY, ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE:
Studying Contemporary Worship (Intensive module in the MA in Theology and Ministry)
Taught with Professor Pete Ward, this module introduces the emerging field of Contemporary Worship Studies. The module reflects the widespread influence of this style of worship in the Church worldwide and the need for more sustained and theologically informed ways of evaluating the influence of Contemporary Worship. Taught by Professor Pete Ward and me.

The module will aim to:

  • Introduce students to the field of Contemporary Worship Studies
  • Facilitate the development of theological forms of evaluation of contemporary forms of worship
  • Enable students to develop basic skills for qualitative research in the field of Contemporary Worship Studies.

This module will involve:

  • An overview of the development of Contemporary Worship
  • An account of current scholarship in the theological and empirical study of Contemporary Worship
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Contemporary Paradigms of Congregational Worship

Upon successful completion of the module students will have gained:

  • An overview of the development of contemporary worship
  • An understanding of theological paradigms to critically evaluate contemporary worship
  • The foundations for the Qualitative Empirical Study of worship.

Upon successful completion of the module students will be able to:

  • Analyse theological texts related to worship
  • Design and implement a small-scale research project
  • Critically evaluate different paradigms and practice in the field of worship
  • Reason theologically in relation to practice
  • Make links between theoretical frameworks and the practice of religious communities
  • Develop small scale research related to ministerial and ecclesial life.

In addition to some online work, students are required to attend the intensive module which will meet in Durham, England, February 3-5, 2020.

Learn more about the Module ‘Studying Contemporary Worship’.
Learn more about the MA in Theology and Ministry at Durham.
Learn more about St. John’s College and Cranmer Hall
.

Email Nick Moore to express interest or to learn more: nicholas.j.moore@durham.ac.uk


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DENVER SEMINARY:
Theology and Practice of Worship: Personal and Corporate (D.Min. Module)

This class focuses on what it means to worship, both individually and as a group or congregation. This course draws from biblical theology, philosophy, and sociology to equip students to engage in robust theological reflection on personal and corporate worship practices. The student will learn to blend a prescriptive approach to worship practices with a descriptive analysis of practices in context. This will involve the whole biblical range of practices and postures, content and cultures, the senses and the spirit of personal and corporate worship. This class will prepare you to guide times of well-rounded worship for yourself, for a group you’re part of, or for your congregation.

This course contributes to Denver Seminary’s mission by helping students to develop a Biblical theology of worship, and to learn how to integrate sociological analysis with theological reflection of personal and corporate worship practices in context, all while cultivating personal worship practices.

Course objectives

  • To develop a broad, Biblical theology of worship;
  • To develop a paradigm for practical theology that integrates Biblical theology with philosophy and sociology;
  • To learn how to conduct small-scale qualitative empirical research on congregational worship practices in context, integrating theological reflection with sociological analysis in order to evaluate the cognitive, affective, and phenomenological dimensions of personal and congregational worship practices;
  • To engage with various devotional worship practices such as Psalm-praying, the Prayer of Examen, and contemporary worship music.

The class can be taken for credit toward a Doctor of Ministry degree or for personal enrichment. A limited number of auditors will be admitted.

Book list:

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The class begins with the reading assignments in October, and culminates with a one-week intensive seminar on the Littleton (Denver) campus January 6-10, 2020.

Click HERE for more info about the course.
Learn more about Denver Seminary.

Using God’s Wildness Against Him: When Saying ‘Aslan is Not a Tame Lion’ Goes Wrong

One of the more brilliant things C. S. Lewis does in the Chronicles of Narnia series is to take a famous line from the first book he wrote in the series and show how it can be misused in the final book of the series. To take a proverb and parody it as a parable within the greater narrative is surely a bit of theological artistic genius.

The line I’m talking about is this: ‘He’s not a tame lion.’ It’s used of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to show that his goodness does not preclude a kind of wildness.

But in The Last Battle, when Aslan’s absence has been prolonged, the phrase begins to be misused. In the first chapter, Jewel the unicorn uses the phrase as a basis for suggesting that maybe the stars and their ominous warning are wrong about the present situation. Though Aslan never acts without the stars sending signs, maybe he is acting in a new way, breaking with the past. After all, Aslan made the stars, Jewel says. And he is not a tame lion.

A few chapters later, Shift— the ape who conned a donkey into acting like Aslan so that the ape could rule the land— rebukes Narnians who find the order of slavery as out of Aslan’s character. Here he tells them they don’t really know what freedom is, and that the bottom line is that they ought not question Aslan since, after all, he is not a tame lion.

Reading it to my son last night, both misuses of the ‘tame lion’ phrase struck me as rebuke to two tendencies in our own day— though I suspect there were versions of it in Lewis’s day as well.

The first suggests that God’s wildness is a grounds for justifying a break with God’s ways. God is ‘free’ and therefore does not have to act the way He has always acted. This is very near the argument used by “progressive Christians” when they want to move beyond the moral vision of the New Testament. “Oh, yes that’s what the Bible says about sexuality, but the Spirit blows where it pleases. God has moved on.” No doubt you’ve heard some version of this.

The second misuse of the phrase emphasizes God’s sovereignty to be so absolute that even our definitions will be different. Freedom is not what we think freedom is. Good is not what we think good is. Of course, there is some truth here, but the danger comes in absolutizing the ‘otherness’ of God to the effect of erasing any point of reference. Language itself becomes meaningless. God is beyond our control and therefore can act in ways that is out of character in our eyes. This resembles some versions of hyper-Calvinism I’ve heard, where God is so far removed from us that He may think cancer or some horrible thing is ‘good’ even when we don’t. God can do things that are out of character because we don’t really understand His character anyway.

Both are misapplications— and therefore abuses— of the notion of God’s God-ness. One stresses God’s freedom; the other God’s otherness. One allows God to break from His ways in the past; the other from God’s character as we know it. Both undermine the self-revelation of God. True: God cannot be fully known by humans, but if knowledge of God is not possible, then God’s attempt of revealing Himself is in vain. Surely the condescension of God— in revelation and incarnation— helps us actually know God. No, He is not ’tame’, but His wildness does not mean we cannot know Him through His ways. The Old Testament is particularly clear in showing that God reveals who He is by what He does (Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 is but one example). And God’s wildness does not mean that we do not know the essence of His character. This why John could write with confidence that God is Love. This is why Paul could work out a coherent theology of grace to stitch old and new covenants together, and show how Jews and Gentiles belong to one another, yet still warn of the judgment that comes from rejecting this grace.

In short, God’s wildness cannot be used against Him. He is still good. And He has shown us what goodness looks like.

The Problem of Sin and the Power of the Cross

In our world, sin is seen as behaving badly, or breaking some arbitrary code of morality. But the Bible talks about sin in a different and much deeper way.

Sin in the Old Testament is portrayed in various ways. Psalm 51 alone uses several Hebrew words to describe it: failure, waywardness, rebellion, and evil. Sin is all of those things: it is a failure to live up to our creational vocation to reflect God’s wisdom and rule into to the world; it is a waywardness of life that drifts from the path of righteousness; it is a rebellion against God as King; it is a complicity in the evil of the world around us.

But the Old Testament gives us more than terms and concepts; it is rich with stories and symbols. So it is the key rituals that relate to sin which give us insight into the problem of sin. Yom Kippur was the ‘Day of Atonement’; it is prescribed in Leviticus 16. Passover is the great story of Israel’s rescue from Egypt; it’s story is told in Exodus 12. Through the enacted symbolism of both events, we come to see sin as a ‘stain’ that must be purified, a blame that must be removed, a power to be freed from, and a penalty to be saved from.

The stain of sin is sin in the goat sacrificed on Yom Kippur to purify the worshipper.

‘Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.’

Leviticus 16:15-16

This imagery is a picture of the stain of guilt that needs to be cleansed. The sacrificed goat is a picture of purification from the stain of guilt.

There is another goat the Yom Kippur scene, one which is kept alive. The priest lays hands on this goat, transferring the sin of the nation upon it, and then sends it away.

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall yput them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and ahe shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Leviticus 16:20-22

This is a picture of blame. Even if the stain of guilt were removed, there is still the fact of culpability; we are to blame. The living goat represents the bearing of the blame.

Finally, there is the Passover Lamb. The blood of the lamb is placed on the doorposts so that the people of God may be saved from Death. Death is the judgment upon Sin, a judgment that fell upon Egypt that fateful night. In being saved from Death, Israel was also rescued from slavery to Egypt. The blood of the lamb means a rescue from the powerofsin which leads to the penalty of death.

‘Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and jwill not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” ‘

Exodus 12:21-23

The bull represents the purification from the stain of guilt; the goat represents the removal of the blame. The lamb represents the rescue from the power of Sin and penalty of Death.

The New Testament picks up on each of these themes as it tries to help us understand the power of the cross. Paul seems to draw on Passover imagery more than that of the Day of Atonement. In Romans, especially, we see Sin as a power we were enslaved to, which leads to Death as a consequence of this enslavement. Jesus is the one who sets us free from this slavery.

‘When you were slaves of sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What consequences did you get from doing things that you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life.’

Romans 6:20-22, CEB

In Hebrews and in the Johannine epistles, Jesus is seen as the one who removes the stain of guilt from us, cleansing us fully.

‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.’

Hebrews 1:3-4

‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’

1 John 1:7

‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’

1 John 2:2

And in both Paul’s and Peter’s writings, Jesus bears the blame of our own behavior in His body, thus expiating it from us.

‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…’

Romans 8:3

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.’

1 Peter 2:24

To put it another way, the problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.


This post was inspired by reading Chapter 4 in Fleming Rutledge’s very excellent book, The CrucifixionThough Rutledge deals primarily with Sin as a power we were under, it was the way she wove in our complicity in addition to our captivity (terms that come from a quote in her chapter) that provoked my reflection on the nature of the problem of sin. It prompted a recollection of Goldingay’s work on the ‘stain’ of sin in Old Testament texts. My attempt to hold all three concepts together caused my to reflect on whether the sacrifices related to Yom Kippur and Passover might actually address each of these aspects of the problem of sin. Thus what you have read is a musing aloud, and not a final word by any means. I pray it provokes just the sort of prayerful reflection in you.

On “Practical Theology” and My Experience at Durham

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Durham Cathedral, built in 1093.

img_4127I can’t believe it’s over.

When I first began, I was as giddy as a schoolboy, albeit a 35-year old schoolboy, back in September of 2013. (Shout out to my friend Stephen Proctor, renown to his friends as a world-adventurer, who cashed in air miles just to accompany me on the trip. We even ate pizza late at night in the library!)

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A totally staged picture in the St. John’s College library, taken by Proctor.

Over the past four and a half years, I’ve been stretched, challenged, and encouraged. There were times I thought I’d never make it, and plenty of moments where I felt I didn’t belong. I’m not a real academic, I would think over and over again. But I kept going, kept reading, kept note-taking, kept researching and transcribing interviews and analyzing data and writing. Nearly every night, I’d spend an hour and half doing something to ‘move the ball down the field’.

I chose Durham because my wife, Holly, urged me to shoot for the moon, to chase a dream. I knew of its reputation, because my sister spent time there as a post-doctoral researcher, and Holly and I visited them there years ago. Durham’s unique approach to practical theology, and the DThM’s high research rigor paired and with low residency requirements caught my attention as I explored it online. At the time, I didn’t even know that Durham’s Department of Theology and Religion is actually ranked number three in the world, behind only Harvard and Oxford.

But what really made the past few years so rich and rewarding were the people. From the lecturers I met in my first week-long residency to the faculty at St. Johns and professors in the Department, these people are not only brilliant and leading voices in their field, they are kind and big-hearted. I honestly felt ‘pastor-ed’ through the process by my supervisors.

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Prof. David Wilkinson (top left), Dr. Mathew Guest (bottom right)– both of whom were my supervisors– and Prof. Pete Ward (bottom left), who ended was my internal examiner.

But it’s not just the faculty and staff; it’s the friendships along the way. The Doctorate of Theology and Ministry (DThM) is a collaboration between the Department of Theology and Religion and Cranmer Hall (which is where ordinands for the Church of England are trained). Because of this, there is a kind of cohort of scholars going through the program together. And on top of that, almost everyone in it is a practitioner-scholar, or even a pastor-theologian. The combination of a love for the church and a love for theology made forming friendships easy. The one-week residency periods were a great time to learn from a visiting scholar, hear other students present updates on their research, interact with others about our own research, pray together, and laugh it up over food and music. Their friendship has been one of the great unexpected gifts along this journey and a source of deep joy. I trust the Lord to bless their labors in the days ahead.

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A few of the folks remaining from the group that began in September, 2013.


Now…A Few Words about ‘Practical Theology’:

Practical theology, especially in American contexts, is often seen as applied theology. Practical theology is viewed as the branches that emerge from the trunk of historical theology and the root system of philosophical theology. As the discipline has developed, however, it can more broadly be understood as a way of relating faith or doctrine with practice. Besides the ‘applied’ approach, there is also a ‘critical correlation’ model, where theology is often paired with the social sciences, with social anthropology shedding light on human experience or behavior and theology reflecting on how this experience or behavior relates to God. There can also be a threefold engagement between ‘theological disciplines, the social sciences, and the actual situation’. There is also a ‘praxis’ model, which is primarily concerned with actions and outcomes that aim to be transformative. The praxis model begins with a concrete situation but assumes that no activity is value-free and thus critiques every aspect, including the researcher. This analysis is then filtered through a theological imperative in order to develop a new praxis. [See Paul Ballard and John Pritchard’s excellent Practical Theology in Action: Christian Thinking in the Service of Church and Society for more on all this, particularly pages 46-66.]

There’s an even deeper approach which wants practice to be taken seriously on its own. British theologian Elaine Graham argues that practical theology in a postmodern context means that theology should function less like disembodied concepts and more like a faith which is enfleshed in practices and community. Where practical theology once moved from theory to practice, Graham’s goal is to move from practice to theory. Now, we cannot go fully where Graham may want us to go, because this would mean no longer privileging formal theologies like those built from Biblical interpretation or sourced from historical tradition.

But the point in saying all this is to show how theological reflection has begun to take seriously the lived expressions of theology from ordinary Christians. Every choice, action, practice, habit, and more is a form of theology. And not only should those words and practices be evaluated by more formal modes of theology like Biblical theology and historical theology, but the embedded and embodied theology of daily lives should be allowed to interrogate the assumptions which we make how to apply formal or normative theologies. Taking each Christian’s life and experience with a kind of holy seriousness means allowing lived ordinary theology to spur fresh questions that may drive us back to the text and the tradition.

One small example of this from my own research is that if I only relied on formal theologies of hope, I would be convinced that worship songs which did not orient the worshipper toward the future and specifically toward a future of bodily resurrection and new creation would be no good at producing hope. Yet I discovered that the texts of songs which worshippers and worship leaders said brought them hope were about the present tense, the proximate space, and the personal perspective…AND I found through fieldwork with two different local churches that the experience of hope was consistent, resilient, and available through variant means. This caused me to look deeper into the nature of hope and other aspects of Biblical and historical theology. One of the resulting proposals was that if, based on a cognitive model of hope, hope is the result of agency and pathway– the sense that one can do it and knows how– then worship, which is the transfer of agency upward to God, produces hope simply by singing about who God is, and without singing about what God will do one day. That’s just one small example, but I think you get the picture of how ‘practical theology’– relating theory and practice– is not a matter of simply working out how to ‘apply’ abstract concepts to concrete situations.


Finally, a Few Common Questions about the Program:

  1. What is a DThM comparable to in the American system? It is most like a ThD. Having spent some time with ThD students at a U.S. school, the kind of integrated approach that is theologically oriented and practice driven is very much like the DThM. The folks at Durham want to be clear about how the DThM is different from an American DMin. I think this is mostly because of the research requirements of the DThM— it has to make an original contribution to the field, and be 70,000 words in length (though I know some U.S. DMin. programs have comparable requirements). Some British Universities call their version of the DThM a DPT, Doctorate of Practical Theology. The main reason Durham can’t call the DThM a PhD is that the first year involves a ‘taught component’, where you would learn the British approach— and specifically the Durham approach— to practical theology and inter-disciplinary research.
  2. How long does it take? They say it takes six years, part-time. But, I think, with a clear research focus, great supervisors, and a little bit of personal motivation, one could submit after four (I did, and I’m not a “real academic”).
  3. How much does it cost?The exchange rate between the British pound and US dollar fluctuates, but generally, it’s been about $12,000 a year.
  4. How many visits do you make to Durham? There are two one-week residency periods a year, one in January and one in September.

You can learn more HERE