Don’t miss the Theology Slam Live Final


“All of us are theologians. The minute we say something about God, we are speaking theology. Young voices, unheard voices, need to be nurtured in the practice of reflecting on faith and the wider world, and this event will do just that.
Archbishop Justin Welby

In September we launched Theology Slam, a new competition to find engaging young theologians organised by SCM Press along with Church Times, LICC and the Community of St Anselm, at Lambeth Palace. We were inundated with entries skilfully connecting theological thinking with the preoccupations of our society. We’ve now selected 3 finalists for the Theology Slam Final, which will be held on 7th March at St John’s Hoxton at 7pm. The finalists are:

Sara Prats, 23, from Spain, a Master’s student at the University of Birmingham. She will speak on Theology and Mental Health

Hannah Barr, 27, a first-year ordinand and Ph.D. student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. She’ll be speaking on Theology and #MeToo.

Hannah Malcolm, 26, project co-ordinator at God and the Big Bang, an organisation that runs workshops for young people on science and religion. She’ll be speaking on Theology and the Environment.

Each finalist will speak for 7-10 minutes on their chosen topic. There will also be an opportunity to hear short TED talks from two top UK theologians Professor John Swinton (Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies), and Dr Eve Poole (Third Church Estates Commissioner). Alongside them on the judging panel will be Mark Greene, Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) and Isabelle Hamley, Old Testament scholar and chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Then at the culmination of the night one of our finalists will be crowned Theology Slam Champion, 2019.

If you’d like to join us for what will be an inspiring and fascinating evening, you can buy tickets here.

Advertisements

Could a rural Tanzanian diocese hold the key to Church renewal in the UK?

Visiting a rural diocese in Tanzania, Stephen Spencer was intrigued to discover that the church was full of freshness, vibrancy, and growth.

The road from the town descends through some rocky hills on to the plain. Fresh green vegetation, that has sprung up after first rains, soon disappears behind us. The land here is bone dry, the earth parched and cracked. Gusts of wind whip up sand into small whirlwinds. Bedraggled herds of cattle with protruding ribs are cajoled by their young herdsmen. It is not clear where they are going as there is no green grass in sight and the herdsmen are not allowed to move their cattle out of the immediate area.

Once we are in the village, an extended series of homesteads spread over a wide area, shapes can be seen lying on the ground in the distance. As we draw near the dreadful reality of the situation becomes clear: these are the bodies of dead cattle, lying in the sun and beginning to decompose. Further on the number of bodies multiplies, some now  mauled by local dogs. There are too many for the villagers to bury. The stench of death hangs around the homesteads. My companion, from the local diocese, says that he has never seen this before in this region. The drought that began three years ago is now taking its toll. If it continues, how will the people themselves survive?

The scene is very depressing. It is my third visit to this village; I already knew that it was a drought-prone area and that help was needed from outside. Over the previous couple of years I had encouraged fundraising at home for the drilling of a borehole, so that the villagers would not need to walk 5km to the shores of Lake Victoria for water. The fundraising had gone well, with a number of people giving sacrificially. Thousands of pounds was sent and a drilling company paid to do a survey and sink the borehole. The first attempt, down to 122 metres, failed to yield water. So a second attempt was made, a little further away, down to a similar depth. The devastating news was that this had also failed to yield enough water, and now the drought was taking hold with a vengeance.

Why could not something more be done? Why would the Tanzanian government not come and save the cattle, or at least bury them? Why did the people have to lose the animals in which their livelihoods were invested? Why did those who have so little have to lose even the little they have? Questions and frustration mounted up.

But then we arrive at the small mud-brick, tin-roof church. As we get out of the car we can hear singing and when we go inside the church we find a crowd of people caught up in dance and song, led by a choir of young people smartly dressed in matching brightly coloured batik material and filling the place with life and movement. It is enthralling and humbling. Then, during the service, it becomes clear that some of the older people are caught up in the intercessions, adding their own affirmations, raising their hands, being transported by the worship. Even if desperation brings them to church they are not dwelling on their misfortunes but lifting their minds and hearts to something greater than the hard land they live on.

They are caught up in a grace and joy that somehow transforms this little church into a kind of gateway to something greater. The contrast with what is outside is stark. It stops my dejection and frustration in its tracks. It does not remove the need for drought relief but places the whole situation within a bigger and more hopeful context. This bears fruit after the service when the congregation has a community meeting to discuss the drought and decide on what should be done next. Through the discussion a consensus emerges on the need to work with the local government in seeking resources to find a different solution. It is clear that both the worship and the meeting have helped to energize and inspire the people to work together to try to overcome the effects of the drought.

This is not an isolated example. Over the seven years I visited Mara I found a number of other churches where there was a similar combination of acute need and irrepressible Christian life. On top of this were the simple facts of church growth in this region. Over 25 years Mara Diocese had grown by over a hundredfold. At its creation in 1985, as already mentioned, the diocese had 12 parishes plus a large section of the Serengeti national park (including one million wildebeest on their annual migration!). Following the division of the diocese into three in 2010, growth continued, with four or five new parishes established most years. And this church growth has not just been about congregational enlargement: it has gone hand in hand with a range of development projects at parish and diocesan level, from weekday children’s nurseries to digging wells for drinking water to pastoral and medical support for victims of HIV/AIDS. Church schools have been started and extended, agricultural development work has taken place and theological education enhanced.

If such growth was possible in Tanzania then maybe it could happen in Britain? It has certainly happened here in the past, through the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century, the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century and the growth of ecumenism in the twentieth. Why not a fresh revival in our own century? Given the lack of overall progress in renewing and  growing churches in Britain in the last decade, Tanzania could provide an example that offers clues to a promising way forward.

To find out if this might be the case I needed to explore the causes and development of this flourishing expression of church life. I decided I would turn to church growth in Mara and explore its dynamics. I would begin with the personal reasons why people had become Christians and joined their local church, because ultimately church growth is about actual people deciding to commit to Christ and become his disciples. Beginning at the local level, then, with the experience of new Christians, the question would be this: what was drawing these people into an active Christian faith? Only after answering this would I then explore the steps the church leadership had taken to enable this to happen and look at how the new Christians were being supported by clergy and lay ministers. Finally, Mwita Akiri, as one of the bishops of the region, would add his thoughts on the causes and dynamics of this growth at different points in the narrative, so helping to identify the key themes of this remarkable story.

This is an extract from Growing and Flourishing: The Ecology of Church Growth, which is published later this month. You can order a copy of the book at a special pre-publication price, via our website.

Stephen Spencer is Director for Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.

New year, new books

Over the next few months, we’ll be publishing new titles on everything from black preaching to catholic social teaching, and church growth to Matthew’s gospel. Here’s a run-down of what’s in the pipeline.


January

“This book is like the very best kind of guidebook to a great city you’ve not visited before – or perhaps have visited and largely forgotten.  It takes little for granted, it clearly and vividly maps the territory, and it whets the appetite to spend time looking, learning and absorbing the riches around you.  A really first class introduction to the ‘new city’ of classical Christian faith and practice.” – Rowan Williams

Love Makes No Sense is an introduction to a theology that refuses the abstract, and sees no distinction between theology and practice. 

Aimed at people looking to explore Christian theology more deeply, be they life-long Christians who want a deeper understanding of their faith, new Christians, or those  looking for a way in to more serious theological study, the book is by Peter Groves, Jarred Mercer, Jennifer Strawbridge who together form a part of the St Mary Magdalene School of Theology, which 
exists to provide people—lay and ordained—with the theological resources for an active Christian life. 


Mara is one of the most marginalised regions in Tanzania, which in turn is a country in the most marginalised continent on the planet, and yet, Stephen Spencer argues, the church in the region has exhibited remarkable growth. In Growing and Flourishing: The Ecology of Church Growth , Spencer looks beyond the usual dimensions of church growth discourse, and weaves in his own experience in Tanzania, finding in that wholly different context an approach to church growth which entirely changes the discourse in the global north. 

Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds says of the book: “Careful and encouraging, provocative and challenging, this book is much needed. Spencer shows effectively how the Church in the West can learn from distant cultures, and bears the fruit of strong international partnership links.” 


February

Theological Reflection: Methods (by Elaine Graham, Heather Walton and Frances Ward) has been a go-to textbook for generations of students developing their skills in theological reflection. In February, we will publish the first new edition of the book, since it was published over ten years ago. 

The book offers a comprehensive collection of models of theological reflection. By bringing this diverse collection together in one place, the editors create a unique reference work that allows a clear and visible contrast and comparison as each model is treated formally and in a standard format. Throughout each chapter the distinguishing features of the model are examined, the geneology and origins are discussed, worked examples of the model applied to contemporary theology are provided, and critical commentary, future trends and exercises and questions are provided.

Now firmly established as an essential text on theological reflection, this new edition has been revised and updated with a new introduction, updated examples, and refreshed bibliographies


Studies of preaching and preaching style have up to this point often focus almost exclusively on a western eurocentric understanding of good preaching. In Preach It: Understanding African-Caribbean PreachingCarol Tomlin encourages students, both vocational and scholarly, to look beyond these approaches and to learn from traditions with which they are less familiar.

The distinctive style and techniques that African Caribbean Pentecostal preachers have inherited has been shaped by historical, political and socio-economic factors impacting on black Caribbean people (including clergy).

Using a variety of socio-linguistic and theological approaches, Preach It reflects on these techniques, and outlines how preachers across church traditions might learn from them and use them in their own contexts.

David Muir at the University of Roehampton says of the book “Tomlin’s excellent book throws light on the morphology of this performative practice in a critical and authentic way that will be appreciated by scholars, practitioners and students of this sacred art”


Described as ‘the Catholic church’s best kept secret’ Catholic Social Teaching provides a rich body of thought, and finds a particular resonance as all denominations in the church seek to engage with the needs of contemporary society. Yet beyond the immediate context of the Catholic church, it is all too readily ignored. Resolutely aimed at those who come from traditions beyond the movement’s traditional catholic heartlands but who seek to view their ministry through the lens of generous orthodoxy, Love in Action: Catholic Social Teaching for Every Church offers a deeply scriptural but accessible introduction to this vital approach to the church’s ministry in the world.

The author, Fr Simon Cuff, is a Tutor and Lecturer in Theology at St Mellitus College, and Coordinating Fellow of the Centre for Theology and Community.


March

Continuing our efforts to bring out new editions of some of our best loved and most used SCM Studyguides, the 2nd edition of the SCM Studyguide to Theological Reflection, like its predecessor offers newcomers a step by step introduction to understanding what theological reflection is and helps them to explore which of the methods introduced best suits them and their particular situation. It is practical in emphasis, providing students with a wide variety of worked examples and opportunities to carry out their own exercises.

The new edition brings the content up to date, offering a revised and improved bibliography and updated and refreshed examples and exercises, including new sections on scriptural reasoning and contemplative theology.


Finally two books with a similar aim – to engage with the ordinary experience and ordinary theology of Christian disciples as they work to develop and deepen their discipleship learning. The first 
Everyday Matthew , by John Holdsworth, brings the situations of ordinary readers into conversation with the scholarship to help make Matthew’s gospel accessible and  pastorally useful. 

How might a young student be inspired by the sermon on the Mount? 
How can environmentalists, anxious for the future of the world, connect with Matthew’s concerns about the End? The book is predicated on a belief that such connections are possible; that there are ways of seeing the pastoral or practical usefulness of the text, and, ultimately that there is some point in reading, preaching and teaching from Matthew’s gospel.

John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford, says ‘The Bible has been well described as a conversation betweenearth and heaven. John Holdsworth demonstrates the value of this metaphor inthis immensely readable volume. Because he inhabits the text so fully he canopen it up with clarity and style, taking us through scholarly debate with asure, light touch, and allowing familiar passages to communicate afresh. Theresult is a lively approach that makes Matthew available to thoughtful,twenty-first century readers who are open to contemporary wisdom from anancient source, a true conversation between earth and heaven.’

Similarly, Everyday Public Worship (by the Reverend Susan Jones) links the reader’s everyday experience with the key influences that have shaped the Church’s understanding of public worship, with the Scriptures, with Christian doctrine, with Church history, and with the landmarks in Christian liturgy. The book explores the themes raised by a serious and thoughtful consideration of public worship by engaging in conversation with three Christian disciples who came from very different backgrounds and who have very different experiences of and expectations for public worship.