Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Theology at Oxford? Or anywhere?

Thanks to 'SAC' for this from Ruth Gledhill:

"See my story in The Times today, we report: 'For more than 800 years, the University of Oxford has led the world in the study of the divine. For centuries, it has sat alongside Cambridge as the leading centre for the study of the Bible. Now academics are considering a proposal to rebrand theology at Oxford as “religious studies” because of the growing demand from students who wish to study Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well as Christianity. The requirement to have an A level in religious studies to study religion at Oxford is also to be dropped.' Oliver Kamm in his commentary says: 'Oxford’s Faculty of Theology insists that its core subject matter of biblical studies, doctrine and church history remains intact. But it is hard to avoid inferring that the faculty’s ferment is further evidence of the cultural decline of Christianity. That decline is an accomplished fact. Oxford’s faculty would be right to acknowledge it by changing its name and radically revising its subject matter.'Below I reproduce the original review and the faculty board response. The next important meeting will be in October...."

There are many reasons for this predictable but catastrophic state of affairs, the decline of "cultural Christianity" being only one. But the problem for the (Anglican) Church is starkly apparent, having relied for so long on largely secularised university faculties for the theological education of its ordinands, alongside the more "practical" approach to clergy formation of the theological colleges.
Now at a time when the faith has never faced so many intellectual challenges to the credibility of its message, one would have thought that prospective clergy more than ever needed a half-way decent theological education.
Ironically this is taking place at a time when Anglicans in the U.K. seem to be engaged in the process of scrapping residential theological colleges along with the very last vestiges of any kind of theological, priestly "formation" which have survived the domination of sociology and psychology in contemporary seminary or "ministry training" curricula.
There was a time - a while ago now -  when the Anglican clergy (let me make it clear:  it was a grossly unfair prejudice even then) somewhat looked down on the educational achievements of their (Roman) Catholic counterparts, but that was in the days of a 'secular' classical education followed by a grounding in Hebrew and New Testament Greek and a familiarity with the writings of the Church Fathers.
The day will come (if it hasn't already arrived) when prospective clerical converts from "Canterbury" to Rome will have to go back to school, not only to iron out the obvious differences in theological approach between their traditions and to supply any 'juridical' deficiencies, but simply because of the inadequacies of their education, full stop.
But surely from whatever standpoint one is approaching this, it certainly doesn't augur well for the prospects of any of the remaining traditions of Anglicanism in Britain being able to provide a serious, philosophically and intellectually capable defence of the Christian faith. We are going to have to look elsewhere for that as well.


1 comment:

  1. The facts are indisputable. The question (to which you've clearly found a personally acceptable conclusion) is: change things, or escape while there's still time.

    Perhaps it's possible to bring some of the insights of the Universal Church (and I don't just mean Rome) to bear on the situation before the process is beyond reversal.


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