In 2007, I was privileged to study with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (a division of the Ravi Zacharias Institute). We were based at Wycliffe Hall, an Oxford College for theological studies. This was a period that proved to be really definitive for my life, and also for my leadership. It energised my thinking in a wide range of areas.
Amongst the various faculty with whom I was privileged to study, was Professor Alister McGrath, who at that time held the Chair of History of Science at Harris Manchester College. In his book The Future of Christianity, McGrath proposed the idea of “Organic Theologians”.
He commences from the notion that “there is a yawning chasm between the attitude of Biblical scholars and the attitude of the person in the pew to Biblical material”. Many academic theologians seem to spend a good deal of their time finding reasons not to read the Bible for what it appears to be saying, while the person in the pew seeks to read it to find real answers to their real life. (Of course, it’s not that the professionals don’t believe, it’s just that the questions they ask are generally not the questions of the ordinary person.)
Professional theologians and academics speak in a dialect that is not the natural language of the ordinary person. Massive tomes can be written and doctorates can be gained on arguments about whether Jesus really spoke a half-dozen sentences that the New Testament claims that he did.
It’s not that the work of professional theologians is not important – it is, and we deeply need their contributions – but many do not communicate with the ordinary person in the pew, let alone the person on the street. They speak to audiences and for purposes that are not generally in the public square.
McGrath’s notion of organic theologians proposes that intelligent, highly literate, but non-academic ordinary people, who use their intellect to translate academic ideas into the language of the ordinary person in the street can serve a critical purpose for “translating” theology into practical daily readings.
He notes that some of the most popular sources for ordinary people have been writers such as “G. K. Chesterton (a journalist and novelist), C. S. Lewis (a literary critic and novelist), Dorothy L. Sayers (a novelist and critic), and – more recently – John Polkinghorne (a theoretical physicist)”. All of these people have succeeded in engaging the minds and imaginations of the mass of people, where the professional theologians have been largely unknown.
For those who crave a moment of fame, it is quite easy to write a book which pronounces a radical departure from traditional Christianity. Imaginative explorations which blithely ignore evidence, but challenge the question of Jesus' life or whether he was in love with Mary Magdalene or whether he was actually three people, one of them black and one a woman, are sure to engage the interest of the major media. We will be greeted with headlines such as “Bishop shows that 2000 years of church teaching is flawed!” or “Respected Church Leader Challenges the Idea of Hell and Heaven” or "Was Jesus Gay?".
In the blogs that I post here from time to time, I will address many different topics, some theological, some literary, some on current affairs, but deeply undergirding all of them will be my conviction that theology is nothing more nor less than the observations of human beings on the activity of God. When Jesus was amongst us, he ate and drank, went to parties, taught, healed, counselled, and critiqued political and social life. But he always did so from the perspective of how God might be seen in these things.
I also write from the perspective that everything that humans do is God's business. Writing poetry, running a multi-national business, kicking a football, having a prayer-meeting - all of it is open to God-talk. Everything may be touched with the holy and be better for it.
As I comment on such things, I hope that I may help to remove theology from being merely an upper storey activity. I hope to bring it down to street level, throw open the windows and give it a good airing.
I hope to show how we might use the ordinary things around us to catch a glimpse of the One who made us to know and love and worship him – he whose presence is the source and joy of all life, and without whom we gasp to survive, hoping to keep our spirits and souls alive by gulping mere air, food, drink, and entertainment.
University of Queensland
Bachelor of Arts 1971
Diploma of Education 1972
Bachelor of Educational Studies 1983
University of Tasmania
Master of Education 1992
Australian Institute of Company Directors
Diploma AICD Company Directors Course 2010
Australian College of Theology
Graduate Certificate of Divinity 2012
Adelaide College of Divinity (affiliated with Flinders University)
Doctor of Ministry 2017