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Advice For The New Archbishop Of Canterbury

If it is true that Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is to be the new ABC, then I wonder whether he will heed the advice that Rowan Williams is offering his successor (as reported in the same article):

Speaking in Auckland yesterday, at what aides said would be his final press conference, he was asked for advice for his successor.

Quoting the theologian Karl Barth, he said that the new Archbishop should preach “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”.

He said that it was vital that whoever is named must be able to make his message relevant to modern life and “like” reading newspapers.

“You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?’

“And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: ‘Where is this going to help me?’

“So I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading newspapers would be a good start.”

Valuable as this is, I just wonder whether ‘newspaper’ ought to be augmented with ‘social media’. The new Archbishop enters a world where communications are faster than ever, and social media reporting and campaigning (whatever the doubts about accuracy) has such a rapid effect upon events, that he will need to be strongly aware of that, too. Perhaps the ABC needs not only a press office but a rapid response social media office.

That said, who am I to advise? And perhaps it would be good to heed the thoughts of Adrian Chatfield on Twitter, who tweeted,

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Theology Is Important!

The other day, someone said to me, “You’re not academic.” It was meant as a compliment, but I felt disappointed. The speaker meant that I was interested in people, and took ‘academic’ to mean ‘remote’.
However, I see academic theology differently. I know that in all too many cases it can be remote from ordinary life, and frankly abstruse. Try reading anyone called Karl – say Barth or Rahner – in a home group or a sermon. It’s often dense, and I need to re-read it to get the sense. My passion, though, is to connect the academy and the church. I believe theology is important for living.
So I was pleased to see Sally Coleman blogging on this very subject. I added a quote in the discussion there from one of the Desert Fathers, Evagrius Ponticus:

If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

(I found that quote many years ago in David Benner‘s wonderful book ‘Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Quest‘, where it was cited from S Lash’s article ‘Orthodox Spirituality’ in ‘The SCM Dictionary of Spirituality‘, edited by Gordon Wakefield.)

To me, it encapsulates what theology is about: not just words about God (which would be a fairly literal interpretation of the word), but words to God, the exploration of God as an act of worship.

As for the academic stuff, well don’t we need the people who will use their gifts to think hard about the difficult questions? The church can be strangely ambivalent about this. In my experience (although not, I hasten to add, in my current appointment), I have encountered Christians who have vehemently rejected the idea of sermons that made them think only at other times to expect the same minister to explain hard issues to them! You can’t have it both ways!

Surely we are all theologians, at least by Evagrius Ponticus’ standards. But we each bring something different to the table, as together we seek to know God more deeply.

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