'Baptists do theology - and do it well'
A new event which gave space to Baptists engaged in theological research took place this week
Despite some weather-related cancellations, more than 70 people gathered for Theology Live! on Monday (11 December) to hear 13 short papers and to interact with the speakers.
The day featured a range of speakers and subjects.
They included Ruth Moriarty, minister Christ Church New Southgate (Baptist & URC LEP), who introduced her research into the church meeting and its practice of discerning the mind of Christ.
She explained she is interested in the reasons for silence and non-participation, and how the meeting can truly reflect the mind of a congregation if it fails to hear from all its members.
‘I’d like to reclaim the church meeting by introducing the value of participation,’ she said.
The next phase of the research is a series of interviews, which will take place over the next 12 months.
Trevor Neill, minister of Yardley Wood Baptist Church, gave an insight into his research exploring the failure of Baptists in Birmingham to engage with the white working classes.
In an address which quoted Margaret Thatcher’s understanding of Christian faith, he explained how there was an over-emphasis on personal salvation, which is no longer counter-cultural in today’s atomised society.
He spoke of the error of viewing people as projects. 'What are we converting people from, and discipling them to?' He added that the thinking of many congregations needs to catch up with the activity of projects such as foodbanks and debt counselling services.
Other papers included a focus on hospitality in the Old Testament, and how it’s not as straightforward as it seems; exploring the inclusion of physically disabled people in Baptist church communities; Baptists and celebrating the Lord’s Supper; and universalism and the revisiting of purgatory.
After each paper, where time permitted, there was an opportunity for discussion.
The day concluded with Baptist theologian Steve Holmes offering some thoughts. He asked what it means to do Baptist theology: does it mean theology done by Baptists, theology done for Baptists, theology done with a focus on specific Baptist concerns, theology done in a Baptist way? Steve said that Theology Live! represented all these ways.
He reminded those present that there is a history within the Baptist tradition of saying theology is not needed: we just need to read the Bible and do what it says. The place of the theologian and scholar can thus be viewed with suspicion. However, he said Baptist theology at its best is always rooted in the local church, Baptist theology is most often done in the conversation between pastor-theologians and their congregations.
The day was organised by Simon Woodman co minister at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London, where Theology Live! took place, and Andy Goodliff, minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend.
Simon said, ‘It was exciting to have a group of over 70 Baptists gathering to share in a day of theological input and discussion. Despite the weather and cancelled trains, people came from all over the UK to hear some excellent papers.
‘Sometimes we hear worries that Baptists don't 'do theology' any more, but if Theology Live! is an indication - they do, and they do it well, and they want to do more of it.
‘Questions remain about how our next generation of pastor-scholars will be funded and trained, and these are important questions; it will be a great loss to us all if people with a gifting and calling to scholarship are denied the opportunity to serve our Union in this way.
‘But we clearly have a rising generation of able theological thinkers who are willing to answer the call to think deeply about the things of God in relation to Christ's body the church.
‘My hope is that the relationships and conversations that begun at Theology Live! will continue in ways that positively shape our shared future together as Baptists.’
Andy explained how the day had built on previous events: the near decade of consultations organised by Paul Fiddes and others called Baptists Doing Theology in Context; the work of Sally Nelson and the Northern Theological Consultation; and Catalyst Live, organised by BMS World Mission.
‘We want to continue what they started, and are doing,' Andy said, 'but recognise that sometimes being a Baptist theologian/biblical scholar can be a lonely thing. We don’t believe it has to be.
‘We felt the papers were all of high quality and got us thinking in lots of different ways and reflects that Baptists are doing theology. We knew that already, but hopefully more people are aware of that now too.
‘We definitely hope to do another, all the signs from the day and noises from people were "Yes please." We are both committed to fostering spaces and opportunities for thinkers and scholars, pastors and practitioners to both reflect and inspire on the task of theology.’