My theological odyssey is linked to my philosophical one, and has been a model of unstraightforwardness. I spent 20 months attached to the Department of Theology at Manchester University, and then 15 months attached to the Department of Theology at the University of Wales Trinity St David (formerly Lampeter). I’ve suffered from depression due to the roller-coaster ride, and tried to quit this vocation more than once.
But sometimes the most valuable and precious things in life are those for which we have to fight the most. And to work in theology – whether as a postgraduate student, or in the church as a teacher and preacher – has been the single greatest joy of the second half of my adult life. Music is very , very close, but it is in second place in my affections.
Theology is also valuable to me because it has aided my sanity like little else. It has helped me to understand the reasons for Biblical Christian faith in ways that regular Bible study and lay reading could never achieve. In my ongoing dialogue with theological thinkers from multiple denominations, I have encountered more robust questioning of my ow presupposition than could ever have been possible if I remained solely within my own vanguard (in terms of theological exchange).
Seventh-Day Adventist theology has been at a cross-roads for a very long time. Generally speaking, names like Schleiermacher and Barth are not unknown to seminary graduates, but the evidence seems to suggest that relatively few SDAs enter ministry having had a bona-fide humanities background. This is made more complex by that fact that anti-intellectualism is increasingly rife in Adventism, which has led to an increasing chasm between those who want to hold onto landmarks that they consider to be ‘sola scriptura’ (even if this is not quite the case when one looks more closely) and those who are desperate for Adventism to become more ‘progressive.’
I’m quite interested in the ‘Princeton School’ but perhaps the one theologian for whom I have the most affection in that ‘Reformed’ vanguard is Cornelius Van Til. His robust defense of Scripture as the only starting point for theology is still the best of which I am aware; but I am extremely fond of much of Fernando Canale’s output, still the most original Seventh-Day Adventist theologian whom I can actually follow with my heart as well as head. I think that Fritz Guy is judged more harshly at times than would be ideal (and I confess I have also been guilty of that) but he has taken progressive Adventism to somewhere where one might well ask if it is still Adventist!
For my first doctoral project I was trying to work at a hermeneutic triangle between Word (Scripture), (liturgical) tradition and culture. To that end, I really wanted to interrogate Radical Orthodoxy. In the words of Birmingham University theologian Martin Stringer (who helped me enormously at one point in time), RO’s methodology is very interesting, but its ideology is very suspect. I met Simon Oliver, exchanged emails with Catherine Pickstock, spent a too-brief time with Graham Ward and now wrestle with Milbank, who excites and infuriates in equal measure. There is still an enormous task here for a conservative Christian who is concerned about RO’s claims regarding authority and their appropriation of certain philosophical ideas. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a very impressive article about Alain Badiou’s use of set theory and the role it plays in his ontology – but a tag team consisting of a mathematician and an intellectual historian argued that despite his bullish defense at the outset, there are certain elements of set theory that make it wholly inappropriate to his own cause. Something very similar seems to have taken place with with RO and certain philosophers (e.g. Duns Scotus).
However, I have moved away from liturgical theology as my sole focus. It remains a major part of my theological work, and having served as the Advisor for Music and Worship Ministries to the North England Conference, at present I serve the South England Conference as the Theological Counsel (Advisor) to the Music Advisory Council. But I really want to ask some searching questions about the ontology of faith and create a new triangle between faith, (religious) epistemology and hermeneutics. At a 2015 conference on religious epistemology, I was interested to see the weight placed on ‘evidence’ as a necessity for faith. My question: can faith exist without ‘evidence?’
I was very edified to see how various non-philosophically-literate Christians smugly dismissed various presenters who disagreed with their opinions whilst actually demonstrating in their discourse that they had failed to grasp the nature of what was being said with regard to things like skeptical theism. As a theologian, it is weird how talking to non-Christians can be much easier than talking with fellow Christians! Theology is much more difficult when philosophy gets involved, but if you want to know why I believe these disciplines belong together, consider the doctrine of the Trinity. That is as philosophical a concept as one can hope to find, and it is also entirely Biblical – in the same way that the hypostatic union is Biblical (depending on exactly how it is expressed, of course, but that’s true of every single doctrine, not least that of divine grace!).
I write a blog at the intersection of music and theology; click here to have a look!