Leading to What? image

Leading to What?

Andrew’s fascinating post about Doug Campbell’s reading of Romans made the aside that Duke Divinity School (rather than Harvard) “is probably the world’s leading Divinity School at the moment.” This observation raises the interesting question about how we define “leading” when it comes to academic institutions generally, and to the study of theology specifically.

Andrew, Liam and myself are the three “leading” contributors to this blog – in the sense that we post more regularly than anyone else. We are all also closely associated with the “leading” university of King’s College, London – I took an MA there and Liam is currently reading for his MA, while Andrew is pursuing a PhD. (King’s has always had a strong theology department, but the completion of my MA coincided with the death of leading theologian Colin Gunton, who had been head of department, and the departure of a number of other leading staff – a state of affairs that led to one academic making the rather snide remark to me that the previously “leading” faculty were being replaced by “school teachers and atheists.”)
This is the time of year in the UK when many 18 year olds are making decisions about which college to attend once they finish school, and there are plenty of league tables available which seek to quantify which are the leading institutions. (The THE and QS rankings are both good examples.) Competition to enter the top ranked colleges can be fierce, fuelled by the benefits in terms of educational standard and graduate employability. (And in all these rankings Harvard beats Duke – even if it’s divinity department is not so leading!)
But what of the 18 year old thinking about studying theology at degree level – how can they decide what defines “leading” for them? Or, for the rest of us, reading books (and blogs) by academics, what weight should we place upon where the institutions they work at rank in the league tables?
In the end, Paul’s advice to Timothy must be our model for what is most leading, because it is most faithful:

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The world of academic theology can be immensely helpful and profitable, but it has also thrown up more heretical ideas and nonsense than you could shake a student loan at. Which means we should not reject academia, or be nervous of engaging with it, but neither should we feel intimidated by credentials which, while impressive in the league tables, speak little of true faithfulness.
So, should the 18 year old wanting to study theology go to a leading institution, even if it is staffed by atheists, or should they go to Bible College? I might do another post about that…

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