Theologian and Director of Research
The principal talks about Carey having a, “deep commitment to the Bible”. What does that mean?
Holy Scripture is the primary way Christ speaks to us
until he returns. As we read, believe and obey Scripture,
the Father is most clearly heard, Christ is most fully made known, and the Spirit most manifestly works. Scripture is holy because God chooses to make himself and his ways known through it. As we faithfully read and interpret Scripture together the Spirit brings us to where God is found: in Jesus Christ. As we read Scripture, God uses it to read and shape us into the kind of people who can receive its Word – Jesus Christ.
In your 2015 orientation lecture you said, “the first word of God is an answer – Jesus Christ”. What did you mean by this?
We all have our questions which we take to God: why is my loved one sick? How should we respond to the evil that is in the world? etc. And to each of these questions God’s answer is Jesus Christ – the one who in himself unites God with humanity, the one who asks our questions for us and provides the answer. In light of Jesus Christ – God with us, God for us, God over us – our questions are radically changed and we approach God, the world, and ourselves very differently. Through Christ, we are given new and better questions than the ones we were asking. Knowing Christ is with, for, and over us, we have the faith to overcome every trial, the hope of the resurrection to come and life eternal, and the miraculous ability to love both God and others in ways which would be impossible without Christ’s life with us. For Christians, reality is defined by Jesus Christ because he is our true reality and in him we understand all things.
When explaining theology you use a phrase from Tolkien, “going there and back again”. What has this to do with theology?
Tolkien knew that one way to effectively communicate the truths God has revealed to us is through the imagination. There and Back Again was Tolkien’s other title for The Hobbit, the story of little Bilbo Baggins who goes on a great quest, leaving the Shire he loves only to return to it much later, much changed, yet still the same. This story is an image of the Christian life, and, as it turns out, of how to think theologically. Starting with a basic acceptance and worship of all God has revealed to us in Scripture, we indwell God’s word, by faith, in the Spirit. In prayer and obedience to Christ, we are led to a deeper level of understanding whereby we come to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). In truth, we are being drawn into the very life of God where our lives and our convictions are transformed to become like Christ by the work of the Spirit. Now we go back again; back to Scripture, back to the world, back to life, but this time changed, knowing more of God, the world, and ourselves – and we have more faith, more hope, more love. We then spend the rest of our lives going “there and back again”.
What does all this have to do with training leaders for ministry and mission? What do you hope students come away with?
Ministry and mission are all about going on many journeys of faith with God and God’s people: going deeper into God, deeper into Scripture, deeper into life. Church leaders are mature Christians who, amongst other things, have the ability to read Scripture well, think theologically, and be competent in ministry and mission. I hope students come away from their study with a love of Scripture, a lasting relationship with Christ, an attentiveness to the Spirit, a passion for God’s kingdom, and the faith, hope, and love that comes from this relationship. In short, we want students who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
How important is our context when trying to understand the Bible?
We can’t deny context any more than we can deny our existence. We cannot escape who we are or the things that have shaped us, and nor should we. We bring to our communal reading of Scripture all the things that have made us who we are (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and we find that the Word of God speaks to us because of, through, or despite our various contexts. God makes himself known in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, Maori, Samoan, or whatever language and culture has shaped us. Our context often determines the questions we ask, the issues we need to address, and what we sense are the most relevant issues in life — but it is here that we go “there and back again,” our questions are confronted by God’s answer — Jesus Christ. God takes our cultural forms of thinking, believing and obeying and transforms them into God’s way of speaking, being, and acting. As a result, we speak as much into our cultural contexts as we initially spoke out of them – at this point, we are on a great journey, we are doing theology.
Some say our churches are empty today because of too much dull doctrine. How do you respond to this?
Here I can only echo the words of Dorothy Sayers who wrote: “Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as ‘a bad press’. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – ‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of humanity — and the dogma is the drama.” Those of us who have spent years listening to the voice of God speak through Scripture, throughout history, and in our diverse experiences, can only say “Amen!”