What should we expect of a theological college?
There has been considerable discussion recently surrounding the issue of “value for money” and “fitness for purpose” of full time theological education. I have my own views on the immense value of full time theological residential training (see http://www.simonvibert.com/writing/articles/CEN%20article_on_full_time_training.doc). But I think we would agree that the goal of all such training is to equip and train godly ministers for Gospel ministry.
Julian Mann has publically challenged me to defend Wycliffe Hall in the light of his article in the EN and the subsequent letter from one of our students Matthew Swires Hennessy (see http://cranmercurate.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-are-we-paying-for-in-thelogical.html). If I have understood him correctly, Julian’s main contention is that Oak Hill is best placed to train ordinands because it is not “as posh” as Oxbridge colleges and provides a more useful practical theology.
I have no intention of being drawn into a debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of Wycliffe versus Oak Hill. Apart from anything else, I was a student at Oak Hill, for which I am most grateful, and am now Vice Principal at Wycliffe Hall and wish to see both institutions prosper!
There are several reasons why I was appreciative, and ultimately accepted, Richard Turnbull’s invitation to teach at Wycliffe Hall, which in no particular order, include the following:-
1. I am absolutely committed to evangelical parochial ministry in the Church of England. Since Ordination in 1989 I have served as a Curate in Carlisle, been the minister-in-charge of a church in the small market town of Buxton in Derbyshire, and been incumbent of a leafy suburban parish in Wimbledon. These varied environments have led me to conclude that England is unlikely to be revived unless Gospel new-life penetrates urban, suburban, rural, wealthy, poor and every other demography across the land. Parochial ministry, despite its limitations for Church planting etc., is still a great gift to the national church. It is a major goal of our training mindset that we seek to bolster the faithful ongoing witness of Gospel ministry in local communities through high calibre preparation of men and women for ministry.
2. The particular focus to Wycliffe’s training was another great attraction for me: We have sought to concentrate on 3-4 main ends or goals. For sure, we cover the core curriculum in biblical studies, doctrine, church history, ethics etc. But to what end? The answer is that we seek to train: leaders, preachers, evangelists, church planters and apologists. This requires practical and pastoral focus. Hence, alongside the rigorous academic demands of being a PPH of Oxford University, Pastor-teachers such as myself seek to bring grass-roots ministry experience to earth the teaching in real ministry goals.
3. Wycliffe Hall has a marvellous academic and ecclesiastic heritage. For sure, not everyone at Wycliffe will study on the demanding 2-year BA course or do post graduate study. Of course for some this also means many other opportunities to excel in sports, debate, church life, etc. But Wycliffe seeks to make the most of the excellent resources which a university town offers: rigorous academic scholarship and the marvellous heritage of a university which, after all has the Scriptural words “The Lord is my Light” as its foundational motto. I do not want to forget, either, that the vision of the founders of Wycliffe Hall, under the leadership of the great JC Ryle, was in part that Wycliffe Hall would be a witness to the University, reminding them that the learned mind is a humble mind which first bows its head before its maker before bowing over its books.
There is much more, but for now, I do hope Julian and others, that you will pray for Wycliffe and Oak Hill, as well as the other evangelical colleges. We are not in competition with each other. We need your support and encouragement and prayer in order that we may, under God, do our utmost to form godly ministers for Gospel work up and down our land.