Friday, March 28, 2014

Beyond Education: Exploring a Theology of the Church’s Theological Formation

I’m in Melbourne today and tomorrow as part of Beyond Education: Exploring a Theology of the Church’s Theological Formation, sponsored by the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry and the University of Divinity. The aim is to try and construct a theology of theological education. On Saturday I’m presenting a paper: Theological education in leadership formation (abstract here)

That has been the focus for much of my week. As part of my research, I compared our current 2014 Bachelor of Ministry degree, with our 2009 Bachelor of Ministry degree. Their have been significant changes, as this table shows

In other words, in 2009, we changed our name, from Parkin Wesley College to Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. Sometimes changes in name are simply cosmetic, a rebranding in which the ingredients remain the same. Looking at the Bachelor of Ministry, we see significant change, including

  • A new stream structure that has brought to the fore leadership and formation.
  • More options through specialisations.
  • Space created for formation (4 new topics in SFE and Integration) through the change of 7 topics (in theology, Bible and Pastoral care) from compulsory to optional
  • New topics written especially in leadership and Discipleship and Christian Education
  • Opportunity for “have a go” innovation through BMin practice, with increased SFE and the use of context as primary.

In the second half of my paper I will then ask whether these changes suggest it is either theological education
leadership formation. Or using the work of cultural theorist Mieke Bal (Anti-Covenant) and theologian Graham Ward (Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice), this allows theological education in leadership formation.

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead

Delighted first with the news this week that my chapter “Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning” has been accepted to be published by Mosaic Press later this year. Edited by Les Ball, titled Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, the book will publish papers delievered at the conference in Sydney last year on teaching and learning theology.

Delighted second that the chapter was accepted with no revisions needed. That’s a huge relief.

Delighted third to be able to find some space in a pretty busy life to have been able to reflect, over 6000 words, on so many of the changes we’re exploring here at Uniting College – in blended learning and in flipped classrooms. This chapter was my asking Why? Why are we doing this? Not why technically or economically but why theologically?

Delighted mainly, because the September conference was the first major conference I spoke at after Dad died. As I returned to finally edit the chapter last week, emotionally I was taken right back to Dad, to the days of his death. I was back writing in grief. So this chapter is dedicated to my Dad, a teacher who taught me so much.

Here’s the abstract of the chapter:
This chapter argues that e-learning is a theological necessity.

Four themes, of theological teaching as embodied in “living libraries,” as nurturing hospitable space, as verbal driven in pedagogy and as cultivating communities of inquiry are outlined. Within each of these themes, a dialogue is conducted between Luke 5:1-11, Transforming Theology and e-learning literature.

The argument is than applied specifically to the task of teaching and learning, with three categories of pedagogical design grounded in a case study of a recent Introduction to Theology class.

Finally, a theological note is made regarding the implications when the Incarnate One is read as the Ascended One. This suggests that the move, from face to face, to digital at distance, is actually a following of the trajectory of Jesus, the miracle of Resurrection and Ascension in which both place and space are redefined. Or in the words of this project, transformed theologically.

Posted by steve at 10:15 PM | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pioneering Plan B: bite-sized education?

Last Friday, I was contemplating a pioneering disaster.

Last Friday, we only had one student enrolment for the March 17-21 Pioneering intensive with Dave Male. Despite a range of advertising, despite Dave being well known in South Australia, I was contemplating the difficulty involved in offering a decent educational experience to a class of one.

It was time for plan B. Annoying at the time, but in hindsight, totally consistent with a course on pioneering! We had shaped the original intensive with Dave to run mornings and evenings. So on Friday we decided to drop the mornings. Instead we will use the time to work one on one with Dave, designing a blended learning distance Pioneering package. What this will mean is that any person, any candidate, can study Pioneering with us at any time in the years ahead, rather than simply by intensive when Dave Male is in town. Which will be a really exciting addition to our Bachelor of Ministry degree, a permanent topic in Pioneering! (A first in Australia I think.) So that was the first part of Pioneering Plan B.

The second part of Pioneering Plan B was to take the existing week long evening programme and offer it in bite-sized chunks. Same topics. But advertise it not as a week, but as bite-sized. Come to one evening or more. Even all four.

The third part of Pioneering plan B was to emphasise that the existing evening programme is not about content but conversation. Rather than lecture, we are offering worship, drink and a story. Four stories actually, of women exploring pioneering in different ways. Which will start a conversation about the issues, the resources, what we are learning about innovation, leadership, mission and church. All stimulated by Dave and by all those who participate.

Some five days later, we have 13 18 20 RSVP’s. Which is a quite a turnaround from the solitary one.

It’s really got me thinking. What was the difference? The personal invite email? The fact the evenings are being offered for free? The deliberate naming of a shift from content to conversation? The shift to bite-sized, with folk able to give an evening, but not a week?

I’m looking forward to doing some market research but I suspect the biggest factor is the latter, the offer of bite-sized education. That one week is too much, but an evening (of four for some) is do-able. Which raises some intriguing questions for education in general. What might it mean to modularize a syllabus, to go bite-sized?

And the one enrolment? They are delighted at our flexibility. They will get some focused 1 on 1 time with Dave Male at the start and end of the week, in order to establish some specifically tailored guided reading, all mixed in with some evenings of rich conversation to help their own processing.

And for those in Adelaide, it’s still not too late to RSVP to steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au. Here’s the bite-sized programme, come to one, come to more … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM | Comments (13)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jesus and popular culture

“the afterlife of the Bible has been infinitely more influential, in every way – theologically, politically, culturally, and aesthetically – than its ancient near-eastern prehistory.” (John Sawyer, 2004, 11)

I spent yesterday at Flinders, teaching in the Bible and popular culture course. The topic was Jesus and popular culture. Dan W. Clanton Jr., in The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter explores the place of Jesus in American popular culture and argues that thinking about Jesus is thus not confined to the church. Anyone can seek to express Jesus and in so doing, can invite discussion about how accurate, helpful and ethical is their portrayal.

So I explored Jesus and popular culture under 5 headings, using some of the following examples.

1 – Jesus then: in original context – in films like Jesus of Nazareth and Passion of Christ

2 – Jesus now: Christ figures – in places like Narnia Chronicles or Jesus of Montreal or Harry Potter. This draws in particular on Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film.

3 – Jesus now: context - in which Jesus is placed in site specific contexts, like Manchester Passion or Baxter’s poem, The Maori Jesus.

4 – Jesus Elsewhere – in which Jesus is placed imaginatively in new world, like Deborah Bird Rose’s hearing of Ned Kelly being a Christ figure in some indigenous dream stories, or a comic series like Loaded, Jesus and Vampire gospels.

The term “elsewhere comes from DC Comic creator “heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow” (DC Comics Elseworlds)

5 – Jesus sarcastically - for example in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, in which with quite some irreverence, Jesus is explored.

It is always a lot of work to bring a lecture together for the first time, but an enjoyable and rich experience.

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

the ethics of education and ministry formation

Currently I’m team teaching a summer school topic (Bible and Culture) at Flinders University. It’s the first time in years that we as Adelaide College of Divinity/Uniting College have been able to teach actually on campus at Flinders. It’s a new topic and it’s been great to see Flinders get excited and in behind it.

Of the 17 students enrolled, at least 13 are non-Theology students. Which makes for a very different teaching experience. I’ve heard comments like “Who is Jacob?” when explore the live performances of Bullet the Blue Sky. Or “Did Jesus, if he lived, have long hair? Cos all the pictures say he has.”

In other words, presume nothing.

Yesterday, in preparing for class, I was reading Mieke Bal and her introduction in Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies). She begins by noting the place of the Bible in Western culture. “The Bible, as at least partially a religious document, has been formative of Western culture. The culture as it is today carries the Bible with it, as it carries the rest of its founding texts” (page 11). In other words, everyone can be involved in this interpretation of Biblical texts.

Her phrase “founding texts” has stayed with me. Being plural, it suggests other “founding texts.” Obviously other religions have other founding texts – Koran, First Testament – being examples. Thinking about Western culture, it seems to me that nations have “founding texts” not necessarily explicit or cogent, but surely celebrated in events like Australia Day, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day. Equally Western individualism and consumerism are again “founding texts” for our culture.

Bal then argues that the “text is one thing … its meaning is quite a different matter. Meaning … is a property of the act of reading.” (12-13) This then, can be applied to all texts, including all founding texts. So this brings into focus the role of the reader and the audience, who create meanings based on their prior experiences, values and attitudes. (Yes these are shaped by the founding texts, but they still exist separately, individually from the actual texts). She suggests that meaning is dynamic, a process, expressed in the phrase “moments of meaning”, present in both the text as a provider of meaning and the reader reading.

Further, Bal notes that rather than fall into a subjective, all readings are equal, or a imperialist, my reading is better, there still remains ways to question, and critique, ours and others meanings (“readings, without positivistic claims to truth.” (16)). She calls this the “ethical responsibility” of reading, that we need to reflect on how we read, the meanings we create, and their impact on ourselves, others, the earth. Specifically, she refers to the methods we use to read, and the nature of our discourse. Thus “every scholar of texts is a reader in the first place. Acknowledging that status, and accounting for the underlying guiding conventions, is a primary ethical responsibility for all scholars.” (15)

What these ethics might be remains open to question, but for Bal, this need for ethical responsibility keeps alive scholarship and justice.

Finally, Bal suggests that this need for “ethical responsibility” is especially important in relation to founding texts. In other words preaching the Bible. Or how Australia Day is named and practised.

Which helps me make sense of Bible and culture, and, more big picture, the task of education and ministry formation. It is about helping people to read their founding stories ethically. To develop the ability to think about how they use the Bible and it’s impact on others. To consider the discourse we create as we tell the narratives of an Anzac Day or Australia Day. To ponder the effect of individualism on people and planet.

This applies equally to those who use the Bible or who read a pop cultural text. It allows a wide range of people to sit in a class together, becoming more respectful of how to read, methods for reading, the discourse generated.

Such are my ponderings as I taught today, as we explored how U2′s live performance of Bullet the Blue Sky in Chicago was a reading of some founding stories – Jonny comes Marching home today, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible’s expression of desolation and lament.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

hi ho (to watch Lost and Banksy and U2)

It’s my first day back at work today.

And I get to spend it at Flinders, talking about movies, street art and concerts – more specifically Lost, Banksy and U2. It is part of an innovation, in which we are using the (new) Summer School window at Flinders, to offer courses on campus that might be of wider public interest.

So we quietly worked away last year, putting a new topic – Bible and Culture – through academic processes at Flinders.

It seems to have worked, of the enrolments, 12 are non-Theology students, which means a wider public engagement (and a much more diverse and interesting class-room).

So today I spend the morning teaching, talking about the “and culture” part of a topic called Bible and culture. I’ll chat about how I became a film reviewer and the tools I use to do that year after year, from a theology slant. We’ll look at the rise of popular culture and ways to understand the ongoing presence of Christianity in culture.

All while watching Lost and looking at Bansky and considering Bono’s hand gestures!

Posted by steve at 08:27 AM | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

working with the New Zealand Presbyterians

Sitting on an outdoor bench at the bach/shack yesterday, it was lovely to be interviewed by Angela Singer from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand communications department.

Angela wanted to chat, following up an invitation to me to be the key note speaker at the next General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Assembly happens every two years, for five days, from October 3rd to 7th 2014. I’ve been asked to offer three key note sessions, engaging with the theme of Inspiring Mission.

So we talked – about why me, about what I might say, about my knowledge of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand and about whether a new initiative, a move to table group format, would help or hinder my communication style.

I’ve also said yes to being part of Offspring. This will another new thing for the Assembly. It will involve a stream, open to anyone in the church, offering resourcing in mission. It is planned to run alongside the business sessions on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. (What a choice – business or mission resourcing?) It will have a similar format to what I was part of in October earlier this year, with a theme of story telling – learning from local stories about mission and innovation.

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bible and pop culture summer school intensive

Posted by steve at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The e-learning version of a Jesus call story (Luke 5:1-11)

Some recent writing I’m still quite pleased with …

I want to begin by contemporising Luke 5:1-11. While somewhat playful, I intend to make a more serious point as my argument unfolds.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret the people were crowding around him … checking their facebook status and live tweeting updates as they were … listening to the Word of God.

[Jesus] got into one of the boats … Then he sat down and taught the people … by handing the disciples a Kindle, on which had been loaded core theology texts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and latest translations of the First Testament ….

Then Jesus said to Simon, Come follow me and … so he gave the disciples their moodle login and automated password. Upon login, they clicked on My courses and discovered they had been enrolled in a core topic – Discipleship. It came complete with course outlines for the next three years and powerpoints of the Sermon on the Mount. Assessment involved the completion of weekly forums, involving contemporary doing theology case studies. One involved a written response to a question asked by a rich young ruler, another an exercise in going ahead of Jesus looking for a donkey.

Plus, a bonus, a set of MP3’s. Titled Parables, they allowed students to be updated on Jesus latest adventures in storytelling.

Jesus had toyed with the idea of offering a MOOCS – Massive Open Online Course. Instead of a focus on the disciples, he had toyed with marketing his Discipleship course to the crowds, aiming for open access and large-scale interactive participation.

Sadly his treasurer had resisted, pointing out that it was better to give to poor than to fund the video lecture style pedagogy and a graphic novel, which, it was argued, would increase student retention of texts from the Apocraphya.

This was an introduction to my paper – Embodiment and Transformation in the context of e-learning – at the recent Teaching and Learning: Theology: The Way Ahead conference in Sydney. While at first glance my e-learning version of a Lukan “call story” might suggest the importance of face to face modes of discipleship, my intention was subversive. By placing the Incarnation as central, it applied me to argue that transforming theology can involve e-learning and online technologies. In other words, an attempt to be theological about transforming theology.

Posted by steve at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2013

a significant national encouragement

I spend Friday in Sydney, at the inaugural Learning and Teaching Theology: The Way Ahead conference. Hosted by Sydney College of Divinity, it is a follow up to the recently completed Transforming Theology project, which tested the claims of Australian theological colleges that they provided a transformative learning experience.

It attracted about 80 people, from theological colleges all around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia. It was great to be at a conference discussing not what we teach, but how we teach, and thus to find common ground across disciplines.  I was there to give a paper – Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning. I had also been invited to be on a plenary panel of four, on the place of integration in theological education. I was also to be, quite unexpectedly, encouraged.

The opening address was by Dr Les Ball. His book Transforming Theology (Mosaic Resources, 2012) documents the recent research into the Australian theology sector. His conclusion is that the claims, by theological colleges, of offering transformation in education, were much ahead of the reality, based on student experience and analysis of curriculum. Despite all the social changes of the last 35 years, theological colleges remain remarkably uniform and remarkably unchanged.

During question time, he was asked if he had come across any signs of hope. He gave two examples. A new topic introduced at ACU called Community Engagement, in which all students have to participate in a community project.

And us! From Adelaide! The new Bmin at ACD taught by Uniting College. In Ball’s book, Transforming Theology, we get three mentions

  • Our philosophy of practical ministry preparation and engagement. “The teaching faculty have been strategically appointed to promote such a commitment.” (page 104)
  • The use of personal preliminary interviews. “This is not a case of granting credit for prior learning and thus shortening the course, but rather it is a matter of course planning to connect with actual experience, either past or projected.” (I wonder if he’s talking about our candidate Formation panel processes and our Bmin practice stream), (page 110)
  • the way we have altered radically our disciplines to reflect our developmental educational philosophy, in contrast to traditional departments of OT, NT, Theology, Church history … “a complete rethinking of the nature, the structure and the progression of content, skills, and formative elements, to facilitate a development in students.” (page 146-7)

It was a very encouraging moment, to hear our degree being affirmed, publicly, in front of 80 people from theological colleges around Australia. At the same time, it gave pause for ongoing reflection on where we, as Faculty, put our energies and focus.

Bachelor of Ministry – Promotional Video from Craig Mitchell on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 02:20 PM | Comments (4)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

a very rich speaking event

Last night was one of the most rich speaking engagements I’ve ever been part of. Last year I spoke to the Churches of Christ ministers at their annual Magarey lecture. I focused on the importance of our sense in the mission of God. A number of those present wanted to continue the conversation and the result was an invite to last night – to be part of Conversations at the table.  But as a feast rather than a talkfest!

I arrived to find a four course dinner, lights dimmed, candles lit, flowers laid out around tables. It was extraordinary.

Between each course I engaged a Scriptural text and explored four themes – companions, manners, words and communion. I wanted to provide examples of how to do church around tables, not to try and be fresh or relevant or cool. Rather in response to Jesus, who did so much of his ministry in conversation at tables.

Course 1 – Companions
I began my inviting them to plan a special meal for 4-6 people. Who would you invite? Where would you have it? What would you eat? What would you celebrate?

I then read the Parable of the Great Banquet, in Luke 14:15-23 and asked if anyone had stories of times when you’ve invited “poor, crippled, blind, lame.” This opened up some great conversation, about how we’re changed by the simple acts of inviting the strangers to eat.

I introduced them to John Koenig and his research into churches and food.

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

And the four hospitality practices he offers.

  • Practice: serving graciously by finding ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • Practice: setting tables in ways and places that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • Practice: seek role reversals by finding ways for all to contribute (a diversity of gifts, each has its corresponding service.)
  • Practice: committing to a long-term, intentional project.

Course 2 – manners
I asked if Christians should eat differently and suggested a number of practices that might mark Kingdom manners. This included placing on the table all the cans (cleaned) used to make the meal we were enjoying and inviting folk to talk about the labels, what we know of the prayer needs of that country and pray for those people. Intercession!

Course 3 – words
I used the movie The Kings Speech, to ask what it means for us to find voice, to share our story as part of conversations. It was spliced with a number of video and art explorations of woman at the Well in John 4 – her sharing her story uniquely.

Course 4 – communion
We finished with communion. It allowed us to draw the evening together – to “Do this in memory of” the table fellowship of Jesus, the manners of the Kingdom, the words.

I finished with one final conversation around table, the Emmaus story in Luke 24, to remind us that the cup is the cup of the new covenant, in which Jesus continues to be recognised around tables; not just in the past, but into the future.

Why such a rich night? The multiple senses – food, lighting, environment, conversation, cans, wrapped around justice, mission and hospitality – made for an evening that was rich, yet inputting. The people at tables were from diverse churches, making it a time of relational growing. Mission was made as simple as eating, as challenging as Jesus radical Kingdom manners.

A night I will remember for a long time.

And I’d love to do this with other groups – an evening of mission as conversation at tables.

Posted by steve at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, August 23, 2013

doing theology: teaching theology by induction

I’m teaching an introduction to Christian theology topic this Semester.

I began with a two questions and a proposal. First question, does anyone here not have access to a computer? All did. Second question, does anyone here not have access to a printer? All did. Which led to the proposal. I will put all the lecture notes and class readings online. And when we meet, rather then talk theology ie me lecture you, we will do theology ie I will guide you, through the readings and my doing theology together.

We were all a bit apprehensive about this new approach, since the dominant model of education involves an expert imparting knowledge. But I was keen to explore a learning by doing, induction process, which better equipped them for the complexity of life beyond the classroom.

To help guide them, I have outlined to them the following process, which they used to get them going.

  • My (current) theological question is …
  • I’m curious about this because ….
  • The theological frame I’m going to us is (in week one I suggested three examples Wesleyan quadrilateral, Miroslav Volf’s three questions, indigenous storytelling approach) …
  • My conversation partners will need to include ….
  • The values I have used to chose them include (from week three) ….
  • I’d like to express my findings by (in week two we noted blogs, film, story, liturgy, writing) …

So far, after four weeks, we are all greatly energised. They have come up with excellent theological questions – none that we would have discussed in a normal syllabus, yet all touching key theological themes. They loved the conversation partner idea. The process really energised the library visit I then organised, when they got shown how to use databases to find conversation partners. Some were heading back to the library  after class to search further.

For those interested, I also gave them one example, one of my recent “doing theology” projects – Let me in the sound. (more…)

Posted by steve at 02:29 PM | Comments (4)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Conversations at the table

I’m part of this event – Conversations at the table – August 24, 25.

Evangelism – what if everyone was sitting around the same table?

Hosted at The Village Well (Aldgate Church of Christ)

A partnership between Blackwood and Aldgate Churches of Christ, we’ve invited Mick Duncan and Steve Taylor to lead the conversation over 2 days reframing our understanding of what evangelism is and means for us as Christians in suburban Adelaide.

Hosted by Anthony Risson (Minister Aldgate Church of Christ and Mark Riessen (Coordinator of Mission & Community Engagement Churches of Christ SA/NT). Other conversation partners include Mark Butler (RAAF chaplain), Jeff May hospital (chaplain), Joanna Hubbard (MarionLife), Leigh Cunningham (MFS firefighter).

For more see here.

Posted by steve at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

defining church, community, theology, formation and College

Just an advertisement for a car company. And yet –
if a picture says a 1,000 words, then this is a powerful visual question –
what type of church, community, theology, formation and College do we want to be part of?

And if so, how then should we act, what should we practice, what should we affirm?

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)