Archive for the ‘Theological musings/personal reflections’ Category

What does it mean to say that we are an “International” Study Centre

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

International TreeI have recently being doing some work on what it means to offer supervision to international, part-time, theological PhD students in a  largely distance learning environment.

What follows is one reflection on this:

IBTSC is not an international study centre because we are a national institution with international students which is the way the term is often used in Higher Education discourse. Rather, for us the term indicates something more complex than that. It represents the fact that we are a meeting place of students and supervisors who come from different countries, often researching in their own local situations but bringing their contextual work into conversation with others from different situations to offer a richer texture and perspective. The learning involves “transculturation” in that it does not simply go one way, from one dominant culture to another, but rather all involved in the dialogue both teach and learn through this interaction.

National identities remain important, difference is not denied or negated, such can be oppressive, but in so far as all our identities are constantly being made and remade the interaction is part of that process of making us somewhat more “international” than we would be without the experience. At the very least we become more informed about other contexts, at best we begin to understand the limits and the strengths of our own identity in relation to a wider picture of global humanity.

To be sure in all of this our faith offers us a common denominator but even our faith is culturally embodied and expressed so this becomes another place of international encounter: commonality, difference, and “(re)formation”. In these ways the learning at IBTSC takes place in a particular “ecosocial” environment (to borrow a phrase from Bill Green “Unfinished business: subjectivity and supervision”) where the international is explicit.

If as we sometimes claim believer’s baptism is the baptism into a new humanity which transcends national identity although finds expression  in such national identities, IBTSC aspires to reflect something of the complexity of that reality in the international learning and teaching context we offer.

[The educational literature from which I drew and with which engaged in this blog post includes:

Green, B. (2005) Unfinished business: subjectivity and supervision. Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 24 (2), pp. 151-163.

Manathunga, C. (2007) Intercultural Postgraduate Supervision: Ethnographic Journey’s of Identity and Power in Palfreyman, D. and McBride, D.L. (eds.) Learning and Teaching Across Culture in Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Trahar, S. (ed.) (2011) The Doctorate: International Stories of the UK Experience, ESCalate. [Online]. Available at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/8137.pdf [Accessed 4th July 2016].

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Brexit

Monday, June 27th, 2016

175As a UK passport holder and rector of an European institution set up post war as an ‘experiment in Christian internationalism’, I watched the unfolding referendum results in the UK with some dismay. Perhaps too much history makes me nervous when the common destiny of European countries is not formally linked even as I might be critical of EU bureaucracy. The uncertainty which this decision has created seems somewhat tangible in the UK if not in other countries of Europe. Both campaigns have unleashed expectations and created fractures that are likely to take some time to re-settle.

Perhaps one theological reflection on this is that all political structures and arrangements are provisional. I think that a recurring refrain in some sermons yesterday was to reassure people that God is still in control over the nations. Perhaps it is necessary and good to reaffirm this because people forget.

Yet, in my opinion, the above confession should not lead to mere acquiescence to political arrangements or even democratic decisions. (My personal thoughts on ‘accepting’ democratic decisions are found here).

In turn, it is also the case that people have to work out what the rule of God means for them not in the general affirmation but in the socio-political practicality and perceptions of their contexts. The practicalities and perceptions as a consequence of the Brexit decision will be different for different people be they EU members living in the UK, UK citizens living in the UK, UK citizens living in Europe, and citizens of EU countries who may be impacted by a referendum decision in which they had no participation. It is in these contextual realities, practicalities, and attendant perceptions that Christian witness will either be faithful or unfaithful.

At a recent ‘future’s week’ discussion concerning IBTSC the staff felt very much that IBTSC should continue to be an internationally focused ‘baptist’ institution with an intentionally European perspective. Such a European perspective is not naive in that it takes seriously the identities of different nations and understands that Europe can be conceptualised in more ways than in terms of EU political arrangements. Indeed the ‘Europe’ of EBF and IBTS(C) has always been broad and inclusive rather than exclusive. To put this differently, from the beginning the concern of this institution has been to offer something pan-national in a global world to inform Christian witness in the local, national, and international. This has been done through its diverse staff, students, and theological perspectives. I am not sure whether or not that task seems more complex today. It does, however, seem no less important, and once again somewhat urgent.

 

Visiting Scholar Reflection

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Here is a personal reflection on the recent visit to IBTSC Amsterdam of  Prof. Louise Kretzschmar.

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Compassion and the Mission of God

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Rupen DasWe are pleased to announce the publication of this book. Dr. Rupen Das is employed as a part-time member of the IBTSC Amsterdam Faculty.  This has become possible through a secondment from Canadian Baptist Ministries. In this role Rupen who has relocated with his wife to Amsterdam will work primarily in the area of missiology in relation to our MA programme. This role also allows him to participate in teaching and research activities related to partnership activities with the European Baptist Federation. We are deeply grateful to CBM for this gift and look forward to developing our partnership with them.

Nordenhaug at Herdenkingskerk

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Nodenhaug

Nodenhaug

 

As mentioned in other posts, on Monday 2nd November 2015 the Nordenhaug lectures will take place. Josef Nordenhaug was between 1950 and 1960 the inspirational President of the first incarnation of this institution then located in Rüschlikon, Switzerland. These lectures are delivered in his memory.

Last year we were delighted to receive this Photographic Biography of Josef Nordenhaug from his daughter Karin Nordenhaug Ciholas. For those interested in the history of European Baptist Church life and indeed the Rüschlikon Seminary this is a fascinating and informative book. Yesterday a former volunteer at  Rüschlikon visiting the IBTS Centre looked through the book with great interest.

This year the lectures to be delivered by Dr David P. Gushee will be delivered in the Herdenkingskerk, a church building a two minute walk from the IBTS Centre in Amsterdam.

Originally we had planned to hold the lectures at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam but for some practical reasons we moved them to the church building. As I reflect upon this I am pleased about the change for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the tradition of this institution considers that academic theology is ‘secondary theology’, and that it exists to serve the Christian community in its life, worship and witness (primary theology). Insofar as these lectures represent ‘academic theology’ I think that there is something symbolically significant about them taking place as it were in the home of some local congregations rather than the ‘academy’.

The second reason, however, is one that was a pleasant surprise to me. IMG_0002For as my friend, sitting in our library, looked through the Nordenhaug book, she said: ‘Is that not the church along the road?’ So indeed on page 212 there is a picture of the opening of the Herdenkingskerk opened in 1964 – presumably an event at which Josef was present. I love the moments of connection, a former volunteer (originally from America now in Canada)  reading about a former President of Rüschlikon (a Norwegian) notices that a church building in Amsterdam is in the photographic biography of that President just a week before the lectures held in his honour and the tradition he represents are about to take place in that building! I have to say, it made me smile.

Canada

Monday, February 9th, 2015

I am presently in Canada to participate in a ministers conference organised by the Canadian Mennonite University. It seems to me that there is a strong resonance in the reading of Baptist via McClendon/Stassen or just plain old anabaptist roots with Mennonites, although I am leaning what a varied group that they like we actually are.

As part of my trip I attended the launch of this book which offers some fascinating insights and may well make a contribution to the thinking of those who wish to come at issues from an Anabaptist (dare we say baptistic) perspective and yet engage with wider society and its institutions. I have bought a copy but know that both Parush and the library will want one also.

toward an anabptist political theology

We have a number of students presently studying with us at IBTSC who come from a Canadian Mennonite background. At present they are all Mennonite Brethren rather than the Mennonite Church. CMU serves both groups.

As part of the trip I will have the opportunity to meet with the theology faculty at CMU and I hope that in the future collaboration at various levels between IBTSC and CMU on a broad shared common ground of ‘baptist’  will be possible.

I have also been struck by the way in which “donors” will support specific research into issues of church ministry and mission providing the finances for CMU staff to carry out the research. I hope that this is something that IBTSC as a research centre will be able to encourage in the future – specific financed projects of relevance to the mission and ministry of the church, supported by those who think that such issues are important, and carried out with the skills and personnel and academic credentials that IBTSC can bring to the task. Such a linking of the interests of the church in practice and IBTSC as a research centre into practice is something I am very keen to develop. In turn the emphasis on ethnographic research as a theological project is one that can provide a theological as well as a sociological approach for such research. This potential excites me as part of the IBTSC vision of providing research, researchers, and leaders who can serve the church in Europe and beyond.

Dreaming – perhaps rather than us simply having students come to us with their ideas church based individuals, organisations, unions, would finance projects of interest to them where we could then seek out and support individuals who have already shown some ability in an area (perhaps through a Masters) to carry out specific research that becomes their PhD  project.

I know that sometimes people think that when ‘academics’ go on such trips that they are spending all their time at the beach rather than working – and I confess that this weekend I was on the beach at a lake near Winnipeg…STA41723

Rector Update

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

 

On the 1st June 2014 I took over as the Rector of IBTS as it transitions to IBTS Centre Amsterdam. I come to this post after being a Scottish Baptist minister in two Churches over a fifteen year period and teaching at the Scottish Baptist College for the last nine.

DSC_0552 - Version 2 (1)

Since June I have managed to be in Prague for some important endings: the last graduation service, the last exam Board, the last shared prayers in the Chapel. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to offer the graduation address. Then as now I would suggest that worship, mission, and discipleship do not belong in one world whereas study, research, and academic rigour belongs in the other. Rather for those of us who study and those who teach in theological education our study, research, and academic rigour is an expression of,  and in service of,  worship, discipleship, and mission. In mentioning this service I express my thanks to all previous and existing staff and supporters of IBTS for that which has been built to this point and especially those for whom the present changes are especially hard.

I have also managed to be in Amsterdam for some beginnings such as the establishment of the library. I am pleased to say that I personally shelved some of them so when you visit and cannot find the book you want…it may be that I am to blame.

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In turn in recent weeks I have had the opportunity to be at the CEBTS conference in Warsaw and the BWA annual gathering which took place this year in Ismir, Turkey. These have been opportunities to meet people, renew links, establish contacts. Some call this networking but I am a bit resistant to that idea. In networking a goal can be simply to serve ones own interests Rather I hope that in Christian community we form authentic partnership which are mutually beneficial, and established with common respect and purpose. This at least been my hope and experience of these two events. I have also been amazed at how many people in the EBF and indeed the BWA context claim IBTS as their educational home.

I am presently back in Amsterdam to participate in the beginning of our common life in Baptist House located for the coming years in 175 Postjeweg. Here I want to thank our Dutch partners for the help, support, encouragement, and welcome which they have given.

Although I am not yet fully relocated to Amsterdam which I hope to be by the 1st August one of the first things I did upon my arrival in June was buy a bike. To those who know me this was a bit of surprise! It has been a great decision, however, allowing me not only exercise but to learn my way about.Today I wanted to find out how long it would be to cycle between Baptist House in Postjeweg and the VU (the Free University) our collaborative partner for the awarding of PhD degrees. It is not too long a trip although a few wrong turns on this expeditionary journey meant that it took me a bit longer than would be expected normally!

It was a beautiful day. It made me aware as I cycled that while our new premises may not have the grandeur and glamour of either Rueschlikon or Prague that it is literally one minutes walk from the beautiful Rembrantpark. So for those who need the beauty to help with their theology we can still provide such.

Rembrantpark                                                               Rebrant spring

At the various conferences I have attended people have asked about my ‘vision’ for the future. To be sure I have ideas. I am both interested in learning and teaching and have a commitment to providing a good student experience. This said I think that a vision is reality filled with Christian hope and at the moment I simply learning the way things are in our new Amsterdam reality. Be this as it may I see the IBTS Centre Amsterdam at the very least continuing to aspire to bring a high quality Baptist theological education in an international context with an understanding of the gospel centred in Jesus Christ which emphasises the place of social care and justice as well as necessity for personal transformation. In this as ever I have the hope that we can make this education as affordable and accessible to as many people as possible.

In the middle of all that is happening in so many places in Europe I have at times been humbled and embarrassed when people have offered to pray for me and the future of IBTS. On the other hand the truth is that we need your prayer so we covet them and are grateful for them.

Rift as a Space to Meet God

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Henrikas, one of our Research students, reflects on the student-led conference we enjoyed in Amsterdam during the research colloquium:

The conference on migration and dislocation invited creative look at the practical implications of my research. I wondered: can the dislocation, rift and rupture become a space to meet God? Besides, can our action (which suggests newness and rift) be a meeting place with God?

God’s presence in Scriptures is strangely hidden in the cloud, near and yet distant. In terms of place or space, there is an image of the temple. According to Yves Congar, the temple is to be viewed in the history of growing interiority and intimacy with God. It is the place of indwelling and manifestation, God’s presence with his people. There is continuity, but there is also a rift. The real sacrifices are those of the broken hearts, not bulls. The presence is not the one people wished to maintain (the temple), but unsurpassable presence of God in true sanctuary, Jesus Christ, and through the Spirit in the faithful and in the church.

But how then is God’s proximity and transcendence to be kept together? Congar learned from Thomas Aquinas that “God is present everywhere and nowhere. He is nowhere because he is spiritual and neither circumscribed by or settled in any place, but he is present where he is active.” God’s presence is bound to action, not space. Besides, this action is to culminate and fulfilled in our action, our knowledge and love towards Him.  Maurice Blondel viewed action as that which binds our thinking, ethics and history. In his work on tradition he insisted on living tradition, relating Jesus of history and Christ of faith, embodying faith without fully knowing its implications. It is being unpacked as we go; it is, essentially, an action. Our action is necessarily a rift and even non-acting, we act.

If action is central, then our action is in fact the space where our action meets God’s action or resists it. It is not necessary that this action would carry the label “Christian,” but it is always in relation to our truthfulness and the ever-acting Spirit of Jesus Christ. If God is present where God is active, our real witness is our genuine action co-extensive with divine action. God acting as Spirit, can bind the human action and divine, lead us to faith and love, indwell us and give spiritual gifts. Action, thus, is a space to meet God and can be a space to be filled with God. Rifts and ruptures are inescapable and valuable.

– Henrikas Žukauskas