Guest Post by Professor Drew Gibson

Who lives in the real world?

Yesterday, at a short conference on assessing Masters level students, I felt rather lonely. In a small group discussion we were asked to prioritise our aims for Masters students. The other four group members aimed to develop students’ research skills, critical skills and the like. I said that I wanted students’ work to be strongly related to the ‘daily life’ (or the real world or contemporary society). When we ranked the aims, not surprisingly, mine came bottom. Feeling rather sad, I returned to the plenary. When the facilitator (Prof. Sally Brown – brilliant) asked the other groups I was stunned at one other group saying the same as me… guess who? None other than the computer scientists! As theological educators we can find both hostility and support in strange places. The ‘geeks’, whom we often assume live in virtual worlds, were actually committed to making their work wholly relevant to real life. I’m not saying that they were altruistic or driven by the betterment of humanity; I’ve no doubt that commercial funding for projects was somewhere in the back of their minds but, at least in some sense, we were moving in the same direction.

Another interesting comment came from the Gibson (no relation!) Institute for Land Food and the Environment. Their representative said that she wanted their students ‘to change the world’. I thought, ‘Here’s another fellow traveller’.  We want our student to change the world and as they go to work in Parishes, Ministries and Missions we want them to be enablers of all Christian people in our quest to change the world. Of course we don’t look for the same type of change as the Agriculturalists and Environmentalists and we are not saying that the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled in this age or by our own efforts. But if we can be fellow travellers with others, who knows what authentically missional opportunities might arise?

My third little ray of sunshine came from the school of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology. The presenter’s first slide contained the following: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other…’ (Matthew 6:24)’. I’ve no idea whether or not the presenter was a Christian but at least she had some knowledge of the Biblical text and expected her audience to have some familiarity also.  Here again is a little link with the academic world that might be exploited by theological educators in a secular university. If we can model this sort of interaction for our students then they might be enabled to teach and model it for the Christian communities of which they are a part.

For those of us who work in secular educational contexts, let’s keep our eyes open for fellow travellers with whom we can walk, at least a little way.

Drew is professor of practical theology at Union Theological College, a constituent college of the Institute of Theology, the Queens University Belfast

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One Comment on “Guest Post by Professor Drew Gibson”

  1. Campbell Hamilton Says:

    Graham, thank you for posting this guest contribution from Drew.

    Drew, thank you for the refreshing reminder that this what we are, or really ought to be about. Research skills are very important in the developing of critical minds and academic respectability, but where the rubber hits the road it isn’t research, critical thinking or academic respectability that will lead Christians further into Christ, nor will they, of themselves, graft unbelievers into the Vine.

    Isn’t it troubling that Paul’s theology emerged in the crucible of service in the real world, and so much of our teaching is being driven into the theoretical world of the mind. And the result can so easily become ‘virtual’ theology drowning in a sea of inanity and speculation. It should come as a warning to us that those who deal in the virtual worlds, (the geeks as you called them) are calling for more commitment to the real world.

    We do face an urgent call to help our students communicate Christ to the world, and that will necessitate firstly leading them into the very practical world of devotion to Him in the everyday humdrum life and re-envisioning discipleship as a practical and very real spectrum, engaging the mind as fully as the spirit; But we need to check our priorities.

    I am very sorry you felt lonely in that meeting Drew, but then prophets often do.


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