What is going wrong with theological education?

By some measures, theological education and ordination training in the Church of England is in a state of rude health. The Renewal and Reform programme set a target of increasing the numbers coming forward and training for ordination by 50% over the next five years, in order to address the large numbers of clergy retiring, and in the first year of this plan the numbers increased by 14%. In the least year or two, at least three of the residential colleges (Trinity in Bristol, Cranmer in Durham and Ridley Hall in Cambridge) had their highest ever intakes. It seems as though the system is running like a well-oiled machine.

And yet, two weeks ago in the Church Times, the leaders of many of the training institutions complained that the whole system was on the verge of collapse.

Just as the Church of England seeks to expand the number of ordinands by 50 per cent, the leaders of the theological education institutions (TEIs) have told this paper that the training process is “totally underfunded”, “starved of funds”, and “quite likely to collapse”.

The Principal of St Augustine’s College, Kent (until 2015, the South East Institute of Theological Education), the Revd Dr Alan Gregory, said in reply an enquiry: “I agree that the financial situation is a critical one. We are like the story of the donkey whose feed was reduced until he dropped down dead. We are almost in the position of the donkey every year.”

I am not sure exactly what prompted the quotation from Alan Gregory—and (having been in the system for the best part of ten years myself) I am aware that there has been a concerned about strategic viability for as long as I can remember. There is a structural reason for this: for historical reasons, residential colleges are in an odd relationship with the Church, in that they are legally and managerially separate organisations, who have entered an agreement with the Church to train ordinands under certain conditions. In theory, they could actually train people for other churches and other ministries, and are free to do so (in some years, I think Oakhill in London has actually had more ministers in training from other denominations than from the C of E). But in practice, training Anglican ordinands has been the main business. In this regard, colleges are in a similar situation to farmers supplying Tesco: in theory, they could diversify and look to other business partners, but in practice that is not possible. So colleges are in practice very much constrained by the Church, but are not managed by them. It is difficult to see an easy way of changing this structural oddity.

But this has led to a sense of financial squeeze, since the Church itself is financially constrained. No college manages to cover its costs through ordination training alone, and indeed all the training institutions working with the Church have been encouraged to diversify and look to other sources of income generation. And this is where the problems start. If you are in a university town, and can rent out your buildings to a language school every summer, then that is easily manageable. But what if you are not and you can’t? If you have generated historic assets over many years, you can put those to work—but what if you have no historic assets? It would be neither wise nor acceptable for the Church to pay differentiated rates for training in such different circumstances—but it does mean that this is not a level playing field.

If this is the long-term situation, why the outcry now? The CT article gives a mere hint:

Finding funds for clergy training has never been easy, and there is a historical element to the crisis, as too many training institutions have chased too few candidates for ordination. But a new move this year has caused more uncertainty, handing funding decisions from the Archbishops’ Council to the dioceses.

This is the process known as Resourcing Ministerial Education, introduced by Steven Croft (now Bishop of Oxford) when he was chair of Ministry Division, which sought to reconfigure some key elements of the previous arrangements—the most radical of which was to give block grants to dioceses and allow them to spend them on ordinands’ training as they saw fit, rather than to pay institutions and ordinands directly from a central fund.

When the RME proposals were first published, I noted the positive elements that were present. But I also noted some serious problems in the proposals, at first focussing on the complete lack of any criteria for what constitutes ‘effective’ training.

Click on the link, and you will find a 66-page report from the Institute of Education in the University of London, which all looks very impressive. I read it with some anticipation; after all, surely ‘effectiveness of ministry’ and its training correlate ‘effectiveness of training’ are the Holy Grail of church leadership and theological education. Wouldn’t identifying these things resolves differences and give us a clear focus for the significant expenditure on ministerial training? Of course it would.

But it isn’t there.

There was no further debate on this point, and the discussion quickly shifted to the consequences of the new funding system. After a series of exchanges with Steven Croft—on published blogs, personally and in writing—my observation was that the system would lead to a rapid decline in the more expensive forms of residential training, and a growth in non-residential and ‘context-based’ training, not because of need or effectiveness, but because of costs.

If I am deciding whether to buy apples or pears, and I find that apples are 50p each but pears are 30p each, and I have produced a 66-page report demonstrating that apples and pears are equally good for me—and I am focussing on best value for money—which will I buy? Answer: pears! And if I am told I need more fruit than previously, and that budgets are tight, will I buy some apples and some pears? No! I will buy nothing but pears. This is the logical outcome of the statement that residential training and part-time training offer no difference in effectiveness. And this is where most readers of the initial report saw a lack of commitment to theological training.

Secondly, the loss of residential theological training will be the inevitable albeit unintended outcome of the proposal to devolve budgeting and planning to diocese.

After the first year of RME, what has happened? Did I (and others) have a point, and would we begin to see a shift away from residential training to context-based and part-time training? Or was Steven Croft right, and we were all just defending our prejudices and scaremongering. Well, the change has been assessed after one year, and (as they say) the results are in.

The number of ordinands following non-residential full-time courses (primarily those known previously as context based courses) has grown by almost 70%.

In contrast the number of residential ordinands has seen a 9% fall.

The number of ordinands following a regional part time course has shown a 22% increase. 

I think it is worth reiterating: these are the results of the first year only of the introduction of RME. This represents a massive, radical reconfiguration of ordination training, driven by changes in financial arrangements, without a single sentence of rationale in relation either to theological or pedagogical concerns. To quote Will Smith in the film I, Robot, ‘You know, somehow “I told you so” just doesn’t quite say it’.

(You might, dear reader, be asking how some residential colleges have experienced record intakes if this was the case, and you might then need to be reminded that the college which was the largest at one point has recruited no students for three years. If that is a surprise to you, then you might then wonder how such a momentous thing could happen without any comment from the centre or any review of the processes of training and funding. That would be a good question to ask.)

The biggest single drop-out from residential training is in the two-year category, that it, those coming into training over the age of 32. The within this age group, the numbers heading for residential training have dropped by one third, again in a single year.

Why does all this matter? If we need to make training more affordable, isn’t this just a necessary adjustment? Well, perhaps—but that was explicitly and repeatedly denied when the RME processes were proposed. But there is a deeper reason, and at this point we need to remember a witticism:

Q: How do hedgehogs make love?

A: Carefully!

Anyone who is within the system of theological education needs to make observations about that system very carefully, since comments about theological strategy are all too easy interpreted as criticisms of particular people or institutions. In my experience, everyone involved in theological education is highly committed and hard-working, and so is naturally concerned about the particular institution or training process that they are involved in. But as I have pointed out before, the shift from residential to non-residential training represents a significant reduction in actual learning hours within training. There are some very good pedagogical and even theological arguments for a context-based approach to training, and many of us would be very happy to see initial training as a significant, ongoing part of formation in an integrated way before and after actual ordination. But the dramatic shift shown above in the first year of RME actually represents a massive cut to the theological learning hours prior to ordination, which is not made up in post-ordination training. Let me say again: I am not here criticising any individuals or institutions; what I am criticising is the strategic direction that training is taking.

Anyone who thinks theology matters in the formation of ministers in the Church of England should be greatly concerned.

There remain two other concerns, one for RME, and one for the training as a whole. In relation to RME, it is clear that some dioceses have spent their block grant in such as way as to generate significant financial surpluses—in other words, they have directed people to cheaper training pathways—whilst other dioceses have generated deficits. This not only indicates a basic failure of the system, but (in conjunction with the national figures above) makes it impossible to argue that finance has not played a key part in determining training—again, contrary to everything that was said when RME was introduced.

The second concern is the deep problem of the lack of a common syllabus for ordination training across institutions. Failure to talk about a common syllabus was a major missed opportunity in the Common Awards process. And it came about (essentially) because of mistrust within the system. Evangelicals thought they would have a liberal syllabus imposed on them; liberals feared an evangelical syllabus. And those in the centre had neither the energy—nor probably the authority—to knock heads together.

The current situation of training is baffling to many looking in from the outside—and baffling because of this one failure, to have an agreed pre-ordination syllabus. I was once tasked with explaining, concisely and in an engaging way, the Common Awards process of discussion to the support staff (administrators, cooks and cleaners) of the college I taught at. I asked a question: ‘Given that everyone is training for the same ministry, do you think we should all cover the same things?’ Every person in the room thought the answer was ‘Yes’! It is baffling to most who look at the system as a whole that some ordinands spend twice as much time studying the Bible as others, or that people can be ordained without having had any teaching on how to preach, or that church history might be an option (rather than compulsory), or that it is possible to complete training without having engaged with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Despite all the recent changes—or rather, because of them—a major rethink of theological education is needed.

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90 thoughts on “What is going wrong with theological education?”

  1. Hear, hear!

    Henry Nouwen wisely wrote many years ago ‘Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the social sciences such as psychology and sociology so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was being learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological or sociological questions even though the frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflections future leaders will be little more than pseudo psychologists, pseudo sociologists, pseudo social workers…’

    and so it is!

  2. Thanks Ian, for this thought-provoking article.

    If residential theological colleges close then their libraries will also disappear. This is already happening at an alarming rate in the UK, making it more difficult for those in training to access the books and articles they need. Once broken-up these resources will prove very difficult – if not impossible – to re-create.

  3. Ian, thanks for this – although it makes absolutely depressing reading. How on earth is the CofE going to turn around the situation with ministers retiring etc. if it is not investing in and promoting training colleges? If the next generation are not being trained properly, we are witnessing the CofE writing its own death certificate (something it seems to be very adept at doing).

    I am very grateful for the 3 years I spent full-time at Oak Hill, I certainly don’t think I would have benefited nearly as much if it hadn’t been residential.

    What you say about a common curriculum is absolutely true but sadly indicative of the state of the CofE at the moment: it has become so broad that it’s impossible to put all the radically different things people believe into one curriculum!

    A few months ago, our rural dean revealed that she’d never even read the 39 Articles. How can you be ordained in the CofE without even *reading* the articles?!

    • Good grief! Depressing indeed. Where did she train? At St John’s, as part of the application process we asked people whether they had any problem with signing up to the 39 Articles…

      • Nice! – I don’t think I was ever asked about the 39 articles when applying for Oak Hill. I was just told by my (conservative Anglo-Catholic) DDO that they were a ‘historic formulary’ and we didn’t look at them.

        Looking at the directory I think our rural dean trained at TISEC – Scottish Episcopal Church.

      • “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”

        So, not hoping to recruit many Anglo-Catholics, eh Ian? 😉

        • James, wherever I have found those things advocated or practiced in a C of E church, the minister concerned has had to make use of the Roman Missal.

          Since this is a clear breach of the oath of canonical obedience, it would appear that this article is well embedded in C of E liturgy, and clergy still have to disobey their bishop to act at variance from it.

          • Joking aside, when it comes to the 39 Articles, disobedience isn’t even necessary: they’re relegated to “historic formularies,” which sounds about right. Their anti-Catholicism’s so antiquarian it’d struggle to attain the relevance necessary for it to be bigoted.

            I assume St. John’s welcomes those unable to assent to Cranmer 1.0’s full-blooded mold of Anglicanism. 😀

        • Canons A2, A3 and A5 suggest that the Articles and BCP are a little more than simply a ‘historic formulary’. And I think therein lies the problem, and I remember having this discussion with you once before James. On paper the church is one thing. In practice, it’s very different.

          Theory and practice have been diverging for so long now most people don’t realise that the theory (articles, BCP etc) are still relevant. The CofE is in the mess its in now because it’s been brushing this issue under the carpet for years!

          I wonder if those at the start of the Oxford Movement realised quite what they had unleashed.

          • Yes, I agree that Anglican theory and practice have, to put it mildly, diverged. Even so, the canons in question don’t mandate assent to the 39 Articles: they merely say that they’re in-line with the Bible; and members of the CoE can assent in good conscience if they so choose.

            It’s a political compromise, of course: other traditions know the affection in which the Articles and Prayer Book are held; in turn, their supporters have accepted that many can’t, in good conscience, assent to the theology within, especially anti-Catholicism that’d make a Southern Baptist queasy. And many do ’em the credit of assuming that they don’t actually believe Cranmer’s ranting about Catholic theology, but accept it as a product of its time.

            Such compromises are inevitable in a broad church, and for it to stay together, it’s essential for all parties to honor them.

          • Er, hang on James. The language in A2 of ‘may be assented to’ is not suggestion this is optional; it is asserting that the Articles are biblical, closing off a Puritan objection.

            If you read the preface to and words of the Declaration of Assent, it is difficult to argue against the alignment of the Articles with current belief unless you take a non-realist view of language.

            ‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?’

            The biblical faith is testified to by the Articles, and this inheritance demands our loyalty. And in the Declaration, we give this loyalty.

          • It’s perfect possible to accept the tone as historically determined; it is not so easy to avoid the underlying theology which gave rise to this tone.

            I can assure you that the debates about Eucharistic Prayers and other aspects of liturgy were clearly connected with the Articles in Synod in 2000-2005. That is why Anglo-Catholics simply are unable to pursue the theological motifs you mention without abandoning the authorised liturgies. If you were right, they wouldn’t need to—but they do.

          • Ian Paul November 28, 2017 at 3:34 pm hits the nail on the head. I reiterate my concern that the doctrine of Original Sin (Article 9) is believed ex animo by only a minority of Anglican ordained ministers. Surely this is a long-standing scandal!
            Phil Almond

          • The actual declaration reads as follows:-

            “I … do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.”

            As we all know, it’s a political compromise in a broad church that stopped trying to enforce the doctrine found in the 39 Articles over a century back, when Anglo-Catholics were left alone. It’s carefully worded to ensure that no-one has to endorse theology penned back when it was considered legit to vivisect your theological opponents.

            Does St. John’s reject applications from those unable, in good conscience, to assent to the 39 Articles? If so, is this official college policy?

          • Response to James Byron: The one making the Declaration is affirming loyalty to what the Preface says, including the assertion that the Church was led by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christian truth in the ‘historic formularies’. Anyone who thinks that they can make the Declaration honestly without declaring that the Articles are true is not understanding what the Preface and Declaration, taken together, say and mean.

            Also, what about canon A5?

            Phil Almond

          • We really have been round this numerous times before. The 39 articles are ‘historical formularies’. You don’t need to have any particular understanding of language to realise that what the phrase ‘historic formularies’ means is: ‘this is what they believed then’. If the Articles attest to ‘biblical faith’ then they attest to particular interpretations of biblical faith which are not shared by the vast majority of Christians throughout the world. RC and Orthodox Christians do not share in this worship of the 39 articles.

            Added to all of this, I think it is highly unlikely that the 39 articles are taught in depth by the Training Institutions. I went to a quite traditional college and in my two years of residential training I can’t recall any mention of the articles. Lay people are not taught about them. They are not reprinted in Common Worship and many churches, especially evangelical ones, would never use the BCP, and probably have put all of their BCPs in a cupboard or box somewhere. You would have to look very hard, even as a regular member of the C of E, to find the 39 articles. So it is simply not possible to claim any great importance for them.

            I’m very happy to assent to ‘this is what they believed then’ but that is far as I will assent and as far as I have ever assented. I’ve been clear about that for the last 30 years and no bishop or colleague or Area Dean or Archdeacon has ever raised the matter with me.

          • Andrew….

            “You don’t need to have any particular understanding of language to realise that what the phrase ‘historic formularies’ means is: ‘this is what they believed then’. ”

            If that’s all it means why bother with ‘assent”? Is it no more than ‘Do you believe in history’?

          • Ian: it’s part of our ancestry. Ancestry is more than history. I can’t and don’t want to deny my ancestry. But I don’t think the same way my great grandparents did.

          • Andrew
            In your Andrew Godsall November 30, 2017 at 1:41 pm you posted “We really have been round this numerous times before”. We have indeed. I want to try again in this post to set out why your stance (as stated in Andrew Godsall November 30, 2017 at 1:41 pm and Andrew Godsall November 30, 2017 at 2:26 pm) on this important matter does not survive fair and careful scrutiny.

            My first point is to ask you the question I have asked James Byron (to which he has not yet replied) – “What about Canon A5?”

            “A 5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England
            The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
            In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”

            “…is grounded…” (is = present tense = now, not was = past tense = some time in the past)
            “..is to be found…” (is = present tense = now, not was = past tense = some time in the past)

            I am aware (as I have already posted – see my post of October 19 2017 at 11.30 am on Fulcrum thread “Walking Together at Lambeth 2020?) of an attempt to give “In particular…” in Canon A5 a meaning and significance which I think is quite invalid. I quote from my Fulcrum post:

            “On the question of Canon A5:
            Especially, what does the last sentence mean?
            “In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”.
            The General Synod Report from the House of Bishops, GS 2055, ‘Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’ contains two paragraphs with implications wider and deeper than the main subject of the Report.
            ‘48. Canon A 5 states that “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.” These are singled out as particular sources of doctrine, not exclusive ones.’
            ‘49. Canon A 5 thus preserves a degree of latitude in how clergy interpret the doctrines of the Church of England. But it is a latitude with boundaries. Where the Canons set out the content of particular doctrines, those canonical provisions define the boundaries in respect of the matters they address.’
            The authors of GS2055 have understood ‘particular sources’ in paragraph 48 to mean ‘not exclusive’ sources. This is questionable. The more obvious meaning of ‘particular’ in this context is something like ‘specifically’. In the Bishops’ thinking the ‘degree of latitude’ claimed by paragraph 49 clearly depends on setting the Articles, Prayer Book and Ordinal alongside other sources of doctrine, opening the door to interpretations of doctrine which would be ruled out if the Articles, Prayer Book and Ordinal were the only sources……………. The General Synod declined to ‘take note’ of GS2055. Nevertheless paragraphs 48 and 49 contain a point which is easily overlooked – and I venture to suggest, with all due respect, that the potential significance of those paragraphs has (formally at any rate) been overlooked, to judge by the apparent absence of any minority report dissenting from GS 2055.”

            My second point is to draw attention to the phrase in the Preface “…Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.” This claims that the ‘historic formularies’ were put together under divine guidance and implicitly rejects the view that they have ceased to be true.

            My third point is that the words of the Declaration state that these historic formularies ‘bear witness’ to the Faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic Creeds. Your stance is that they bear a false witness, which does not make sense given the solemn nature of the Declaration.

            In summary, my point is that no-one should make the Declaration if they do not believe that the historic formularies bear true witness to the Holy Scriptures and the Catholic Creeds.

            As I see it the immense importance of this is the fact that Articles 9-18 and 31summarise the Way of Salvation according to the Church of England, which is part of the ‘grace and truth of Christ’ which every one making the Declaration promises, under God, to bring to this generation and to make Christ known ‘to those in your care’.

            These Articles, especially Articles 9-12 and 17, summarise a terrible truth and warning and a wonderful promise: that we are all from birth onwards facing the wrath and condemnation of God and we are all born with a nature which is inclined to evil; that we are all the helpless slaves of that nature until and unless God effectually calls by his Spirit those whom he has chosen to eternal life before the foundation of the world; that God and Christ give promises in the Bible that all who receive those promises will be justified, adopted by God and led by the Spirit into a life of holiness and good works, conformed to the image of Christ, till at length they attain to everlasting felicity.

            This terrible warning and wonderful promise are both necessary parts of the Apostolic Gospel which all ordained Anglican Ministers ought to preach and teach.

            Your comments about what other Churches believe in their formal Confessions of Faith are, strictly speaking, irrelevant to this issue – which is what the doctrine of the Church of England is according to Canons A5 and C15, what is the plain meaning of the Preface and Declaration, and who should make the Declaration. But I note your comments about your experience of your training and subsequent ministry, which supports what I have been saying, that many ordained Anglican Ministers do not believe that the Articles I mention are true.

            We all know what is happening here: a fundamental disagreement among those who believe that Christianity is in some sense true, and believe themselves to be Christians, about what God is like, what is the condition of humanity in his sight, and whether he will, on the Day of Judgment, cast into the lake of fire those not written in the book of life.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: thanks for your very long reply. I want to try again in this short post to set out why your stance on this important matter does not survive fair and careful scrutiny.

            1. The Articles are the product of a particular point in history. Of course they bear witness to the truth of Gospel. But they don’t do so without error. Or do you think they are somehow infallible statements?

            2. They aren’t generally taught in theological education, and have not been for decades.

            3. Bishops don’t enquire about clergy belief in them

            4. Clergy don’t enquire about lay belief in them.

            5. The vast majority of lay people in the C of E would not even know what they were, or where to find them.

            I realise the issue of the wrath of God and the eternal consequences of that is something very dear to your heart. I wish you well but can’t share your passion I’m afraid.

          • Andrew
            You posted: “Of course they (the Articles) bear witness to the truth of Gospel. But they don’t do so without error.”

            Perhaps you could explain, in your view, in what way they (particularly Articles 9-12 and 17) bear witness to the truth of the Gospel and where they are in error.

            I have already said in an earlier reply to Ian Paul that the Articles, like all doctrinal convictions, must always be scrutinised in the light of Scripture and are subject to modification/rejection if they fail that scrutiny. I believe that they truly summarise what the Bible says about the way of salvation.

            The wrath of God against sinners (all of us by nature) and the final separation on the Day of Judgment of the saved and the finally condemned can only be avoided by throwing the entire Bible, both Testaments, into the waste paper basket – ignoring it completely. Do you not believe that there will be that final separation?

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: the primary message of both old and new testaments is of a loving creator, sustainer and redeemer. The message is that love – and God is love – redeems us. I have know way of knowing how that redemption will ultimately work, and with respect, neither do you. What I believe – and Lord help my unbelief – is that this generous merciful God wants redemption for all of creation. And I believe that ultimately that redemption will be impossible to resist. So whilst there are some elements in the scriptures that talk about judgement, and final separation, I have no knowledge of, or much interest in, how that works. If all this makes me a universalist, then so be it.

            The tension between discipline and mercy is endlessly fascinating, and I can understand why the Articles get that tension wrong. It’s to do with church and human history. But that doesn’t mean they are all wrong. It just means they are flawed. But they are bound to be. They were written by a flawed human being.

            None of which stops them being historic formularies.

            But your own, seemingly endless, fascination with this angry, judgemental, punitive God is troubling –

          • Andrew
            Exploring this a bit more. I note you mention ‘redemption’ in your description of what you see as the ‘primary message’ of both testaments. I ask: from what, in your view, do all of us need to be redeemed? Asking that question in another way: how, in your view, is our relationship with God affected when we disobey his law, when we commit murder, or steal, or commit adultery, or disobey our parents, or worship other gods, or lie, or covet something that belongs to someone else? What is God’s attitude to us when we commit such sins?

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: maybe the parable of the unforgiving servant and the story of the woman caught in adultery will help with Your questions.

            It comes back to the tension between discipline and mercy. And the articles get that wrong.

          • Andrew
            You have rather ducked my question about ‘redemption’ since you have not referred to any passage in the Bible where the word or the idea is mentioned and said what you understand by it. But more of that below.

            I assume the passages you do mention are Matthew 18:21-35 and John 8:1-11. Peter’s question is about sin and forgiveness and the parable Jesus told is also about sin and forgiveness. The point of the parable is that our sin against God is very great and if God freely forgives that sin how much more should we forgive the sins which other people commit against us, sins which are relatively small compared with our sins against God. But as in all cases where the New Testament speaks about God and Jesus forgiving sins we have to link that forgiveness to Christ’s death as the atonement for sin, remembering the words of Jesus, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

            The same point applies to the John passage. Jesus’ words to the teachers and Pharisees made them realise that under the Law of Moses they also deserved to be stoned just as much as the woman. Jesus’ “Then neither do I condemn you” is explained by Paul’s (in Galatians) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. God’s forgiveness is free to us but not free to him. He has born the just penalty of his own law when Christ suffered and died on the cross. This is part of what Paul meant when he wrote, “Do we destroy therefore law through faith? May it not be, but we establish law.”

            Is the Galatians quote above part of what you meant by ‘redemption’?

            The Matthew passage makes it clear that the Father is angry with us if we behave like the unforgiving servant to one another. So I take that as an instance of your view on how our relationship with God is affected by our disobedience and what God’s attitude towards us is when we sin.

            But of course if you were to give a full answer rather than just select those two passages you would have to mention the very many instances in the Old Testament where God is angered by the sins of his people and the heathen nations and also, from the New Testament you would have to mention:

            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

            “Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
            He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
            “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43)

            “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

            These words of Jesus make it clear that people are in danger of final rejection by Jesus himself (..and they say to the mountains and to the rocks: Fall ye on us and hide us from [the] face of the [one] sitting on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of the wrath of them came, and who can stand?”) unless they repent of their sins.

            Sinners are in real danger of being finally rejected by God. God is angry with sinners now and it is part of the Church’s responsibility to make that clear and call on them to repent and embrace the wonderful pardon and forgiveness the Gospel offers.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: we are all sinners.
            I am afraid I rather disagree with your exegesis here.
            I don’t, alas have time for lots of detail.
            Redemption is wrought by the love of God, not by God’s anger.

            I’m still troubled by your own, seemingly endless, fascination with this angry, judgemental, punitive God. It’s not a picture of God I have any resonance with I’m afraid – and have never had that in all my 58 years.

            I think this exchange has gone far enough – but thank you for it.

          • Andrew
            OK but just to clarify. I agree that “Redemption is wrought by the love of God, not by God’s anger” – I have always tried to stress that. The point is that his love in sending his Son to die for our sins and rise again for our justification delivers all who repent and trust in Christ from his anger and condemnation which faces us all. That is the warning which we need and which the Church should proclaim.

            Phil Almond

  4. Neither residential or non-residential training is better. Context-based works if there are good facilitators who highlight connections between context & studies. We need full-time context based training too, combining academic learning & apprenticeship.

    • ‘Neither residential or non-residential training is better.’ How do you know?

      And you do realise that all context-based training in the C of E is designated ‘full time’?

      • I strongly disagree. Residential training is far superior. The interaction among the students has been long overlooked. Iron sharpens Iron. I remember, fondly, of the discussion in the Lunch hall, discussing the topics of the day, and new ideas in reaching the local community for Christ Jesus.

    • The curacy is a context based place of learning – what is needed is a deeper and wider grounding in theology – and three years of personal and spiritual formation in community.

  5. The whole thing needs an overhaul- what I don’t understand is why, given that so many clergy will retire in the next few years, have three taken a policy ordaining older people- many of whom would have been lay readers back in the day. The need is to invest in younger men and women – with 3 years residential training for 30years ordained ministry – and also let’s offer a masters degree in CME potty training rather than an exercise in ticking hundreds of boxes they’ll never return to again!

    • I wonder if the attraction of ordaining older and early retired is cost and, in my view, the mistaken assumption that that ‘experience in the world’ trumps everything else. And as in ‘Practice makes perfect’…..only if it’s not repeating the same error year in, year out.

      • Yes, but I found that ‘secular’ employment experience was extremely valuable. And the explicit goal of the current changes is to attract more younger ordinands…and that is working.

        • Yes, I agree Ian, secular employment is very valuable prior to ministry. I certainly dont recommend folk going straight from university to seminary. I have had three colleagues in recent years who have been outstanding, all having had a good 10+ years of ‘secular’ employment and learning good skills and experience informing their pastoral and preaching ministry. But all also insisted on residential 2-3 year theological training. However, what concerns me is the number of ‘late middle age’ or even old age persons being ordained. The numbers of young ordinands coming through is encouraging – now we need to educate them properly & theologically – as above, the curacy is for context based training, residential colleges offer the best context for theological training.

        • That’s good and quantifiable…it’s the early retired I’d (sometimes) be concerned about. That’s where I think there can be too much assumption about a simplified road to ordination.

  6. I have been concerned for some time about the transfer from residential to non-residential. The drive seemed to be two fold; driving costs down and promoting a preferred churchman ship/theology.

    The training input is vastly reduced as is the opportunity for the growth that comes through the greater contact with others ‘in the corridors’ as it were. Colleges are not comprised of entirely monochrome ordinands and doesn’t that have part in the personal formation?

    My experience as an incumbent and as a friend is that locally trained ministers just don’t get the input levels of bible, theology or anything else much. It tends to be issue based with a resulting lack of he bigger picture stuff. Residentual context based can be equally thin on input.

    “So colleges are in practice very much constrained by the Church, but are not managed by them. It is difficult to see an easy way of changing this structural oddity.” I’m not sure if I think that this should be changed (Barring a shared curriculum). I’m suspicious of imposing a one size fits all from ‘above’. Perhaps is another ‘Elizabethan Settlement’.

    • These are very sweeping generalisations and do not take into the account the amazing work that many Diocesan schools of ministry undertake. The level of study is the same under the Common Awards programmes and working collaboratively across Residential/Non Residential Lay/Ordained training programmes is not only vital for future church growth but also provides a much ricer theological experience for all involved. The theological education crisis extends much further than the theological colleges.

      • Yes, they are generalisations—and so need countering by actual data about what is going on. As very often, different aspects of this discussion are caught up with defensiveness of particular work being done.

        We then need to ask questions about study hours, staff qualifications, research and publication, access to libraries—and the sort of quality assurance questions explored by any academic context.

  7. “the shift from residential to non-residential training represents a significant reduction in actual learning hours within training”
    I’m not quite sure how you sustain this assertion, Ian. As you explained elsewhere, there is not necessarily any difference in contact/classroom hours; Rather you were assuming (reasonably) that the additional hours of study are not possible for someone with significant other responsibilities.
    But the ‘reduction’ from residential to non-residential only pertains if the residential students *are* doing all those hours of study. How can this be known? I could offer anecdotal evidence that it is not the case.

    • Simon, thanks for asking the question.

      There are now two kinds of non-residential training: full-time context-based training, and part-time ‘course-based’ training that you are involved in delivering.

      For the former, I do the sums here in two different contexts. https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/are-we-being-honest-about-ordination-training/

      It is really clear from the basic maths that learning hours have been cut drastically, but that the training pathways are still, somehow, called ‘full time’.

      In your situation, as people are completing a Diploma over three years (or the equivalent), they are taking 80 credits a year. In HE terms, that requires 800 hours of learning. If you discount the ‘informal learning’, then that still demands 600 hours a year of ‘formal learning’, some of which will be contact time, some reading, some writing, some administration. Over 46 weeks a year, that Is 13 hours a week, which would probably add up to be day plus two or three evenings *every* week, including contact time, but through vacations as well as term time.

      Some of that would be accounted for by e.g. a summer school—but can you say, hand on heart, that all your students are doing that alongside full-time jobs that they might have?

      When I spoke to a former principal of a course, and asked how people managed that, the reply was: ‘They either don’t do anywhere near that—or they do, and their marriages break up.’ This was not a person given to cynicism.

      Do you offer students a clear plan about how many hours they should be doing?

      • Thanks Ian.
        My institution, which is a non-residential college, delivers both part-time programmes and full-time context-based programmes, each at Diploma, Degree and Masters level, to suit the student concerned.
        I fully understand the calculation of ‘learning hours’ and am well aware that amongst the students here, the actual amount of time they spend on their programme will vary considerably depending on their personal circumstances. We tell part-time students that they must have an absolute minimum of ten hours available for study per week, and also highlight the fact that this falls short of the theoretical guideline that you cite. Double that for full-time students.
        But my comment/question is not about that; it is about what happens at residential colleges. The situation is not as different as you imply. For a 20 credit module at a residential college, there will typically be 20-30 hours of classroom time, and the remainder of the notional 200 hours is supposed to be spent in personal study (class preparation, reading and assignments).
        My question is this: is there any evidence that this actually happens? Without any evidence of hours spent in personal study by students at residential institutions, you cannot sustain the assertion that non-residential training has fewer ‘learning hours’ than residential training.
        In both environments, the number of learning hours depends mainly on the what the student chooses to put in. I fully concur with your doubt that a typical part-time Ordinand does 800 ‘learning hours’ in a year, but I equally doubt that a typical full-time Ordinand at a residential college does 1200 ‘learning hours’ in a year (as in theory they each should).

        • Simon, the difference is vast, in that residential students who are not ‘context-based’ do in theory have enough time to undertake all but the ‘informal learning’ specified; those on context-based simply do not.

          I know that because, as Dean of Studies and in response to student protests that they had too much to do, I sat down and did the sums. It was possible to include all the required learning hours.

          On a context-based course, which I have taught on, again I have done the sums. It simply is not possible…and not slightly—by a considerable way.

          What do you actually write in your module descriptor for a 10 or 20 credit module? And what do you describe for students at the start of the module? And how much preparatory and follow-up reading do you prescribe? If the latter matches the former, I guarantee you will have students on both your routes who will tell you in two seconds flat ‘That is not doable’.

          • I’m with Simon on this one. I also think that you do a massive injustice to those studying part time – since when has formal didactic teaching been the best way of learning anyway. Often it is the formation side of the training that is harder to implement than the actual ‘learning’ hours.

  8. t is really unlikely that ordinands will acquire much proficiency in Greek, let alone Hebrew, if they don’t have residential training and the discipline this imposes.
    Why does this matter? Because ever fewer clergy will even be able to understand the commentaries – let alone aspire to writing one one day.
    Because increasingly fewer clergy will be able to preach with any sustained depth in a properly exegetical, theological way.
    Because ever fewer will be able apologists of the faith in a post-Christian world, ready to answer a complex of scientific, historical and philosophical objections to faith – they won’t even know where to start!
    Because fewer and fewer clergy will understand why there was a Reformation in the first place.
    Comments by people like the Dean of Southwark on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation showed that he really had no idea what it was about.
    Yes, they will know a bit of contemporary psychology and sociology – ephemeral, politically-coloured stuff.
    And Anglicanism will wither further away into Pelagian adoptionism and Unitarianism.

    Bottom line: Christian theology is serious, historical, linguistic and exegetical work.
    The Christian ministry is not about being a eucharistomat to an ever shrinking number. It’s about intelligent and persuasive preaching of the Word.

  9. It would be interesting to know the overall numbers in each training institution this academic year and how this compared with last year. These numbers must be available somewhere.

  10. I think you are right here. It’s baffling that there has been no discussion anywhere about the effectiveness of context-based vs residential training.

    One of my concerns about context-based training is that students are hugely reliant on their placement church (which they are often stuck in for up to 3 years) being a place that is willing to engage with them, teach them, show them good practice, stretch and nurture them. The reality is that some parishes will be able to do this and others just wont- though most will say that they can. There is no robust system of engagement between colleges and parishes to make sure they are providing a good experience, and very little real accountability.

    There are too many stories of bright new ordinands frankly hanging around in slow-paced, disengaged placements for years- hardly the top-class training for new clergy we want.

    That said, I think residential training is increasingly unrealistic in the modern world. Many ordinands have spouses in serious jobs- and the suggestion that they should move into a flat on top of the hill at Cuddesdon- where there isn’t even a bus into Oxford- is frankly insulting.

  11. Fascinating article and an extraordinary range of responses; obviously you’ve hit a nerve here.

    The faults with RME were obvious from the time it was first suggested ( and were pointed out.) But it was promoted as a good thing and no opposition was allowed so we’re stuck with it for now.

    The biggest issue is the need for serious theological study pror to ordination including a range of theological points of view, but here I think the traditional colleges may still be found wanting. I wodner if there’s a rather nostalgic view of what life in such institutions was like. I experienced 3 years residential training at a top University reading for a traditional theology degree and it was still perfectly possible to emerge with a very limited range of knowledge. We must not assume that 3 years full time at a top university means a thorough theological grounding. In addition, the college, like nearly all of them, had a strong theological/liturgical tradition which didn’t equip us for ministry in a range of contexts or parishes. And it was very expensive. No wonder serious questions are being asked about residential training. Is there any evidence that it is effective?

    The current colleges were nearly all founded in Victorian or Edwardian times on the pattern of Oxbridge colleges and they usually enshrine one particular theological approach but there is no need for serious theological formation to take this shape. I would agree that context based learning is not necessarily the answer if we want some at least to be familiar with the Christian tradtion and Scripture in depth.

    By way of contrast, my experience teaching on non-residential courses has been of a very supportive community which holds together real diversity, a mix of theological traditions and the continual requirement to relate learnig to ministry. Of course, the great lack is sufficient study time to cover a really broad range of material in depth, and I can’t see an easy way to address this; but as I suggest above having lots of hours at a college may not be any better.
    So, serious theological study, deep learning, engagement with a range of theologial positions – yes. And that implies sufficient time. But residentail training – not necessarily.

    • Thanks Tim. I would happily take ‘full time with sufficient time for learning’ and not be too fussed about the ‘residential’. But only the residential routes currently offer genuinely full-time training.

  12. I would say that a common ordinal creates a common syllabus. I’d like to see a greater sense of accountability to the ordinal from ordinands, colleges, bishops, DDOs , training incumbents, IME tutors etc. What becomes crucial is an honest recommendation or non recommendation for ordination at the end of the training course. Clarity at that point in the process will soon reveal the suitability of any particular model of training.

      • I hear Ian’s call for a major overall of theological education. I was trying to identify the consistent elements in the process that seem accepted and fixed, so that they drive the reform rather than a comprehensive review that would never be universally accepted.
        One element is the willingness of a bishop to ordain a candidate. Another other is the ordinal which describes what ministry is.
        This is about allowing the core tasks of the church to drive the theological education and formation offered to candidates, and about bishops having the ability and courage to make a judgement about a candidate at the point of ordination. I think this would reveal which models of training are effective. I think it would also create a sense of unity over the key tasks of the minister which could then be adapted and expanded at curacy and beyond.
        My feeling is that the models of and emphases in ministry offered by the growing variety of TEIs can only be judged by those tasked to discern whether the ordinal criteria can be seen in those to be ordained. A bishop may delegate that task to various other people, most of whom will want their part of the process to be deemed a ‘success’.
        I don’t have a problem with any particular model of training. But I am concerned that we often forget that we have an ordinal by which we can evaluate training, and bishops specifically tasked with making judgements about those seeking ordination.
        The machinery currently in place is, I suppose, designed to help the above process to happen. To reform it we need to find the central cog (or cogs) on which it turns. For me it’s the ordinal and the bishop.

  13. I enjoyed the privilege of studying full time for a theology degree long before there was much hope of ordaining women. It was rigorous, broad, liberal in parts, helpfully challenging and excellent training for the brain. Later I spent one year living in a resident theological college because they had some empty rooms and offered to rent one to me. Students encouraged me to sneak in to listen to a particularly ‘inspirational lecturer’ and indeed he was just that – a disciplined theologian who brought warmth and wit to theology in a way I had not quite previously experienced. It was joyful. Living as part of a studying, worshipping, supportive community gave me some personal insight into the value of residential training. It was fun, it was focussed, it wasn’t easy but it was a year in which I made life long and important relationships with people/families who had determined to serve God through ordination. That was replicated across the community. That’s not quite the same as getting to know the other ordinands in the diocese while you are learning while working in the parish. It’s also not quite the same as an excellent theological training that is purely an academic exercise. It is, of course, an expensive privilege, a safe place to try out ideas, to struggle with academia, doubt, self-doubt and the demands of communal living to name a few minor details. It is a place where there is time and space to work through some of those issues rather than airing all of that stuff before the local congregation. I’m not opposed to local training and my impression of many in their 3rd year is that they were desperate to get into a parish and start work. Surely there can be something that allows for both. Our clergy must have a thorough theological training. We have readers in our diocese who are better theologians than their incumbents because they are well trained. That sometimes makes them better applied theologians but their clergy don’t value that because they lack the grounding to recognise it! This is such an important matter. Our clergy need to be able not only to interpret scripture wisely but to be able to apply rigorous theological thinking to the constant and rapidly emerging ethical issues of our day and to deliver that in ways that make sense to their congregations. It is no small skill but it requires both excellent academic theological training and excellent training in communication. We have never invested much in the latter. To neglect the former makes no sense to me at all. There is so much more that I would like to say!

  14. I agree with most of what has been said – we need ministers trained with Theological education, work experience, youthful zeal and aged wisdom. But I fear these alone wont help the Church of England stop the rot within and reach effectively out. “It is extraordinary power from God, not talent, that wins the day.” CH Spurgeon ‘In 3 centuries Christian missionaries of spiritual, but no great intellectual power, enabled the gospel to take hold of the entire Roman Empire.’ Henry Chadwick. Whatever else our colleges offer by way of context based learning, theological training, spiritual formation, we need the power of the Spirit!

    • I think this is key, within or without the Church of England the key is and has always been the Holy Spirit. The issue is never about money but about the Spirit.

  15. It’s politically incorrect to say so (hence anonymity, for which, apologies) but while mixed mode and part time are great business for the sending dioceses and the home/ placement churches, there’s no doubt the students themselves are being formationally shortchanged. But so long as they are being regularly told their training is contemporary/ relevant/ contextual then the many I know through my sending church and current curacy cohort seem quite happy they are ‘fit for purpose’. I say this as one who recently went through 2 years’ residential training. In that time we studied 5 OT books, 3 gospels, 5 epistles mostly for a term at a time, sometimes in a focused study week – Greek was compulsory for one year, optional for 2, a year of Hebrew also an option. Other streams in which we did modules included Mission, Spirituality, History, Ethics, Doctrine, Ecclesiology and of course, being an evangelical college, no shortage of Homiletics. My understanding from friends who trained through a large and popular mixed mode hub is that their biblical studies tended to last a week per book. (Apologies if I am wrong on that.) I do have colleagues in my IME who trained part-time at a diocesan establishment and claim to have had no biblical theology training and certainly no Pauline books have been opened for them. Are residential students missing out by not having 3 days a week in a placement church? Possibly except of course we still served in our home churches at weekends and in vacations and now spend 7 days a week in a church during curacy. In addition I had placements with 2 other churches, 2 mission weeks and a weekly half day in a hospital chaplaincy in my 2nd year and preached in at least 10 different contexts across the 2 years. I don’t mean to sound arrogant – just grateful and rather sad that the church has slashed its investment in so many of its ordinands and apparently no-one really minds. Like I say it’s politically incorrect in the current climate but I am glad you are questioning it….

  16. May I inject three more optimistic notes?

    1. Until a few weeks ago I was incumbent of a church with two ordinands at st Mellitus. I do not believe the education they were getting was dumbed down. I certainly do not believe their theological thinking lacked rigour – though I certainly accept that their weeks were incredibly, incredibly full. It helps that in Essex, all ministerial candidates are expected to do a part-time 2-year introductory course BEFORE they are given a place at St Mellitus.

    2. I now teach Greek at St Mellitus (very very part time as a volunteer). I can confirm that students are motivated, sparky and have a high view of scripture (I haven’t asked about the Articles!).

    3. My day job is coordinating curate training for chelmsford diocese. I don’t pretend everything works perfectly – we’re conducting a complete overhaul at the moment – but curacy training is now much, much better than it was a decade ago. This diocese now has 100 curates (the most since the Thatcher premiership!) and they are a daily source of hope and encouragement. And the whole diocese is being reconfigured around mission. In theory, and sometimes practice.

    All I’m saying is: There is light as well as darkness. Don’t give up on our new generations of ministers yet.

    • Andy – this is encouraging – thank you – and God bless you in your new ministry. Whilst Chelmsford curacy training may be good, I don’t think that’s a general experience. One curate after three years at CME told me recently they had not opened the Bible once. I challenged him on this weeks later as I could hardly believe it, but he stood by it saying ‘maybe once’ in 3 years. I hope your curates get a regular dose of Greek NT.

    • Andy
      I want to avoid being a wet blanket but must point out that nearly everyone would say they have a high view of Scripture. The real disagreement is over what truths, what doctrines, the Scriptures teach. That is the importance of the Articles, especially Articles 9-18 and 31, with their teaching on Original Sin, Free-Will, Justification, Good Works, Sin, Predestination to Life and Propitiation.

      Phil Almond

      • Phil, I don’t think I’d accept that the measure of whether people are taking Scripture seriously is whether they end up agreeing with a certain set of doctrines—not least because we believe in a church semper reformanda.

        What I actually find is that people say ‘I am taking Scripture seriously’ and then say ‘but Scripture is wrong’. That is not ‘serious’ in the way the phrase is intended.

        • Ian
          The point I am making is that there is real disagreement over what truths, doctrines, the Bible teaches. I agree entirely that the doctrines of the Articles, and all doctrinal convictions, must always be scrutinised in the light of Scripture and are subject to modification/rejection if they fail that scrutiny. I am one of those who believe that the Articles I mentioned do summarise the truths, the doctrines, that the Scriptures teach. I am assuming that you also believe that as you have presumably made the Declaration of Assent. Of course, there is also disagreement about what the Articles mean. For instance, it is clear to me from Article 9 that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and are all born with a nature inclined to evil. I seem to remember some of your posts did not agree that God is angry with sinners. If I am remembering accurately (please correct me if I am not), then presumably (unless you have changed you mind) you don’t think Article 9 does mean that.
          Phil Almond

  17. Thank you for your best wishes, Simon. As I’m sure you know, New Testament Greek is not compulsory for ordained ministers, but I have already sent back two written theological reflections asking for some real engagement with Scripture. Right – I’m off to a training day on engaging with schools (including some material from Luke 1).

  18. This is what my wife and I have thought for many years. We both went through Cranmer Hall decades ago. local training schemes simply give less hours of learning from less able teachers. My organist says he can tell the difference of the p/t trained ones!!

    • Ahem! I taught at Cranmer Hall and now teach on a regional course. My principal likewise has moved from a residential college to our part-residential course. How did we become less able teachers?

      • Charles, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that you have become less able. But it would be worth comparing the qualifications and research experience of staff at course and colleges, which of course inspectors are supposed to do. Are your colleagues doing research and publishing that is comparable with your former colleagues?

        But even if there is parity, there is then the question of learning hours and access to resources. Do you have the same standard of library as you had in Durham?

        • I was using myself and my colleague as an example of the false argument set out by Michael….

          In response to your other question, our students have access to the libraries at all the Cambridge theological colleges.I will not comment on how they compare to Cranmer Hall as I am on the Cambridge library committee…

          • That’s good to hear about the library Charles, assuming that all your students live in Cambridge so have access on an equal footing.

            But I also need to draw attention to a question of logic in argument. If I claim ‘Men are taller than women’ and you say ‘I know a woman who is taller than a man I know’ that doesn’t actually offer a response to my argument. You would need to demonstrate that women as a group are taller than men as a group.

            Similarly, when Michael and others say ‘Course faculty are not as qualified’ or I say ‘Courses reduce teaching hours’ or ‘There is not comparable access to libraries’ then single, possibly exceptional, examples don’t really counter that.

            And I notice that you didn’t response to the research/publication question, nor the question of learning hours, and that Simon S hasn’t responded to the question of learning hours either. I think that is a matter of public record.

      • My worry is that over the last decades that several local courses have not had able teachers. I think I better not give examples!!! If they have been replaced by ex Cranmer or other theological staff then my concerns belong to the past tense

  19. I wouldn’t claim it to be a pinnacle of anything but as a matter of record and personal experience my GOE training in the 1970s was pretty intensive…a few went off to supplement it at Cambridge (I think it was). GOE was put into two terms the third covered a whole host of extras : specialist speakers, sociology, other religions, experience visits….how to use a 16mm projector….?

    As an extra every book of the Bible was gone through to a lesser/greater extent. That was one of the big gains.

    I lived ‘out’ for one of the three years and had to travel 15-20 minutes. Went with one baby son and a second born during my time there….

    Chapel – 7.20am and compulsory
    After chapel – Quite Time until breakfast
    After breakfast lectures until lunch time
    Afternoon – personal study or tutorial or college maintenance duties (gardening team or maintenance team)
    I popped home for tea
    Chapel at some point…can’t quite recall the time.
    Evening…four spent studying and one for a visiting speaker. Usually home by 9pm….motivated or just slow learner…?
    Sunday…placement…with extra time between the terms.

    I’m not offering it as a model….just a note of history.

  20. As laity I find this discussion interesting but baffling. Firstly it isn’t all that clear what ordinands are being trained for. If it is to be parish priests/deacons/chaplains etc how will this stress on theological training help them in this? If it is to be people with theological knowledge and understanding etc how do you stop this being an end in itself i.e. is there much point in having theological knowledge and understanding if its only use is to engage with other clergy? Simply being pragmatic about it I would prefer clergy to be a) prayerful b) able to relate to people (if they can’t then they should be looking at an academic path) c) willing not only to study theology but to continue to study it and to engage with theological questions. (I think this is a difficult one – there is a place for knowledge but if you just provide answers how do you encourage people of all ages to engage with theological questions?)

    • Thanks Sarah. I think you are right in those requirements. But I am not sure why you think that theology is about relating to other clergy. What do you expect to hear from the pulpit? I hope most people are interested in hearing how the extraordinary grace of God transforms the world and equips them for whatever Monday to Saturday has to offer—and if so, that requires theology!

    • Do you you expect them to know the Scriptures? To be able to bridge the gulf between then and now? To be able to say something about complex ethical challenges? To understand why we say what we do in our services? To have an idea about mission? To be aware of the wise paths of pastoral guidance? These are all about theological training…

      • Yes to all these. But unless clergy are able to engage laity in these discussions and value their contributions then the only people left for them to do theology with are other clergy! I would expect all Christians to have something to say about complex ethical issues, understand why we say what we do in our services, have an idea about mission and know the Scriptures (though I would expect clergy to know more and be more able to bridge the gulf between then and now). If we (the laity) don’t, why don’t we? Is the problem with laity lack of interest (why aren’t we interested?), clergy inability to inspire (why aren’t they inspiring us?), methodology (is preaching the best way to go about this?) or what? (It’s also one thing to be aware of wise paths of pastoral guidance and another to put them into practice, which I think goes back to my earlier point about relating to other people.) I suppose some of this is whether you see the laity as passive or active recipients.

  21. As a lay person, I hope and expect my clergy to be fully grounded in scripture, have good theological understanding and the ability to continue to study and to engage with issues theologically. They need to encourage and enable us to do the same.

    The idea that training would “hardly” involve opening the scriptures is mind-boggling, but I have heard reports of that too. To a lesser extent familiarity with the historical formularies is also surely important.

    Yes, we ask a lot of our clergy (to be visionary leaders, compassionate pastors and inspirational preachers), some would say we ask the impossible. In worldly terms we probably do, but this is God’s gifting and Christ has promised to build his church. We do owe our clergy the best equipping/training we can give them, and we should be prepared to fund it – for the sake of God’s kingdom.


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