Churches grapple with questions of survival through research
A major new doctoral initiative aimed at equipping leadership in the non-western and persecuted church has been launched by two leading academic institutes – the Oxford Centre for Religion in Public Life (OCRPL) and the Theology department of the South African University of Stellenbosch.
The collaboration aims to research questions of mission and ministry that are central to the survival of churches under pressure and persecution. Researchers, who will work towards a PH D, will remain in their place of ministry but complete their research through study time and under the guidance of supervisors from Oxford and Stellenbosch.
The four year programme will combine internet study and four month’s worth of residential seminars.
Dr Vinay Samuel of OCRPL said: “Christian faith in the West has been undermined in the last one hundred years by the intellectual attack of the rationalist enlightenment on the reliability of the Bible and the historical reality of Jesus. This has meant that theological study in the West has been largely focused on apologetics, either by orthodox scholars addressing the sceptical questions of the rationalist to give a reason for the hope within them, or by liberal scholars finding ways to make the intellectually discredited faith “relevant” to the prevailing culture.”
Dr Samuel pointed to exponential growth of Christianity in Africa and China and the massive challenges to Christian mission and ministry in those areas. He said the questions which will be addressed by researchers are: “How can churches maintain security and freedom to witness in the face of aggressive nationalistic religions; how can churches engage with those members of those religions on the basis of common citizenship of their countries; how does Christian faith bring change and healing to those with mental, psychological and sexual problems; when people convert from one faith to another, how much continuity, if any, is to be expected in their religious outlook and personal identity; what impact has a Christian community had on the life chances of people in their neighbourhood and how; what balance should be maintained between prophetic challenge to injustice and freedom to evangelise; what practical steps can churches take to eliminate corruption, especially within its own ranks.”
Dr Samuel argued that these were not the questions raised by the average theological curriculum, but they are the questions that trouble senior Christians in non-western countries. “Answering such questions depends on careful research of available information and case studies, and on engaging the questions and perspectives of biblically-based theology with the questions and perspectives of other branches of knowledge.”
It is vital, he said, that global south church leaders have access to such research and where possible were training in researching such questions themselves.
The first seminar is being held in Stellenbosch South Africa from September 1 -22 2017. Barnabas Fund and East Mountain Ministries South Africa are providing support for students in the programme for which applications are now welcomed.