School of Theology explores what it is to be human in the 21st century

Over 100 people gathered at Oak Hill for the annual School of Theology last Tuesday, where the focus was on the doctrine of humanity in the 21st century.

The aim of the day was to encourage a theological and pastoral response to some of the leading challenges of our times.

In the main sessions, three members of Oak Hill faculty explored the biblical theme of humanity made in the image of God. Kristi Mair spoke on ‘Humanity in Culture’, describing how a spirit of radical self-determination explains and sustains our consumption of media and the rise of artificial intelligence and transhumanism. The tragic results of that spirit were made very clear: ‘Our increasing technological connection leads us to be relationally disconnected.’ Overwhelmed with information, we struggle to find meaning; promised equality and peace, we experience elitism and oppression.

Chris Stead’s session on ‘Humanity in Theology’ was an exercise in turning that world on its head. Our culture says, ‘I am my own’, but Chris developed the Christian belief that ‘I am not my own’ into a rich theological anthropology. He outlined five theses which anchor a view of humanity in our relationship with our Creator, our adoption in Christ, and in the fulfilment of God’s purposes for creation. The result was a vision for humanity with a dignity and destiny that rests on something far more stable than our own strength or will.

In the final main session, Matthew Bingham spoke on ‘Humanity in Ministry’. The focus here was on how our anthropology shapes ministry. In light of recent enthusiasm for the role of liturgy and ritual in discipleship in the work of James KA Smith, Matthew gave an appreciative critique, setting those proposals alongside the Reformation which he characterised as a more successful attempt to align a biblical anthropology with ministry. The result was a stirring call to ‘capture people’s imagination with a compelling picture of God and his glory.’

Three afternoon seminars explored how the image of God connects to race, class and gender, and what that means for the life and witness of the church. The seminars were led by Felix Aremo, pastor of Brixton Local Church; Duncan Forbes, leader of Urban Ministries and author of The Urban Catechism; and Matt Lillicrap, Associate Pastor of Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge.

The seminars and main sessions created a great buzz of conversation among those who came to the School of Theology.

Rosie Woodbridge, who works part-time with Christians in Sport, and is also the Student Worker at Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell, said: ‘I really appreciated the seminars on gender and class, which were very accessible. They helped me think more practically about how those issues work out in our lives, our culture and our ministries.’

Sam Williams, from Christ Church Harpenden, said, ‘It’s been a very useful day, and we’ve been given some good food for thought. There are practical areas I’m going to think through for church ministry, and there are issues I’d like to think about in more detail.’

Linda Trevitt, Women’s Worker at Christ Church Earlsfield, in south-west London, said: ‘The women in our congregation are wrestling with questions of identity, and in their workplaces they’re exposed to what our culture says about what it means to be female. So today’s been helpful as it will enable me to explain the issues in a way that will connect for them.’

Recordings of the School of Theology sessions from 2019 are now available at: www.oakhill.ac.uk/events/oak-hill-school-of-theology-2019.

Photo of Matthew Bingham, Kristi Mair and Chris Stead, main session speakers at the School of Theology