Just Theology? Reflections on a great 24 hours.

Vineyard Theology

 

Earlier this year it was a privilege to be part of the third bi-annual Vineyard Churches UK and Ireland (henceforth VCUKI) Theology Symposium – focused this year on Justice issues in particular, as part of the theological task. With keynotes from Krish Kandiah, Kate Coleman and Andrew Wallis, as well as a host of short papers from around and outside VCUKI Churches, it was a great time of conversation between practitioners, thinkers, leaders and readers.

Krish Kandiah, Founder and Director of Home for Good (and a man with a theological and justice cv longer than this blog post!) was our opening speaker. Speaking to the topic of ‘The Reintegration of Mission‘, Krish spoke interactively and passionately about the way that mission has disintegrated – between celebrating gospel proclamation and pursuing justice, between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between crisis and success, between church and agency, and between family and mission. What if, Krish asked us, these things could come together? What if we preached a fully orbed Gospel? What if we preached the Gospel of the kingdom of God, everywhere, in every way, to everyone? This helpful, interactive and challenging plenary was a great start to our time together – prompting some great conversations.

Our Saturday morning (post an excellent breakfast) begin with the brilliant Kate Coleman challenging us on ‘Mission, Diversity, Leadership: Three Streams, One River‘. Starting with the beautiful and haunting poem ‘The Cold Within’, Kate challenged us that a justice-oriented approach to theology could give us some solutions. She walked us through three images of leadership (I’ve blogged about that here, but focusing on the Tower of Bible, Pentecost, and an Eschatological vision), before inviting us into a pursuit of the whole story, ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’ (again, I’ve blogged about that and some lessons for churches here). Kate’s talk was full of food for thought – I hope my distilled thoughts whet your appetite for the recordings!

Following the first plenary was a short paper session. I was sat alongside my good friend Lyn Burnhope, who spoke on ‘Just Theology on the Jericho Road‘. This brilliant short paper… My own paper was titled The Christian Practice of Justice: a step towards the table (Do read this Handout), and we were ably moderated by Neal Swettenham. Some great questions from folk including Krish, pastors and other folk have meant that I’ve had to go away and continue to shape my thinknig here.

The third plenary session came from Andrew Wallis – a former Church planter and presently the CEO of the Charity ‘Unseen’, that deals with human trafficking and modern day slavery. Both harrowing and haunting, challenging and insprational, Andrew’s talk was a personal theological reflection on his journey of doing justice and working theology along the way. In lieu of being able to share a link or more substantial recollections (Some of what he covered is very sensitive), I repeat some learning points/quotes:

  • Speaking truth to power is hard, but must be done, in grace and firmness
  • We have to work with others – learn and listen and earn trust
  • Working with media is a dangerous delight. Good media helps.
  • Engage with business. A shift is taking place around the morality of profit.
  • Working with politicians – complex, but so vital.

The final short paper session was great too – I was privileged to moderate two very different papers, united in a common quest for justice. The first was on dementia care in and around churches – something I’m passionate about due to my Trusteeship with Pilgrims Friends. The second was a debut paper from my friend Rob Pickersgill, one of the leaders at the Manchester Vineyard. Rob shared powerfully and reflectively about the response of that church to the challenge to love Manchester, in light of the then very recent Manchester Terror attacks.

The weekend closed with the now traditional open panel – bringing together our keynote speakers and some senior theological voices from the movement. This was a lively conversation – drawing together some of the threads we’d been chatting about in and out of the sessions, over lunch and coffee, and throughout our time together. Once again, the weekend was a great time of deliberate and lively fellowship – talking in a real way about important things, worshipping and praying together, and thinking together in the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in the Bible, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. I can’t wait for the next one!

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