Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Evangelicals in Exile

I first read Evangelicals in Exile (DLT, 1997) by Alistair Ross in 1998/99. I was at the time in my final year of A-level studies. The book is an account of Alistair's spiritual journey from a child to training for baptist ministry, being a church minister and pastoral counsellor. It was the honesty of Alistair's account and the questioning of faith, and specifically as the title suggests, an evangelical faith, that grabbed me. Around the same time I had also read Clark Pinnock's book on the openness of God, which was in a different way a questioning of the generally accepted evangelical theology.

Reading it again this last week, the chapter about Alistair's time at a baptist theological college was particularly interesting, as I saw how training for ministry has both changed since the late 70's/early 80's and in some ways some of the experiences (perhaps obviously) are the same. On one particular, and hear I cannot speak for the other colleges, but it does feel as I am currently training that spouses and families are still often left on the fringes of 'formation' process, despite the fact that they are experiencing everything you are feeling. Colleges I think must do more to recognise and find ways to engage with and support the families of students - what does it mean to be married to a minister? what does it mean to a child or a young person who's mother or faith is a minister?

The book's real strength is its integration of biography and theology. Another book that made a similar impact on me was Frances Young's Face to Face. I firmly believe we need more theology like this, theological reflection that arises out of and engages with one's life story and experiences. Evangelicals in Exile is a book that deserves repeated readings, the other book, I look forward to reading again and again is Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson, which incidently Geoff is blogging about later. The repeated readings remind us of important truths and differente sentences to stick-out.

I haven't got to the end of the book on this current reading, so here's a quote
from early on: there is an appalling danger in the Church, especially in the
evangelical tradition, of 'splitting' between theory and practice and between
good and bad. We affirm the good and deny the bad. We work hard at clarifying
the theory and in doing so somehow assume that practice will just happen. [Me -
Interestingly I think that the reverse is also true, we get stuck into
practice and hope that the theology grounding will just emerge, sometimes
what feels like thin air!]. Real life has a way of blasting holes, like rock from quarry, in our careful archaeological dug-out theology. (p.52)

Alistair Ross is a Baptist minister and is currently a lecturer in counselling at Birmingham University, where he is also pursuing doctoral studies. He is the author of several books beside Evangelicals in Exile, including Understanding Friends (1993) and Counselling Skills for church and faith community workers (2005).

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