Theology that Leads to Awe

By Mary Ailes

Theologian Jane Williams spoke in the undercroft of Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia, to launch a U.S. satellite of the London-based St. Paul’s Theological Centre.

“It’s always been our aim from the start to train the whole people of God for their different ministries God has called us to,” she said at the Jan. 16 event, which drew more than 200 people. “Every single Christian has been called to be a minister of the gospel.”

Williams was one of the first teachers the Rev. Graham Tomlin hired when St. Paul’s began in 2006. He has since been appointed Bishop of Kensington within the Diocese of London.

“St. Paul’s Theological Center has been involved in a revolution in theological training here in the Church of England,” Bishop Tomlin told the gathering by recorded video. Now part of St. Mellitus College, the largest theological college in the Church of England, St. Paul’s offers what Bishop Tomlin described as “good, academic, rigorous theology, with the local church and ministry.”

“You don’t have to leave your local church to go and get good theological training,” he said. “You can get it right where most Christians actually live and work and do their ministry.”

St. Paul’s began in the basement of Holy Trinity Brompton in London, with nine students being trained for ordination along with a large number of laypeople who wanted to go deeper into their faith. “We want confident Christians, but Christians who have that confidence in God that will let us be gentle and reverent as we share our faith with others,” Williams said, citing 1 Peter 3:15 (“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”).

“We also want people who are pretty sure that faith is a source of hope, that it makes a difference in our lives because we know who we are and what we’re for, and therefore really want to share that,” she said.

Williams was born in Trivandrum, India. Her father, the Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Paul, was Bishop of Bradford (Church of England) and served as a missionary in India. She later studied theology at Clare College Cambridge. She studied theology, she said, because she wanted to discover if her faith was hers or just that of her parents.

“I wanted to test it, I wanted to ask all the difficult questions and find out if I still believed it. I want to tell you that I do and I believe it more than I ever believed it,” she said, “and I get more and more excited about it.”

Today she is a visiting lecturer at King’s College London, and serves as assistant dean and lecturer at St. Mellitus College. Her husband, Rowan, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, is continues his academic vocation as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Jane Williams is one of the hosts of Godpod, a podcast from St. Paul’s. Bishop Tomlin, Williams, and the Rev. Mike Lloyd, principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, discuss issues of God, theology, and life. The podcast was born out of their informal gatherings to discuss theology. They decided to share their conversations with a larger audience.

“As we read the Bible, as we learn about the history of God’s people through the ages, as we think about how we live our faith, as we study the formulae that the past ages of the faith would come up with to describe what it is that we believe, all the time as we do this we’re also encountering God,” Williams said at Truro. “This is not just about human discourse.”

The gathering at Truro was modeled on what a typical class might look like during a typical course at St. Paul’s. It included opening worship and prayer, followed by an hour of theological teaching and then small groups.

Williams said that studying theology has been sequestered to university campuses for a very long time. She said St. Paul’s aims to bring the study of theology back into the local church.

“As you study theology you will get to your knees in worship, in prayer, in repentance, in awe. That’s what should happen as you study theology,” she said. “Studying theology shapes the character of God’s people because we are encountering the character of God.”

The first five-week offering of the U.S. satellite of St. Paul’s Theological Center will begin Feb. 20 at Truro Anglican Church.

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