From Happiness to Politics: ADM’s Second Annual School of Theology, Culture & Public Engagement Showcases the Connection between Faith and Ideas.
– By Jo Kadlecek
As summer holidays were ending in January, almost 300 people exchanged beach reads for notebooks and BBQs for lectures on topics as diverse as literature, leadership and liberalism.
They were part of ADM’s second annual School of Theology, Culture & Public Engagement (STCPE), participants and lecturers who gathered from across Australia as well as the U.K. and the U.S. to pursue deeper theological engagement around a range of ideas. With 18 masterclasses, four satellite events and countless conversations over three days (22-24 January 2019), the summer school offered a unique and curated learning program for Christians to “go deeper.”
“I know of no other organisation like ADM in the world, so it’s worth coming halfway around the world to be here,” said Rev. Canon Dr. Alison Milbank who travelled from the University of Nottingham in England for her first trip to Australia. Associate Professor Milbank spoke at a plenary event about the importance of literature and imagination for engaging our culture with the gospel, and also taught a two part masterclass on literature and theology.
“We need to find ways to awaken people from the trappings of self; the enchantment must be broken,” said Milbank. “Imaginative apologetics is when we stand aside from ourselves and receive our faith afresh. I’m suggesting we make our faith truly ‘strange’ to gain new attention.”
Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today’s first and youngest female managing editor and the author of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, led several sold-out masterclasses on writing, editing and publishing.
“If you’re writing, you’re doing public engagement,” Beaty said. “Our role as writers is to participate well in our culture, to translate theological principles and to serve as ambassadors in challenging stereotypes of evangelicals.”
Rev. Dr. Brian Rosner, principal of Ridley College, Melbourne, and Rev. Dr. Bill Salier, Principal of Youthworks College, Sydney, explored the theology of personal identity and character formation respectively. Natasha Moore and Justine Toh, both Senior Research Fellows at the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney, offered workshops on writing for the media and Christianity in the public sphere.
“As emotional, created beings we also want to be happy,” said Rev. Dr. Kirsten Birkett, 2018 ADM Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer in ethics and philosophy at Oak Hill Theological College, London. Birkett joined Millbank and Beaty in teaching 46 teenagers in ADM’s inaugural Girls Do Theology event, and then also taught a two-part STCPE masterclass. “The Bible speaks about joy and rejoicing repeatedly, but is that the same as being happy?” Dr. Birkett’s research and essay from her talks on happiness was published recently in Eternity.
With other masterclass topics including astrophysics, music and palliative care, creative writing, communicating the gospel, Aboriginal history and the church, hermeneutics, maturity for leadership and sensory experience in the gospels, participants gained new insights and developed practical skills for enhancing their public witness.
ADM CEO Dr. Kate Harrison Brennan chaired a sold-out panel discussion on developing a Christian vision for politics. Katelyn Beaty, who has written on U.S. politics for The Washington Post, and Professor John Milbank, a leading theologian from the U.K. who also led a two-part STCPE masterclass on political theology and post-liberalism, joined Harrison Brennan for the discussion.
“We’re seeing a younger generation trying to reconcile religion and faith with what they see in leadership, in particular with the moral character of leaders,” said Harrison Brennan. “The question becomes how can we move beyond identity politics to build more respectful conversations and engagement?”
Both Beaty and Milbank agreed that the responsibility falls to the church to build bridges. “There’s much more to fulfilling our cultural mandate than which political party we support. Ours is a prophetic role and we need to link politics with ecclesiology,” Milbank said.
Links to Christian faith in a variety of fields, in fact, were the consistent themes throughout the three-day school. 36 percent of those surveyed said it was their first ADM event, and 92 percent of those in attendance rated the STCPE “excellent” or “very good”.
Dr. Annette Pierdziwol, ADM Director of Public Engagement who oversees the summer school, sees the positive response as testimony to the event’s effectiveness.
“We want to create space in a busy city for theological reflection on the ideas shaping our culture – to host a materially and intellectually hospitable space that brings together people from a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see so many attendees staying back even after classes had finished, completely immersed in discussion with one another.
And if Twitter is any indication, the 2019 school fulfilled that purpose. In tweets from John Milbank, “STCPE reflected impressive standards of thought, reflection and serious commitment amongst Christians of all varieties in this country. Excellent workshops on Church, politics and culture at the remarkable Deaconess Ministries base at St Andrews House next to the Anglican Cathedral in Sydney. Then a great public discussion on same later.”
Other News about STCPE 2019
Re-imagining Calling for Women in the Christian Framework (ABC Radio National: Soul Search, February 2019)
Is Happiness in the Bible? (Eternity News, February 2019)
Women: Don’t Miss Out on the ‘Goodness’ of Work (Eternity News, January 2019)
How the Lamb Chop Ruined Australia (Eternity News, January 2019)