Rowan Williams, David Ford and others have drawn attention to the importance of the ‘informal theology’ of ordinary believers, its validity as representing genuine insights, and the risk of detachment that occurs if academic theologians do not take it into account. Jeff Astley has examined the phenomenology of informal theology (which he calls ‘ordinary theology’) and the processes that have been and can be followed in examining it. Largely, however, he has not surveyed the actual content of believers’ informal theology.
This thesis examines the most basic, yet profound, theist concept, that of ‘God’, in historical, academic theology since the Second World War, and in contemporary informal theology measured by an exercise in practical theology. The historical theology consists of a review of academic and popular writings by professional United Kingdom Anglican theologians (as they have taken into account logical positivism, human suffering and scientific insights). This review is presented according to a series of eight themes. The thesis then describes the preparation and execution of a survey of the understanding of God on the part of a sample of Anglican church-attenders in Winchester, carried out by questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, together with analysis of the results.
Most importantly, the thesis then sets the results of this exercise in practical theology against the views of academic theologians, draws out areas of commonality and deviation, and offers a distinctive contribution in this respect. The writer’s thesis is that the informal theology of ordinary believers coincides in most ways with academic theology over fundamental issues of understanding God. The practical research contributing to this thesis has revealed many ordinary believers’ capacity to assimilate and hold a variety of views of God, and to do so in creative tension, sometimes despite paradoxes of apparent contradiction. The thesis sets out some proposals for further research, and makes some recommendations as to how the findings within the thesis could inform practice in the Church of England. However, its distinctive contribution to scholarship lies in its relating the content of some informal theology to a wide spread of Anglican academic theology, and its finding considerable spiritual and theological insight within a sample of ordinary believers.
|Date of Award||10 Jul 2014|
|Supervisor||Liz Stuart (Supervisor) & Angus Paddison (Supervisor)|