Jesus told us that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). That life in a new dimension – eternal life – starts now, as we come to know our heavenly Father through Jesus and become more truly alive.
So, the better we know God the more fully alive we will be! And that’s what theology is all about, not just knowing about God but actually knowing God himself. We study the Bible not primarily as an academic exercise, to increase our knowledge of an important and special book, but to discover more about the God who gave us the Bible, and to know him personally, love him more deeply and enter more fully into the amazing life that is God’s purpose for us.
This has been my personal journey as a Christian and theologian, but over my 30+ years as a minister I’ve also seen this happen time and time again for other people. As Christians have taken firmer hold of the wonderful, liberating truths of the Christian good news, so they have grown in their faith and come alive in worship, mission and service. And the more they’ve learned, the more they’ve wanted to learn, in a lifelong journey.
Opportunities for this theological journey are all around us: reading good Christian books and blogs, listening to great sermons or Christian podcasts and being a member of a local Bible study group. But many Christians from all sorts of different backgrounds have found that pursuing more intentional personal theological study has been just what they have needed.
And it’s what the Church needs as well. Our twenty-first century context gives us lots of opportunities as a Church, but also lots of challenges. If the Church is to meet these with confidence and creativity then it needs as many of its members as possible to be theologically capable, confident in new forms of mission and ministry and well-formed in the spiritual habits of prayer and Christian discipleship that will nourish and sustain us for a lifetime.
Did you know that there is an opportunity to do this in Cumbria?
This summer Cumbria Christian Learning, of which I have been the principal, joined with some other training courses to form a new theological college for the North West: Emmanuel Theological College. Teaching at centres in Penrith, Blackburn, Manchester and Liverpool, Emmanuel provides faith-based theological education that aims to equip the whole people of God for the whole mission of God, looking to provide outstanding formation for lay and ordained ministry both full-time and part-time – a regional theological powerhouse that will serve the Church, teaching theology that builds people up in their faith and ministry.
Emmanuel is recognised and authorised to train clergy and ‘official’ lay ministers: at the moment Church of England Readers and clergy, but very much able to welcome as well students training for ministry in other Christian denominations and streams. But independent students are also a key part of Emmanuel’s life and vision, as it’s never good for ordained minister to study on their own away from others! Anyone can come and study as an independent student alongside those who are training ‘officially’ for ministry, being part of a community that learns together, worships and prays together and works out together what it means to be a Christian disciple in our region today.
If you’re interested you can find out much more information at https://emmanueltheologicalcollege.org.uk/, but just to give a little bit more detail:
- Emmanuel’s courses all lead to a proper academic qualification from Durham University in theology for ministry and mission. It is entirely possible to be both academically rigorous and thoroughly faith-based, holding to the Bible and the creeds and deliberately looking to build up students in their personal faith.
- Students can study for one, two or three years, either part-time or full-time, obtaining a range of awards from a Certificate of Higher Education through to a Masters degree.
- All our courses are supported by an online virtual learning environment – a website for our students that enables them to access an almost unlimited amount of study resources, articles and eBooks, as well as specific materials for particular courses.
- At Emmanuel we have a real expertise in working with those who haven’t done formal university study before, or who last studied many years ago, helping people to gain the confidence that they need to get the most out of their studies.
- In Cumbria we offer training in Penrith (at Church House in Friargate), meeting on Tuesday evenings in term-time for worship and tutorials. Locally, students can study for the Durham Certificate and Diploma.
- In due course we should be able to offer more courses in Penrith, but at the moment full degree (BA) and masters studies are available in Liverpool.
- It is also possible, for a reduced fee, simply to ‘audit’ courses – being part of the tutorial groups and receiving the teaching and learning, but not submitting work for a Durham award.
If you think that this might be for you, then please do visit Emmanuel’s website where there is lots more information. It’s likely that there will also be taster sessions through the year, when prospective students can come along and see Emmanuel in practice.
Paul Dunthorne, Penrith Centre Lead Tutor and member of the Leadership Team, Emmanuel Theological College.