An imaginary interview, which may well have taken place on December 21, 2021
By Graham Kings
Q: How long did it take you to write Nourishing Mission: Theological Settings?
GK: 34 years.
Q: Why so dilatory?
GK: The book is made up of 16 chapters, previously published over 34 years, in various journals and books. Actually, come to think of it, Chapter 12 (on St. Stephen Harding, the Sherborne monk and Abbot of Cîteaux, who died 1134) is one that has not previously been published. It sneaked in. I have provided an introduction, conclusion, bibliography, name index and subject index, together with prefaces to each chapter, which give updates on people, events, and books, since the original publication.
Q: Who has published it?
GK: Brill, based in Leuven, the Netherlands, a major academic publisher for over 300 years. It is Volume 21 in its series Theology and Mission in World Christianity, edited by Kirsteen Kim, Stephen Bevans SVD, and Miikka Ruokanen, and was published on November 25, 2021.
Q: When is it being launched?
GK: Wednesday February 16, 2022, 4:00-5:30 p.m., at a joint Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (CCCW) and Faculty of Divinity seminar, co-sponsored by the Living Church Institute. This will be online and in-person at Westminster College, Cambridge CB3 0AA, where CCCW is located. David Ford, Joseph Galgalo, Muthuraj Swamy, and Kirsteen Kim will be discussing the book with me. The seminar will be chaired by Jenny Leith. To attend, anyone, from anywhere, can email: email@example.com
Q: What is interesting about the book?
GK: Errr? All of it, I hope?
Q: Hmmm. Let’s try another one. Why did the publisher find it interesting?
GK: On the back cover, the publisher states:
The theological treasures gathered here show the intriguing coherence of an unfolding vision. Earthed in the ministry of a priest, missionary, academic theologian, and well-travelled bishop, the five settings provide 16 chapters written over 34 years in Kenya, Cambridge, Islington, Sherborne and Lambeth. Art, poetry and archives mingle with theology, history and spirituality. Memorable scenes include a Kenyan liturgy on the environment and Bishop Gitari’s preaching, the drama of worship on the streets of London, a Deuteronomic prequel to the Prodigal Son, flashes from the lives of Henry Martyn and Stephen Harding, the birth of South Sudan and the historic dialogue of John Stott and Basil Meeking.
Q: What is this “intriguing coherence” the publisher mentions?
GK: In my introduction, I have noted six cohering themes in particular…
Q: What are the first three?
First, the subtle use of the Bible. This can be seen in the hermeneutics of David Gitari (chapter 1), the relation of the Scriptures to the exploration of African Traditional Religions (chapter 2), Henry Martyn’s work of Bible translation (chapter 4), the way traditions within evangelicalism in the Church of England (chapter 8) and within international evangelicalism and the Roman Catholic Church (chapter 14) use the Bible, the possible roots of the Prodigal Son parable in the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 9), and the exposition of the Genesis story of Sarah and Abraham (chapter 13).
Second, the interaction with national, international, and post-colonial politics. This can be traced in the ministry of David Gitari (chapter 1), the birth of the nation of South Sudan (chapter 11), and the revision of cartography in the imperial and postcolonial periods (chapter 16).
Third, the interweaving of art and theology. This is manifested in the drama of the Kenyan Passion play (chapter 1); the exposition of the portraits of Henry Martyn (chapter 4), Abdul Masih (chapter 5), and Sarah and Abraham (chapter 13); the use of drama, dance, and sculptures in the Good Friday processions of Upper Street and the contexualized African Mystery play in Islington (chapter 7); the presentation and debate about Peter Kosminsky’s four-part film on Israel and Palestine (chapter 10); and the discussion of the epic literature of Greece, Rome, Italy, England, and the Caribbean (chapter 16).
Q: And the final three cohering themes?
Fourth, faithfulness and sensibility in interfaith relationships. These are discerned in the African Traditional Religious discussion (chapter 2), the lives and thinking of Henry Martyn (chapter 4), of Abdul Masih (chapter 5) concerning Islam, and of Max Warren and John V. Taylor (chapter 6) more generally, and the relationship of Jesus to Judaism (chapter 9).
Fifth, the priority of the personal in mission. Biographical theology emerges in the sheer range of people, over the centuries, whom we meet here: David Gitari (chapter 1); Henry Martyn (chapter 4); Abdul Masih (chapter 5); Max Warren and John V. Taylor (chapter 6); Stephen Harding (chapter 12); Mercy Oduyoye, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Rosalee Valesso Ewell, Kirtseen Kim, Jung-Sook Lee, Sandra Mazzolini, Lydia Mwaniki, Isabel Apawo Phiri, Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, Dana Robert, Cathy Ross, and Emma Wild-Wood (chapter 13); John Stott and Basil Meeking (chapter 14); Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, and Rowan Williams (chapter 15).
Sixth, mission and unity. Ecumenical engagement, and the significance of unity within churches, is found in the critique of a particular theory of church growth: the homogeneous unit principle (chapter 3); the joint Good Friday processions in Islington (chapter 7); the redressing of history, between Anglicans and Methodists, in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset (chapter 10); and the international dialogue between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics (chapter 14).
Q: Thanks. Sounds coherent. Who wrote the foreword?
GK: David Ford, Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, and inspirational friend since 1992. It is on open access here. David’s monumental book, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, has just been published by Baker Academic press. Only 20 years in the making – not so dilatory…
Q: What are the titles of your 16 chapters?
GK: They are listed here.
Q: What is your “Conclusion” ?
GK: I consider Genesis and the Ascension in tracing the concept of God who creates and then “gets out of the way,” providing space for human beings, while also reshaping God’s supportive presence. Mission involves following this pattern of God, who creates, gets out of the way, and assures. I point out that in the previous chapters mission and church, theology and practice, worship and ministry have all interwoven over the years, and give three answers to the question “Why write?” I end with my poem, “The Prayer Stool,” which involves delving deeply into God and being sent out by God into his world.
Q: What is your next book?
GK: With Ian Randall I have edited Exchange of Gifts: The Vision of Simon Barrington-Ward (Ekklesia, 2022). Simon was General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and Bishop of Coventry. He lectured in Berlin, Ibadan, and Cambridge, where he was Dean of Chapel at Magdalene College. He died in 2020 full of years and full of faith. He was an historian, theologian of mission, pastor, visionary, and spiritual father to many throughout his life. I miss him deeply.
Q: Many thanks for answering these questions.
GK: A pleasure. I have one question for you.
Q: Oh. What is that?
GK: Why are you called Q?
Q: If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.
GK: OK. I’d rather not know.