By Andrew Picard
Integrative Theology as Mission
At Carey, we seek to serve the church by serving the gospel. Our approach to theology integrates insights from God’s Word, God’s world, and God’s work to produce more robust accounts of God’s mission and the realities we seek to understand. The church is a creature of God’s Word; it is called into being and sustained in its life by God’s Word. As a creature of the Word, the church must give constant and patient attention to the Word. There is simply nowhere else for the church to begin but in the school of the gospel, where God addresses us with God’s Word that both slays and makes alive. Yet God’s action is not contained within the church; it extends out into the world that God loves. Theology can never domesticate God’s redemptive action as God is often at work in the most surprising people and places. We’re called to open ourselves up to exploring God’s world in search of comprehending more of the shape that God’s redemptive purposes take within it. This requires faithful and humble engagement with a range of people and knowledge sources because our isolated interpretation of God’s redemptive actions in the world is limited and marred by human sin. Easter reminds us that God’s other name is ‘surprise’ and God’s actions do not politely adhere to our assumptions. It is through the gift of living in community with others that God often enables us to comprehend a little more of the unfathomable riches of God’s redemptive plan for all creation. We seek after God’s action in the world not merely to comprehend, but to participate in God’s redemptive work. In the power of the Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus Christ goes ahead of the church and testifies to the Father and the Father’s purposes to redeem and perfect creation. He alone is the true and faithful witness. Yet, the Spirit enables the church to participate in Christ’s ministry as witnesses to the true and faithful Witness. The church participates in God’s work in God’s world, and the shape of that work is determined by the Word and the Spirit. The church is called not merely to know the gospel, but to perform it, too, through its cruciform discipleship that the Spirit empowers.
Theology not only seeks to know things; it seeks to do things too. We seek to understand God and all things in God for the sake of more faithful participation in God’s mission. At Carey, we believe that we can best serve the church’s service of the gospel by integrating insights from God’s Word, God’s world, and God’s work. This requires rigorous engagement with biblical and theological sources coupled with insights from other relevant knowledge sources about our contexts, and critical reflection on the church’s praxis. As we have grown into this integrative vision, we, often inspired by our students, have begun to reform existing courses as well as developing new courses. In our postgraduate programme, we have revised our curriculum to try to support and equip leaders and churches for more faithful Christian engagement in the world. In Kingdom Economics, we examine God’s Word along with economics to shape imaginations for faithful, just, and creative Christian economic practices for today. In Discipleship and Gospel Transformation, we examine God’s Word for a fuller comprehension of the gospel and the shapes that faithful gospel ministry and mission might take today. In Intercultural Bible Reading, we learn to read scripture in and through intercultural encounters in order that our comprehension of God’s Word is expanded and we are better equipped to serve in a multicultural world. In Theology, Race, and Church we think biblically and theologically about contemporary issues of racism, and the church’s contribution to them, and seek to develop forms of anti-racist discipleship. In our Research Methods course, we explore how we can integrate biblical and theological knowledges with other knowledge sources to develop more faithful forms of ministry and mission today.
This work is not solely the work of staff. Our students often lead us forward as a college to explore the extensive possibilities of integrative theology. Students are developing a range of fascinating research projects on topics like indigenous Christian neighbourhood-led development; Christlike conflict resolution in the church; the experience of young Christians with depression; the Spirit’s action at the cross and implications for Christian suffering; a missional interpretation of demographic changes in Aotearoa and their implications for Baptist churches; and biblical accounts of land repatriation and their implications for Aotearoa today. At the heart of our approach to integrative theology is an abiding desire and commitment to form ourselves and our students as faithful servants of God and God’s gospel in the world. Integrative theology is mission.