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Struggling with prayer as a theology student?

Studying theology in a secular, university environment can be of real benefit to our devotional life as Christians, but it can also cause real struggles at times. One of the biggest dangers is that we allow our understanding of God’s character to become twisted by our studies in such a way that it negatively affects our communion with Him in prayer. If Archbishop William Temple was right in saying that “Religion is what you do with your solitude” then we need to guard our prayer life at all costs since it is the unseen foundation of our faith.

Most of our difficulties with prayer can be traced back to deficient or wrong views on the doctrine of God. For example, a Christian, having been exposed to the teaching of the New Atheist movement, may begin to doubt that God lovingly cares for her and will lack assurance, faith and tenderness in her prayer life. The solution may come in many forms. Perhaps a reminder of the enduring love between the persons of the Trinity? Or a refreshed knowledge of God’s absolute commitment to His people in sending Christ as substitute? As Keller reminds us, “The reason we know God will answer our prayers is because of that one terrible day when He did not answer Jesus’ prayer”. We will soon find that the depths of God’s character are sufficient to dispel all our misplaced fears as we approach Him in prayer.

It is vital therefore that as Christian theologians we commit both to defending a biblical view of the doctrine of God and, more importantly, commit to developing our own intimate prayer life. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man is “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever”. Let us not be theologians that only read about God but miss out on enjoying Him ourselves!

Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern in Edinburgh 2014/15

Theology Networks and CU Missions

It’s coming up for the time of year when Christian Unions across the UK run mission weeks – five days of intensive evangelism and events explaining the gospel of Jesus to university students. Since Theology Networks are CU groups, this means that when the CU runs a mission week, we are part of that mission!

Now obviously as Theology Network we are always looking to share the gospel of Jesus with our departments (and anyone else really…!) but here are a few ways specifically for Theology Network to get involved in the wider CU mission.

Run Theology Network events.

If you haven’t already, why not run an event during mission week specifically for Theology students? A couple of possible talk titles would be “Can you be an academic theologian and have faith?” or “Do theologians need Jesus?” – anything to provoke a discussion about what it means to have personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Do lecture shout-outs.

Help the wider CU advertise for their main events by flyering your lecture rooms and by doing lecture shout-outs. All it takes is a thirty second announcement inviting your course-mates along to the events. Just think – no one else has access to so many theology students except you guys!

Serve the CU with what you have learnt.

As theology students you will probably have a better understanding of how to answer peoples’ questions about the bible than the rest of CU – simply because that is a big part of your course. Make yourself available to the CU by being around when questions will be asked the most, for example at lunchbar Q and A sessions or during questionnaires. But you don’t know everything, so don’t act like it!

Invite your friends.

Invite anyone and everyone to the events during mission week – housemates, coursemates and friends from your societies. You might even want to consider inviting them for dinner before some of the evening events so that they don’t feel awkward about coming along.

Get involved in everything.

Theologians sometimes have a nasty habit of thinking too much and doing too little! Sign up for helping out with some practical jobs like setting up venues or flyering on the streets. You are a slave of Christ – act like it!

Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern in Edinburgh 2014/15

He took to Himself a body

The great Athanasius on Christmas:

The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

Read the whole thing

Martin Hengel on the Reliability of the Gospels

What’s going on with Theology Network…?

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Forum

The term for Theology Network (TN) really started with a bang! At Forum, UCCF’s student leaders’ training conference, TN had a real presence – a giant banner on the front of the main marquee and at the TN stall in the exhibition space, many gimmicks were employed to encourage students to get involved.

Theologians are the coolest…

There were large turnouts at the events specifically for theology students, and real interest in getting new groups going or rejuvenating old ones in places such as Bristol, Exeter, Oxford, Cardiff and Durham. The stronger presence at Forum has really made a significant difference to the ministry of TN across Britain. In general, students are better aware of what TN is and what it’s trying to achieve, and there’s a real encouragement among the students involved about being part of something bigger and national.

Groups

Since Forum there has been real progress with TN groups across the country, with strong groups running really helpful programmes in many universities up and down Britain.

York St John’s first TN meet

Aberdeen, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Nottingham and York St John have all been doing particularly well. Many groups at their first few meetings had many more students than they were expecting. At the Durham TN freshers’ event, 30 students who had come along to hear a graduate speak on ‘Mistakes to avoid as a Christian studying theology’ had to share just four pizzas between them! Group leader Owen said, ‘Many non-Christians turned up too, knowing full well what TN was. It was a very positive evening.’ At Cambridge, former TN group leader, Jamie Klair, commented:

We are seriously blessed in Cambridge. Half the fresher theologians came to our event, heard about TN and the lecture series, ate scones, and got a free ESV Bible. Please pray that the lecture series is well attended. Thank you for all your support.

Work with theology students across London has also moved forward significantly, with the move of TN Associate, Tom Creedy, from Nottingham to Central London and the help of former St Andrews TN leader, Connie Keep (now UCCF Staff Worker in Central London). Tom has facilitated the re-launch of the King’s College London TN group recently, and is meeting one-to-one with students from Roehampton University and Heythrop College.

Introducing…

TN has been joined by a Relay Worker in Edinburgh this year. Relay is UCCF’s ten-month discipleship programme which gives recent graduates the chance to work alongside a CU and be discipled by a Staff Worker. Josh Oldfield is particularly working alongside Edinburgh CU’s theology students. Please pray for him, and all the TN staff, as they build relationships with the CUs and seek to build up Christian theology students.

Josh thinking about theology…

Uncover John

UCCF’s next gospel project, Uncover John, was launched at Forum. Uncover John consists of six seeker Bible studies in John’s Gospel designed to be used by Christian students on a one-to-one basis to introduce their friends to the person of Jesus. In order to encourage and equip theology students to make use of this resource, Edinburgh PhD student, Josh Coutts, has produced six companion studies for TN groups. These will equip Christian students with an understanding of the theological and historical issues in each of the Uncover John passages, and embolden them to step out in faith and read John’s Gospel with their non-Christian coursemates. Please pray for them as they do that!

 

Words for Life

Each year, UCCF runs a number of preachers’ training weekends known as Biblical Evangelism Conferences or Words for Life. Students are invited to attend and deliver an evangelistic talk to a small group on a given Bible passage, and then receive thorough feedback. These are ideal opportunities for theology students to test out gifts and calling to ministry, so please pray that we will be able to encourage students to come, and that God will place a sense of calling to serve the church in future ministry in many hearts.

Outreach

The Edinburgh TN group leaders have recently realised how unscary it can be to run an evangelistic event in a theology department. On 4 November they ran an event specifically aimed at freshers, on the topic: ‘Can an academic theologian have personal faith in Jesus?’ Josh Oldfield spoke about the nature of Christian faith and evidence for the historical Jesus. Around 20 first-year students with no previous connection to the Christian Union came along, many of them non-Christians. Lots of good conversations were had afterwards, and the group leaders, Ian and Rachel, are now emboldened to go bigger and better for Christmas.

Christmas is always a really opportune time to run overtly evangelistic events in theology departments! A number of the groups will be offering mulled wine and mince pies to entice students to hear guest speakers. For example, the group at Nottingham have an event on 3 December called ‘Christmas: The Promised Presence of a Seemingly Absent God’. The hope is that these events will dovetail with Christian Union carol services and encourage non-Christian theology students along to what are some of the CUs’ biggest evangelistic events. Please pray for all the groups – for creative ideas, for boldness, and the work of the Spirit in hearts.

This first appeared in Friends of Theology Network – a free, termly newsletter for supporters of this work. To sign up to receive this go to: http://www.uccf.org.uk/supporter/sign-up/cu-friends