Happy Birthday Paul Fiddes (from Ed Kaneen)

My experience of Prof Paul S. Fiddes is primarily as Principal of Regent's Park College during my ministerial training. Although there was, rightly, immense pride in the College for all Paul's theological achievements, what has always struck me has been his humanity - his kindness, his compassion, and his grace. In his dealings with us as students, he managed to communicate an enthusiasm for theology and ministry. Or to put it another way, an inspiring enthusiasm for God and his people. The book which combines these for me is Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity (DLT, 2000) which seeks to answer so many of the questions which most of us, as ministers, shy away from, but which truly get to the heart of the relationship between God, his people, and his world. One quotation is never enough, but the following seems to me characteristic of Paul as pastor, preacher, reader, and creative theologian, who, out of the reality of life, still finds God through faith.

But I must end with the same word of caution with which I began this chapter. There can be no complete theodicy. There can be no completely rational defence of God in a world of pain. If there could be, it would justify suffering on the one hand, and destroy faith on the other. In argument we may talk of the risk that God took in creation, and the way God shares that risk in suffering. Rational theodicy is thus not divorced from practical theodicy: they are both connected with a suffering that 'befalls' God or 'happens' to God. But it still remains open to decide whether God's creative decision that set all this off is worth the cost.

In Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters (Ivan) ask the question: 'Is the whole universe worth the tears of one tortured child?' He has in mind the story of a rich landowner who threw a peasant child to his hunting dogs to be torn apart because the child had thrown a stone and broken a dog's leg. Is it all worth the tears of one child, let alone the millions in Auschwitz? Even if God suffers, is it worth it? Ivan thinks not, and says that he is 'returning his entrance ticket to God with the polite observation that the price was too steep'.

The belief that God suffers with us may help us to say that the making of persons is worth all the tears. But only faith can answer the question, 'is it worth it?' after all reasonable arguments have fallen silent. (pp.186-7)

Ed Kaneen is a Baptist minister, who is currently completing a PhD in New Testament at Durham University, and will become the Tutor in the Biblical Studies at South Wales Baptist College in September 2012.

Happy Birthday Paul Fiddes! 65 today

When it comes to Paul Fiddes this facebook conversation from December 2011 is probably spot on:

The problem with studying at Regent's Park is the repeated realisation "anything you can do, Fiddes has done better"!

(Student Baptist minister)

'That's my whole career in eight words.'

(British Baptist theologian)

'Too true. I've likened it to hacking through the jungle, every so often you reach a clearing and think to yourself that you have made a contribution. Then, just as you are ready to move on you spot an empty wine bottle with a note in the top. You open the note to discover it reads "visited here in 1995 - regards Paul".'

(British Baptist minister)

Paul Fiddes is perhaps what many of us think a theologian should look like. FiddesPaul has the same look that Colin Gunton had (beard, no moustache), which perhaps should become the non-conformist theological trademark (come on Steve Holmes, I dare you!). Paul also shares the commitment Colin had to the local church and their wider bodies (Baptist and URC respectively). I note their similarities (although their theologies were quite different) because for us nonconformists we don't have many of the like of Fiddes and Gunton.

It doesn't happen often, not even in every generation, but sometimes the church is gifted by God with someone with immense theological wisdom and ability to grasp the historical tradition of the church, and in Paul's case, the skill to relate and connect it all to the issues of and questions of contemporary culture. For us Baptists, at least in the UK, Paul Fiddes is the theological voice, at whose feet we listen.

Today is Professor Paul Fiddes' sixty-fifth birthday. Here's a quote from an essay on Baptist identity:

I have stood with fellow Baptists at a service in Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay, Jamaica, a place named in memory of the Baptist deacon and slave who was executed for his protest against the British slave system. I have prayed with fellow Baptists by the side of the Han river in Seoul, Korea, and witnessed several thousand young people being baptized - not in a media spectacle, but each one greeted personally by his or her pastor. I have lectured with fellow Baptists in the University of Timisoare, Romania, near the square where more than fifty young people were killed in the revolution of 1989 as they demonstrated for freedom, shouting 'God exists'. I have talked with Portuguese Baptists in Lisbon, where the great earthquake of 1755 is still remembered as the event which shook people's faith in a good creator, and destroyed a whole system of natural theology. I have shared in a Sunday morning service in the black township of Tembisa near Johannesburg where the previous night Zulu Inkata terrorists had massacred nearly a hundred people, and I have experienced Zulu and Chosa Baptists worshipping together in acceptance of each other. I have sat with Baptists in Cuba, listening to the way that they understand mission in their neighbourhood, led by a pastor who was serving as a Deputy in the government of Fidel Castro, and suffering rejection by fellow Christians because of this involvement in politics. I have received hospitality from Baptists in Myanmar, and admired the way that their ethnic groups express their faith, and their hopes for a common society, through their different styles of song and dance. Through these experiences, my thinking has been shaped in a way that would not have been possible without a shared identity as Baptists.

Identity, I suggest, is more about identification than about being identical. It is an identification which is not a mere human effort, but is enabled by that identification of God with humanity that we call incarnation ... I want to make clear that my appeal to the act of identifying does not conform the church to the secular model of a voluntary society, though there will always be something intentional about it; nor am I ignoring the truth that we share a common identity as members of the body of Christ through baptism. However, a theology of identification will be bound to envisage visible unity as covenantal at heart, rather than (say) a recovery of any particular structure of episcopal oversight which has precedent in history ... It is not that we share an already-existing identity through establishing a common list of agreed items, but we willingly identify ourselves with others who want to make or keep covenant with us because they catch an echo of their story in us.

('The Question of Identity' in Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology, Paternoster, 2003, pp15-16)

a portrait of Paul Fiddes

DSCN9008 Last night the portrait of Paul Fiddes, Principal of Regent's Park College (1989-2007) was unveiled by Rex Mason (a previous senior tutor in Old Testament at the college). Guests we gathered from the Oxford theology faculty (Chris Rowland, John Barton, Robert Morgan), the Faith and Unity department of the Baptist Union (Graham Sparkes, Wale Hudson-Roberts) and others to be present for this special formal hall. Paul's is the only portrait in Regent's where you can see a window onto the college quad. 

Earlier in the week I was at the Faith & Unity Executive in Manchester and had the great joy of giving Paul a lift up there and back.  Amongst our conversation he told me about his current projects. Over the next few years we can look forward to - an expanded version of his 2005 Bampton Lectures on wisdom; a commentary on Romans (in the Blackwell Bible Commentaries series); a book on theology and Shakespeare; and finally a systematic theology that interacts with literature, building on previous work (The Promised End) and a statement of which can be found in an article in IJST 11. 1 (January 2009).

British Baptist Theologians No. 2: Paul S. Fiddes

FiddesPaul200 DPhil - Oxford (1976)

 Research Fellow, Regent's Park College (1972-1989)
 Principal of Regent's Park College, Oxford (1989-2007)
 Professor of Systematic Theology, Oxford (2002) 
 Director of Research, Regent's Park College, Oxford (2007-)

 2005 Bampton Lectures - Seeing the world and knowing God: ancient wisdom and modern doctrine.
 2008 Holley-Hull Lectures, Samford University
 2009 Nordenhaug Lectures, International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague 

Chair of the Baptist World Alliance Commission on Doctrine and Inter-church Cooperation (2000-2010)
Co-Chair of the Anglican Communion-Baptist World Alliance International Conversations (2000-2005)
Co-chair of the Baptist World Alliance-Roman Catholic Church Conversations (2006-2010)

Selected Publications

___ Charismatic Renewal: A Baptist View (1980)
___ 'The Signs of Hope' in A Call To Mind: Baptist Essays Towards a Theology of Commitment (Baptist Union, 1981)
___ 'God and History', Baptist Quarterly 30 (1983), 85-88
___ 'The Theology of the Charismatic Movement' in Strange Gifts? A Guide to Charismatic Renewal, pp.19-40, (eds.) D. Martin and P. Mullen (Oxford, 1984)
___ A Leading Question: The Structure and Authority of Leadership in the Local Church (Baptist Union, 1984)
___ 'Covenant - Old and New' in Bound to Love: The Covenant Basis of Baptist Life and Mission (Baptist Union, 1985), 9-23
___ 'Woman's Head is Man': A Doctrinal Reflection upon a Pauline Theme', Baptist Quarterly 31:370-383 (1986)
___ The Creative Suffering of God (Clarendon Press, 1988)
___ 'C. S. Lewis the Myth-Maker' in Rumours of Heaven: Essays in Celebration of C. S. Lewis (eds.) J. Patrick and A. Walker (Eagle Publishing, 1988)
___ Past and Present Salvation: The Christian Idea of Atonement (DLT, 1989)
___ 'The Status of Women in the Thought of Karl Barth' in J. Soskice (ed.), After Eve, (Marshall Pickering, 1990), pp.138-55.
___ Freedom and Limit: A Dialogue between Literature and Christian Doctrine (Mercer University Press, 1991 [2000])
___ "The Cross of Hosea Revisited: The Meaning of Suffering in the Book of Hosea," Review & Expositor 90 (Spring 1993), pp.175-190.
___ 'Divine Suffering' and 'Process Theology' in A. E. McGrath and D. B Forrester (eds.), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought (Blackwell Publishing, 1995)
___ (ed.) Reflections on the Water. Understanding God and the World through the Baptism of Believers (Regent's Study Guides 4; Smyth & Helwys, 1996)
___ '"Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?": Job 28 as a Riddle for Ancient and Modern Readers' in J. Barton and D. J. Reimer (eds.), After the Exile: Essays in Honour of Rex Mason (Mercer University Press, 1996)
___ 'Regent's Park College, Oxford', American Baptist Quarterly 18.2 (June 1999), 106-17
___ The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Blackwell, 2000)
___ Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity (DLT, 2000)
___ (ed.) The novel, spirituality and modern culture, Religion, Culture and Society (University of Wales Press, 2000)
___ 'Facing the End: The Apocalyptic Experience in Some Modern Novels' in John Colwell (ed.), Called To One Hope: Perspectives on the Life to Come (Paternoster, 2000)
___ 'Story and Possibility: Reflections on the Last Scenes of the Fourth Gospel and Shakespeare's The Tempest' in H. Sauter and J. Barton (eds.), Revelation and Story: Narrative Theology and the Centrality of Story (Ashgate, 2000)
___ (ed.) Doing Theology in Baptist Way (Whitley, 2000)
___ (ed.) Faith in the Centre: Christianity and Culture (Regent's Study Guides 9; Smyth and Helwys, 2001)
___ 'The Story and the Stories: Revelation and the Challenge of Postmodern Culture' in P. Fiddes (ed.), Faith in the Centre (Smyth and Helwys, 2001)
___ 'Creation out of Love' in J. Polkinghorne (ed.), The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis (Eerdmans, 2001)
___ 'Millenium and Utopia: Images of a Fuller Presence' in C. Rowland and J. Barton (eds.), Apocalyptic in History and Tradition (Sheffield Academic Press, 2002)
___ 'Baptism and the Process of Christian Initiation' in Ecumenical Review 54.1 (2002), pp.49-65
___ 'Baptism and the Process of Christian Initiation' in S. E. Porter and A. R. Cross (eds.), Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp.280-303.
___ 'The quest for a place which is not-a-place: the hiddeness of God and the presence of God' in Silence and the Word: Negative Theology and Incarnation, (eds.) O. Davies and D. Turner (CUP, 2002), pp.35-60
___ Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in church and Theology, Studies in Baptist History and Thought Vol 13 (Paternoster, 2003)
___ 'The Canon as Space and Place' in John Barton and Michael Wolter (eds.), The Unity of Scripture and the Diversity of the Canon (Walter de Gruyter, 2003), pp.126-149
___ 'Baptism and Membership of the Body of Christ. A Theological and Ecumenical Conundrum' in Lena Lybæk et al (eds.), Gemeinschaft der Kirchen und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung: die Würde des Anderen und das Recht anders zu denken; Festschrift für Professor Dr. Erich Geldbach (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2004)
___ (ed. with A. Clarke) Flickering Images: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Regent's Study Guides 12; Smyth and Helwys, 2005)
___ 'When Text Becomes Voice: You've Got Mail' in P. S. Fiddes and A. Clarke (eds.), Flickering Images (Smyth and Helwys, 2005), pp.97-112
___ 'Baptist Ecclesiology: A Respone to David Carter's Article Review of Tracks and Traces', Ecclesiology 1 (2005) 87-100
___ 'On God the Incomparable: thinking about God with John Macquarrie' in Robert Morgan (ed.), In Search of Humanity and Deity: A Celebration of John Macquarrie's Theology (SCM , 2006), pp.179-199.
___ 'Participating in the Trinity', Perspectives in Religious Studies 33.3 (2006), 361-373
___ 'The Place of Christian Theology in the Modern University', Baptist Quarterly 42 (April, 2007)
___ 'Salvation' in J. Webster, K. Tanner and I. Torrance (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford, 2007)
___ 'The Passion Story in Literature' in A. Hass, D. Jasper and E. Jay (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology (Oxford, 2007), pp.742-759
__ (ed.) Under the Rule of Christ: Dimensions of Baptist Spirituality. Regent's Study Guides 14 (Smyth and Helwys, 2008)
___ 'Spirituality as Attentiveness: Stillness and Journey' in Under the Rule of Christ (Smyth and Helwys, 2008)
___ 'Baptism of Believers' in Thomas F. Best (ed.) Baptism Today: Understanding, Practice, Ecumenical Implications (Liturgical Press, 2008)
___ 'Baptists and Receptive Ecumenism', Louvain Studies 33 (2008), 54-75.
___ 'Ex Opere Operato: Rethinking a Historic Baptist Rejection' in Baptist Sacramentalism 2, (eds.) A. R. Cross and P. E. Thompson (Paternoster, 2008), 219-238.
___ 'Christianity, Culture and Education: A Baptist Perspective' in The Scholarly Vocation and the Baptist Academy: Essays on the Future of Baptist Higher Education, (eds.) R. Ward & D. Gushee (Mercer, 2008)
___ 'Concept, Image and Story in Systematic Theology', International Journal of Systematic Theology 11.1 (2009)
___ 'G. M. Hopkins' in The Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature, (eds.) R. Lemon, C. Rowland (Blackwell, 2009)
___ 'Something will come of nothing: on A Theology of the Dark Side' in Pieter J. Lalleman (ed.), Challenging to Change: dialogues with a radical baptist theologian. Essays presented to Dr Nigel G. Wright on his sixtieth birthday (Spurgeon's College, 2009)
___ 'Daniel Turner and a Theology of the Church Universal' in John H. Y. Briggs (ed.), Pulpit and People: Studies in Eighteenth Century Baptist Life and Thought (Paternoster, 2009), 112-127
___ 'The Body as Site of Continuity and Change' in Pamela Sue Anderson (ed.), New Topics in Feminist Philosophy of Religion: Contestations and Transcendance Incarnate (Springer-Verlag New York Inc., 2009)
___ 'Church and Sect: Cross-currents in Early Baptist Life' in A. R. Cross and N. J. Wood (eds.), Exploring Baptist Origins (Regent's Park College, 2010)
___ 'On Theology' in R. MacSwain and M. Ward (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (Cambridge, 2010)
___ 'Ambiguities of the Future: Theological Hints in the Novels of Patrick White', Pacifica 23.3 (2010)
___ 'Dual Citizenship in Athens and Jerusalem: The Place of the Christian Scholar in the Life of the Church' in A. R. Cross and R. Gouldbourne (eds.), Questions of Identity: Essays in honour of Brian Haymes (Regent's Park College, 2011)
___ 'Christian Doctrine and Free Church Eccleisology: Recent Developments among Baptists in the Southern United States', Ecclesiology 7.2 (2011)
___ 'The Sublime and the Beautiful: Intersections Between Theology and Literature' in Heather Walton (ed.), Literature and Theology: New Interdisciplinary Spaces (Ashgate, 2011)
___ 'Prophecy, Corporate Personality, and Suffering: Some Themes and Methods in Baptist Old Testament Scholarship' in Helen Dare and Simon Woodman (eds.), The "Plainly Revealed" Word of God? Baptist Hermeneutics in Theory and Practice (Mercer, 2011)
___ 'Not anarchy but covenant: a nonconformist response to Matthew Arnold's view of religion and culture' in Mike Higton, Jeremy Law and Christopher Rowland (eds.), Theology and Human Flourishing: Essays in Honor of Timothy J. Gorringe (Cascade, 2011)
___ 'The Root of Religious Freedom: Interpreting Some Muslim and Christian Sacred Texts', Oxford Journal of Law and Religion (2012)
___ 'Ecclesiology and Ethnography: Two Disciplines, Two Worlds?' in Pete Ward (ed.), Perpsectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography (Eerdmans, 2012)
___ 'Patterns of hope and images of eternity: listening to Shakespeare, Blake and T.S. Eliot' in Trevor Hart, Jeremy Begbie and Gavin Hopps (eds.), Art, Imagination and Christian Hope (Ashgate, 2012)
___ 'Ancient and Modern Wisdom: The Intersection of Clinical and Theological Understanding of Health' in Stephen Finamore and John Weaver (eds.), Wisdom, Science and the Scriptures: Essays in Honour of Ernest Lucas (Centre for Baptist History and Heritage and Bristol Baptist College, 2012) 
___ 'Suffering' in Nicholas Adams, Graham Ward and George Pattison (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Theology and Modern European Thought (Oxford, 2013)
___ 'Baptists and 1662: the Effect of the Act of Uniformity on Baptists and its Ecumenical Significance for Baptists Today', Ecclesiology 9.2 (2013)
___'"For the Dance all Things Were Made": The Great Dance in C.S. Lewis' Perelandra' in Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe (eds.), C. S. Lewis's Perelandra : Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos (Kent State University Press, 2013)
___ with Günter Badder, 'Whatever Happened to a Pauline Text? 2 Corinthians 3.6 and its Afterlife' in Günter Badder and Paul S. Fiddes (eds.), The Spirit and the Letter: A Tradition and a Reversal (T & T Clark, 2013)
___ 'The Late-Modern Reversal of Spirit and Letter: Derrida, Augustine and Film' in Günter Badder and Paul S. Fiddes (eds.), The Spirit and the Letter: A Tradition and a Reversal (T & T Clark, 2013)
___ Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context (Oxford, 2013)
___ 'Relational Trinity: Radical Perspective' in Jason Sexton (ed.), Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, 2014)
___ with Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd, Baptists and the Communion of Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples (Baylor, 2014)
__ 'Wisdom and Spirit: The Loss and Re-making of Relationship', Perspectives in Religious Studies 41.2 (Summer 2014)
__ 'The Church Local and Universal: Catholic and Baptist Perspectives on Koinonia Ecclesiology' in Derek Tidball, Brian Harries and Jason Sexton (eds.), Revisioning, Renewing, Rediscovering the Triune Center: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. Grenz (Cascade, 2014)