Monday, 16 April 2012

Kelham Theology - Curriculum - The will of God in the World


Kelham Hall had interesting teaching methods

But even more interesting, and much more important, than the methods was the matter: the curriculum.


Fr Herbert Kelly wanted Kelham not to teach theology as a subject, but to teach everything through theology - in principle everything including soccer (which was played to a high level at the college).

But this means a different way of doing theology than prevailed in that era.


Kelly asked "What does God do?" and would not accept the answer that God does "everything" in general because that (for most people) means that God does nothing in particular, and therefore can be ignored.

His answer was that what God does is History.

But not history as taught in the universities nor as practised by secular historians: Kelly meant a history which aims to discover the workings of God.


Theology taught via the history of the Church seen in terms of the operation of the Holy Spirit was, then, the first and main focus of Kelham teaching.

First, because Kelly believed that the first adult intellectual discipline we master, also masters us - so it is vital that the first intellectual discipline is the most important. 


History as the Will of God in the World.  And seen in terms of large general movements, since "God's will is always primarily the universal will'.


But why history?

Because "We do not know what God is doing, and still less what he is going to do, for these things God keeps in his own hands. He does not allow us to know what he has done. There is first the revelation  of himself in the Gospel, and then the revelation of this power in history".


The aim, then, was to find the Holy Spirit at work - but not in our own lives, since that would encourage self-centredness.

But to seek the Holy Spirit at work in the broad sweep and great movements of history, which might be studied with greater objectivity.


The Bible (naturally being another major focus of study) was thus seen as a record of what God has done - the mystery of God's will.


Alistair Mason concludes that: the stress on God's real power in history is Kelham's own.

The special nature of Kelham's (and Kelly's) achievement was that it did not remain merely theoretical, a matter of an unrealised educational ideal, but was practised for several decades with undeniable effectiveness and success.


The best example of something that seems like Kelham Theology from my own experience is Charles William's book The Descent of the Dove - which is precisely described as the operations of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Church, seen from the perspective of the Church of England.

Was Charles Williams therefore influenced by Herbert Kelly in his greatest theological work?

Probably, I would guess - but perhaps not directly; maybe through the shared lineage of FD Maurice and George MacDonald.

And it may be necessary to add for a modern audience, that the study of history as the will of God in the World necessarily includes the operations of those personalised and purposive wills which which oppose the will of God - whether conceptualised as Satan, devils, demons, a malign force or whatever...