Interview With Mattersey Hall's Principal: Dr. John Andrews (Part Two)
Mattersey Hall recently appointed Dr. John Andrews as its new principal. Now that the first term of the academic year is well underway, we thought it a good idea to sit down with Dr. Andrews and discuss what's on his heart for Mattersey Hall, and what the college's future might look like under his leadership. This is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Andrews. You can read part one here.
What are some of the cultural challenges you think Mattersey Hall will have to negotiate and adapt to over the next few years, both in the Christian and secular spheres?
I think that even within the church we’re seeing changes in culture, changes in mentality, attitude and behaviour, that present challenges on how we teach the Bible. There will always be a place for teaching the Bible. The first waves of Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, and I think that is one of our markers and mandates. I think the challenge is how we teach the Bible, how we equip people, how we engage them with love for the Bible, and how we make the Bible -- an ancient text that seems to have so many absolutes and ambiguities all wrapped up together -- how we make that attractive to an almost ‘post-postmodern’ culture that’s changing constantly, and that’s within our churches. So for me, the great challenges related to the Bible are awareness, literacy, understanding and practice.
When students come here, in my first year of lectures I often ask them a little anecdotal question: how many people have read the Bible the whole way through? Or read the New Testament? So I’m looking for how many people at Bible college have read all sixty-six books of the Bible at some point in their lives. By and large, over the last six or seven years, what I am discovering is that the simple process of reading the Bible -- if our students coming in are an indicator -- is quite low. Of course, if we are not reading the Bible, then our biblical literacy is low, and our ability to translate ancient truth into a modern context... we lose the power to do that. I think one of my great concerns is -- if I can say this -- that we’re almost returning to a pre-Reformation stance in some places around the world, where all the expertise comes from the front, and the danger is that people are turning up for forty-five minutes of teaching from an expert and not really engaging, not really being taught how to engage, with the Bible in a relevant way in the twenty-first century. If that’s happening, it’s almost like we’re coming to hear the priest tell us what to do instead of delving into the Word of God itself.
I really do think our attitude about how we engage with the Bible is crucial to a Christian community negotiating some of the massive cultural shifts around us. At a broad level and without getting into the specifics, I think that Britain is becoming increasingly secularised. This presents certain challenges concerning our attitude toward religion in general and Christianity in particular, and I think one of the great challenges ahead for us is how we negotiate a society that just sees the Christian voice as one voice among many -- no more important than other voices, and maybe no less important than other voices too. We need to negotiate that in a changing world without building ourselves into a ghetto, raising the placard and defending truth whilst at the same time losing the world.
At a missional level, and a discipleship level, there are huge challenges to reaching our society, and I think that again Bible colleges have got to be at the forefront of helping negotiate some of those questions in working with local churches. What are the big questions that need to be answered -- not the questions that we think need to be answered. And how can we as a college help our local churches answer those questions, and how can we equip people to engage with their world as well as with a changing church.
There are no easy answers, and I think that one of the challenges is that people are constantly looking for tidy, absolute answers to every question. But how do we get our truth to our world when it doesn’t start at the same point as we start, and that views truth in a completely different way? I think it’s then equipping people to live with the ambiguity and the tension and not to be sidetracked by the black or the white. Actually, there’s great challenge in the grey. If we could equip a generation of leaders that are absolutely secure in truth but comfortable with grey, then I think we have an opportunity to build bridges into a world that will always need to hear the message of the gospel.
What do you think are some of the personal challenges that will go along with being the principal of Mattersey Hall?
A great question! I suppose at a personal level, my family and I are living in the closest thing that we would describe in Pentecostalism as a ‘manse’. We’ve never had that experience before: we owned our own home in all three ministry contexts we’ve been in previously. So this is the first experience of living in a manse, and so close to the ministry context that you’re actually a part of it at a physical level. The college have been brilliant and campus is brilliant, and there are physical designs that help create a little bit of separation too. Dawn and I are very comfortable with our privacy, and we try to protect our privacy whilst also opening up our home to ministry and fellowship. We’ve worked that tension well over the years and are relaxed with it. I suppose it’ll be interesting for our kids, and how they negotiate their own world with a world that looks a little bit like a ‘goldfish bowl’ to them because they’re constantly there! Beth-Anne’s loving it, and she’s already getting to know many of the girls here. Our challenge for Beth-Anne will be keeping her off the campus because she loves it!
I suppose the greatest challenge is trying to model authentic, Christian community and values in what is essentially artificial community. I think if we could break down the institutional feel of the college and build a community feel that would be good. So tomorrow I’m speaking to the students on the subject of ‘ownership’, and one of the tag-lines I’ll be giving them is, ‘you haven’t come to college, you’ve come to community’. It’s not like they’ve turned up to university -- this is community. But of course, that’s a journey. Mattersey Hall is college, but we want the education to be rooted in a powerful community context, because that’s part of growing and learning. So I suppose the greatest challenge is, how do you create authentic community, work out what is essentially local church values, in a context that’s not really authentic community and that’s not really a local church either? I think that how you do that in a way that doesn’t become prescriptive and overbearing will be one of the great internal challenges for us, and we’re not willing to ignore the challenges!