Report from Oxford

John C. Rankin (8 September 2017)

Thank you to all TEI supporters who have given support beyond the bare bones TEI budget to help me complete my M.Phil. and Ph.D. on A Theology of Political Freedom, here at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS). I am presently writing the first draft of the dissertation, and it is going very well. But there are many standards to satisfy in the process, and I will know better my progress sometime in October. And I still have a large tuition bill to pay this month, and as the Lord leads you to help, I am most grateful (teidonate.org).

In 1982 my calling to ministry was unexpected. I was studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, working full-time and supporting a growing family. I was aiming for some sort of engagement with the culture in the Name of Jesus, but not knowing what is was as I started in 1978 with the M.Div. degree for ordained ministry. I was able thus to cram a three-year degree into six.

Then the Lord made it suprisingly clear one day, with a vision “to see theologically educated people in politics.” An oxymoron to me, yet the Lord encouraged me to grow my faith in order to grasp the vision. And I have been set at the task now for 35 years in the face of many trials, spiritual opposition, the Lord’s ever encouraging presence, and confirmation through the fruit of the ministry. Part of this included doing a Th.M. in ethics and public policy at Harvard Divinity School. With the completion of the Ph.D., I arrive at real starting point later this autumn.

OCMS is a remarkable school. It was invited to become a proper part of Oxford University in the 1980s, but its unique mission did not allow that to happen. Students at Oxford and Cambridge are required by U.K. law to be full-time residents (30 weeks a year). But OCMS is training leaders from around the world across a large range of disciplines, so as to be effectiive salt and light in a corrupt and dark work, to be agents of individual and cultural transformation in the Name of Jesus. The largest number are from the two-thirds world, and cannot afford to live here for 30 weeks a year.

So OCMS provides a marvelous part-time schedule, and a world-class set of supervsing scholars for the 125 or so Ph.D. students in the program at a given time. Or since I am in England right now, perhaps I should spell in “programme.” This is why I am here, as suggested by Dr. Elijah Kim when I was speaking at the seminary he is building in Manila, The Philippines. He is friends with Dr. Wonsuk Ma, then director of OCMS school. The international dynamics here are superb, and the collegial friendships and fellowship wonderful.

And too, the Ph.D. process involves cohort learning dynamic, with contunual input and cross examination by the OCMS community of scholars; as opposed to the classic university setting of one student with one supervisor (and, against the world, as it were). This is why, for example, whereas 70 percent of D.Phil. candidates at Oxford pass their doctoral exams, it is 85 percent for OCMS Ph.D. candidates.

My dissertation focuses on Jewish political theologian, Daniel J. Elazar, and his work on covenant and freedom in the Hebrew Bible, with foundational attention to Genesis; and Presbyterian covenantal theologian, Meredith G. Kline (under whom I studied at Gordon-Conwell) and his work on the kingdom of God in the earliest pages of Genesis on forward.

They both see the huge dominance of the language of covenant in the Hebrew Bible, but only see it implicitly in Adam. I see it explicitly, and as a covenant of positive freedom with an original positive view for government (before the intrusion of sin).

Then I pose the question: In a world where political structures are so deeply entrenched in and curruppted by the sin nature, can a positive understanding of covenant and freedom rooted in Adam make a tangible difference? This is the unknown, and one for which I cannot wait to fully roll up my sleeves and dive in.

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