In honour of Paul Fiddes
Baptists and the University of Oxford recognised and honoured the important contribution of Paul Fiddes to the discipline of theology and the life of the church this week (25 November). By Andy Goodliff
Professor Paul Fiddes, although perhaps unknown to many in our churches, has been and still is one of the UK’s leading theological thinkers.
He has helped Baptists - both here in the UK and around the world - think deeply about who we are as a Christian people. At the same time, he has contributed to the task of theology in the academy like no other Baptist before him.
He uniquely holds the title Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Oxford and has written widely-read books on the identity of God, the atonement, eschatology, the church and wisdom.
Paul has most recently written on the communion of saints with friends Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd in a book that deserves to be widely read.
Paul has also been a leading voice in helping Baptists engage with other church and faith traditions - particularly with Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches and more recently with Muslim scholars. Through different Conversations, he has carefully helped offer a way for others to understand Baptist life and thought, and helped us, as Baptists, recognise the gifts of others. Paul's theological mind and heart knows no boundaries and has engaged with culture through literature, film, even the music of Madonna, and also law, medicine and philosophy.
I say all of this as a way of introduction to last night’s presentation to Paul of two books of essays written by friends and colleagues that engage with, and honour, his work. When someone makes a significant contribution, we give them a "festschrift", from the German meaning "to celebrate in writing".
Paul with colleague Anthony Clarke, who was involved in the editing of the two Festschrifts
One set of essays, Within the Love of God: Essays on the Doctrine of God in Honour of Paul S. Fiddes, is a collection from fellow theologians and scholars working in the University of Oxford and beyond.
One of the contributors is Jürgen Moltmann, one of the most influential theologians of the last 50 years. Professor Moltmann, although now 88, travelled from his home in Germany to be in Oxford on Tuesday night to give a lecture before the presentation to Paul. This was significant because Paul himself spent a year in 1976 in Germany being taught by Professor Moltmann and has developed several of Moltmann’s themes in his own work.
The second book, For the Sake of the Church: Essays in Honour of Paul S. Fiddes, is a collection of essays from colleagues at Regent’s Park College, where Paul has spent nearly all his life, and other friends. Both books demonstrate that Paul has been both a a person of deep intellect (a too rare gift among Baptists) and also a great encourager of so many in the pursuit of theology.
Baptist Union General Secretary Lynn Green spoke gratefully of all that Paul has done among us Baptists, both in his writing and his contributions to Baptist Union Council and more widely in the European Baptist Federation and the Baptist World Alliance.
Lynn said he has a been an extremely influential voice helping us think about our Baptist convictions. This was echoed by Oti Bunaciu, the Rector of the Baptist college in Romania, who thanked Paul for the way he has offered himself to Baptists in Europe, especially in the education and formation of ministers.
It is not only Paul’s theological work that has made a huge impact, it is Paul himself, as a man of generosity and humility, which will be a long-lasting legacy on many of us. Paul has shown not only how to write and speak theology, but how to practise theology as a means of friendship with God, with each other and with the world.
Jürgen Moltmann at Regent's
This was reflected by Dr Rob Ellis, who succeeded Paul as Principal of Regent's Park College. He said, 'Paul ranks as one of the foremost theological thinkers of the modern age, but his modest demeanour and constant availability for students and colleagues have always kept him earthed in the day to day work of the academy, and the theological needs of the churches.
'He is a great scholar, but also a great encourager. His gifts have drawn appreciation from synods and assemblies, churches and parishes and seminaries around the world.
'Thankfully, his theological powers show no signs of flagging, and it is a pleasure and a great privilege to be able to thank him for his great contribution to academic and church life – so far!’
All photos courtesy of Regent's Park College - more can be found on its Flickr page