Theology Quest and Questions in Tiverton

Christian people in these early days of the 21st century have a long agenda of topics which lie at the heart of their faith but which raise persistent questions. They worship Sunday by Sunday, and they live lives which are often transparently Christian, but under the surface they are often pondering, wondering, looking for a safe place where issues can be tackled a little more than is possible in church services.  This is where Theology Quest and Questions in Tiverton is designed to be a  real help and stimulus.

The intention of TQQT is therefore in part, to quote a famous phrase, ‘faith seeking understanding’, but space is also given to ‘doubt seeking understanding’. In other words, TQQT recognizes that most thoughtful people find themselves pulled both ways by faith and doubt.  The aim of these trios is to open up the quest and engage with some of those questions.  What do Christians believe, why do they believe it, and should they keep on believing it?




The series of ‘trios’ ie three consecutive sessions given over to specific ‘big’ topics, are designed to be determinedly relevant to faith in the modern world.  Thus, at the time of writing, anti-Semitism is much in the air: well, we had a trio on the question of who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, a hot topic which ahs been grimly present in conversation and conflitct between Christians and Jews for many centuries.  Also, at the time of writing, the issue of sexuality continues to vex all the churches, so we devoted a trio to that question in the context of the role of the Bible in Chritian thought – is the Bible the last word, indeed is it or is it not the only word on the subject?  To this we are going to return, as will be evident in the summary below of the programme for the year.

Before detailing the programme, we would like to say how welcome members of other churches (or no churches at all) would be welcome at these sessions which are offered by members of St Peter’s and others who are theologically trained to lead them.  Do please come: we would be delighted to see you.

We meet in the hall of the Tiverton Baptist Church, by kind permission of the members of that church.  Time: Thursdays at 7pm until 9pm.  Cost £6 per sessions (or a deal, £15 per trio).  That covers refreshments in the interval between the lecture (first part of the evening) and general discussion (second part).

A sample of the topics we have studied and discussed recently would include The cross of Christ, a study of how Mark, the first of the gospel writers, interpreted that apparently desperate and tragic finale to the life of Jesus.

Now here is the programme for 2018/19:

Trio 1: The quest of the historical Mary

led by

David Catchpole (formerly Professor of Theological Studies, University of Exeter)

Thursdays 20 and 27 September, 4 October 2018

The young woman who has gone down in Christian history as ‘the blessed virgin Mary’ has come to divide Christian opinion sharply and seemlingly irreconcilably.  She is the object of deep devotion to many, marked out by immaculate conception, a virgin birth, and heavenly assumption, and the subject of unhistorical legen to others.  Ecumenical conversations between the churches are troubled by the disagreements.  Much hinges on the answer to the question: who was the father of Jesus?

Recent writings about Mary have given new impetus to the discussion, and we will undertake our own studies in the light of some of the best proposals that have been mounted.  Historially, what can we reconstruct about her?  Theologically, how important is she for contemporary Christian faith?  Does ‘the virgin birth’ rank with the resurrection as the absolute core of the faith, and does talk of the divinity of Jesus hinge on his arguably not having had a human birth father?

Trio 2: We need to talk about the Bible

led by

David Hamer (formerly Chaplain of Blundell’s School)

Thursdays 25 October, 1 and 8 November 2018

The Bible in the pew, on the lectern, at home, has a history.  Originating in shared experiences and shared memories of a people’s customs, reflections and beliefs over a long period, it includes laws, sayings, songs, prophetic utterances, critical thinking, brought together, edited and preserved.  To these Hebrew writings the Christians added their books.  Streams of handwritten copies preserved this material for centuries, until the time of printing.

In the first lecture – The Bible as an object – we look at the process by which we have an authentic witness to ancient writings.  These writings purport to have a meaning.  Through telling the story of a people in relation to the God who chose them – a complex story of obedience and backsliding, of faith and reflection, of punishment and restoration.

In the scond lecture – THe Bible as oracle – we look at the ways in which the Bible has been seen as conveying a divine voice.  THese writings reveal many ways of using and understanding langurage.  In the post-Enlightenment world, we have new ways of reading texts.

In the third lecture – The Bible as an open book – we consier how the Bible has been subjected to critical examination and different approaches to reading.

Trio 3: Luke under the microscope

led by

David Catchpole (formerly Professor of Theological Studies, University of Exeter)

Thursdays 14, 21 and 28 February 2019

Many years ago the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, no enthusiast for the Christian faith, declared ‘It is the Jesus of Luke who has won our hearts.’  During the year that has just begun, those who are enthusiastic about Christian faith will have ample opportunity to check whether they agree.

Beginning with advent, which was a problem for Luke; continuing through Christmas, when his stories capture human imagination more even than Matthew; on through Lent, which may or may not capture the atmospher of his gospel; and Easter, when arguably Luke tries to take two contrasting positions which hardly fit one another logically and which pose for us the question of what we in our time can think about the resurrection… and from there to Pentecost, which certainly excites Luke and doubtless the Christian people for whom he wrote his very distinctive ‘story of Jesus’.

An interspersed in the story of Jesus are the stories of the people – some who met Jesus in this gospel alone – the woman with a past in the sex trade, for example – and some who figures in Luke’s matchless parables.  Where would we be without the good Samaritan or the prodigal son, and what can we make of the puzzling ones like the unjust judge, the dishonest manager, the friend at midnight, for whom the saying might easily have been coined: ‘A friend in need is a pest’?

Trio 4: Talking to my son about God

led by

Tim Gibson (Anglican priest, theologian and writer)

Thursdays 9, 16 and 23 May 2019

How are we to speak of God intelligibly and coherently, in ways that enhance wonder but don’t become fantastical?  That was the challenge I confronted while writing my book, Talking to my son about God (forthcoming), in which I imagined a conversation with my son, Monty, drawing on questions he asks me on the way to church on Sunday mornings.  These include: ‘Who is God?’, ‘Why did God create the world?’, and ‘Why do bad things happen?’

Finding words to talk about God: the language of theology.  This session considers the way language functions in theology, and the words we use to describe God.  It explores how the structure of language shapes our perception of God, informing our beliefs about his existence (or non-existence).

Understanding God’s relationship with the world: the praxis of theology.  This session examins the sense we seek to make of God’s relationship with the created order, and how that very sense-making shapes our ways of being.

Why go to church? The grammar of liturgy.  We end by considering the shape of Christian worship, exploring its capacity to form our dispositions and configure our existence.

David Hamer and David Catchpole

Art work: Sophie Hacker


St Peter’s Church
St Peter Street
EX16 6RP

Telephone: 01884 242991