THEOLOGY depends on institutions. When Rowan Williams explained that his methodological starting point was always in the middle, he was drawing attention to this dependency on institutions. Williams writes,
I assume that the theologian is always beginning in the middle of things. There is a practice of common life and language already there, a practice that defines a specific shared way of interpreting human life as lived in relation to God.
So the primary institution for the theologian is the church. If the church did not exist, then Christian theology would not exist. It is on that living community of the church, carrying the life-blood of faith from the first century to the present, that the theologian is entirely parasitic. The church does not simply supply the ‘content’ of theology but also provides the community that ultimately will listen – the ‘hearers’. It supplies the ‘content’ in that it provides the vocabulary and the texts that extend the discussion; it provides the ‘hearers’ of theology because ultimately the task of making sense of God and God's relations with the world is a primary concern of the church. This does not deny that the cultural setting of the church can become part of the content, but even when this happens, it is still the church that absorbs the content. Likewise, although non-Christians outside the church might be curious about the theological task (in much the same way that an English-speaking person can be interested in the Spanish language), curiosity does not involve the same commitment as living and thinking within language.
A church college is a distinctive institution. It is the creation of the church: Christian men and women created the institution. Christians dominate the governing body, which often includes, as in the case of Liverpool Hope's Governing Council, several senior prelates. Yet it is also part of the academy. To be effective in the modern academy, it must accept that many students are non-Christians; it must teach a vast range of subjects and provide an inclusive setting for study.
In this chapter, I shall explore how one church college, Liverpool Hope University College, thought through its institutional commitment to theology. The chapter divides into four sections: first, I briefly examine the institutional commitments to theology that shaped the period from 1996 to 2000 and the position that Hope wanted to take.