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Thu 16 Nov 2017 @ 12:45
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Author(s): John Holdsworth
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The Exile in the Old Testament is frequently portrayed as a sign of failure and judgement, the inevitable consequence of human disobedience. Turning this idea on its head, John Holdsworth asks whether being in exile is not in fact the proper state for God's pilgrim people to be. Freeing the Church of the tyrannical grip of material security and safety, might it become more open to God's direction and a more authentic sign of the kingdom?
JOHN HOLDSWORTH was Principal of St Michael's Theological College in Cardiff and a lecturer in theology at the University of Wales in Cardiff until the summer of 2003, when he left to take up a post as a Canon at St David's Cathedral. He has previously worked in television in Wales as a presenter of religious programmes.
John, you went from working in television and advertising to teaching the
Old Testament. That's an unusual career move isn't it?
I have actually been ordained for thirty years and working as a minister for
all that time. My ministry has been very varied and has always had an academic
component - in the best Anglican tradition. Had I not been a cleric I would
probably have been a journalist, which was my intention. At University I edited
the University newspaper and for a while had a contract with the Daily Sketch.
In 1988 I had the opportunity to host a religious TV magazine programme. That
proved to be the start of a mini-ministry which saw me make some 150 TV
programmes and give me a real interest in the whole business of Christian
Communication (hence my book "Communication and the Gospel" DLT 2003).
Your book, Dwelling in a Strange Land, is really based on the Old
Testament. You obviously feel that such ancient texts are relevant today. How
relevant are they?
The way I understand the story of the Old Testament, it has tremendous
contemporary reference - indeed that is one of the convictions which drives the
book. I believe that a sense of exile is something many people can identify with
in all kinds of way, and I hope to make connections between those experiences
and the texts.
What is the 'strange land' you refer to in the title and who was/is
dwelling in it?
In the first instance it is the Biblical Exilic land of Babylon where the
Israelites are exiled, but its reference goes beyond that to our own times. In
the sense in which I use the terms, today's dwellers are all those who feel
estranged from God or who have a case against God resulting from their
Why should the story of something that happened more than 2500 years ago
concern us today?
For the same reason that anyone would read the Bible. The book attempts to
show that the issues dealt with in this literature should inform our theology
and our understanding of what the church is for.
So you are really concerned with the 'strange lands' that people find
themselves in in today's world. Where are some of these places today? Is
it always a crisis that gets you to such places?
Any place which represents a move to alienation or estrangement from God: any
place in which questions of meaning are raised for which there is no apparent
prior religious reference. Any place where new and wondrous things are learned
about God can be a place of Exile. People reach these places by various routes.
What is the real impact do you think on people whose normal sense of
belonging is destroyed in this way?
I use the example of 9/11 to illustrate feelings of which we have all
So is your book a kind of survival guide for those whose world has turned
More than a survival guide - a guide to seeing turned-upside down-ness
as a real part of religious development.
You suggest that rather than dreading such upheaval, there are good
reasons for welcoming it. Tell us about those.
For those who want to make sense of God in situations where experience
is at crucial odds with faith I think the book describes a way towards a
liberating way of being church which gets to the heart of how churches can grow
and have value in today's world.
So a spot of risk and adventure is better than playing safe?
What is the main message in all of this for us as we go into Lent?
As the introduction says, this is a book for those who want to be stretched
and who want permission to apply the Biblical texts in a new way. I hope it will
result in more exilic, theologically virile churches and reinvigorated faith.