Vote of Thanks

Below is the vote of thanks that Professor David Fergusson gave at the conclusion of Senior Professor Michael Welker’s 2019/2020 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Fergusson is Professor of Divinity and Director of  Research at New College here at the University of Edinburgh, Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland, and a former Gifford Lecturer himself. His vote of thanks can be found below.

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2019/2020 Gifford Lecture Vote of Thanks

– David Fergusson

It’s my pleasant responsibility to offer a few concluding comments by way of appreciation to Professor Welker. This has been a distinguished series of Giffords both in terms of form and content. As you will have gathered, Professor Welker has invested a good deal of time and effort in preparing his material, describing this series as the culmination of many years research work. His lectures have been clearly presented and elegantly illustrated, and I know that he has taken much trouble to translate his manuscript from the German original to an accessible English. His readiness to engage in discussion with his audiences both here and online has also enriched our understanding of his material. And we’re grateful for the time that he has spent with us outside this lecture hall in informal conversation.

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Lecture 6: Called to Peace

Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the final lecture of his Gifford Lectures earlier this evening. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version is available at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion. Craig Meek will offer his initial reflections on the lecture Meek is currently a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology here at the University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

In the beginning of his lecture Welker noted that “many people understand ‘peace’ to mean primarily the absence of war,” but he went on to note that “opinions on how best to attain and secure peace can vary widely.” Along these lines he drew attention to the significant amounts of money currently being spent on arms expenditures around the world today noting that according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute there is “a disturbingly intense arms race currently underway throughout the world.” He went on to affirm the lamentations of Gerd Müller who stated, “if we could redirect even a quarter of military expenditures toward developmental cooperation, we could put a stop to hunger, death [i.e. death caused by severe conditions of distress and disaster], and poverty, as well as to the miseries of refugees worldwide.”

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Mid Series Reflections 2

In this post Dr Sarah Lane Ritchie offers some of her reflections on Senior Professor Michael Welker’s Gifford Lectures thus far. Dr Lane Ritchie is currently a Lecturer in Theology and Science in the School of Divinity here at the University of Edinburgh. Her reflections can be found below.

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Sociocultural Analysis and the Puzzles of Discerning the Divine

– Dr Sarah Lane Ritchie

Over the course of this Gifford lecture series, Professor Welker has offered an expansive, yet particular, vision of theological anthropology, one that is marked by multipolarity and multimodality. I am particularly enthusiastic about Professor Welker’s perhaps surprising choice to explore theological anthropology and the imago Dei through a sustained exploration at the level of the social and cultural. It has been all too common for scholars of religion to focus obsessively on individual capacities and functions when discerning what it means to be human, what it means to be created in the image of God. The move to examining particular and multipolar social and cultural phenomena as significant for the deepest understanding of humanity, and humanity in God’s image no less, is a welcome move that I suspect will spawn many a PhD thesis.

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Mid Series Reflections 1

In this post Dr Joshua Ralston offers some of his reflections on Senior Professor Michael Welker’s Gifford Lectures thus far. Dr Ralston is currently a Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations in the School of Divinity here at the University of Edinburgh. His reflections can be found below.

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A Schleiermachian Yes and a Barthian No to Welker’s Project

– Dr Joshua Ralston

A habit has developed amongst recent Gifford Lecturers, both here in Edinburgh and at the other three ancient Scottish universities, to take the will of Lord Gifford as a vague suggestion, an outdated curiosity, or a mere inconvenience to be named and disregarded. Rather than offering public and scientific lectures on natural theology, ethics, and the sciences—without appealing to the ecclesial or revelatory as an intellectual justification—many lecturers proceed with their work unencumbered or down right uninterested in natural theology. I won’t name names, but those devotees for Gifford Lectures will surely have some spring to mind. Not Professor Michael Welker! He began his series with a methodological commitment to the project. Promising a bottom up natural theology done in conversation with philosophy, social sciences, and the lived cultural-political challenges of our day. While calling himself a theologian of revelation, he vowed to carry forward his lecture series without reference to Jesus Christ or at least without appeal to him as the standard and touchstone by which theology is judged.

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Lecture 5: Called to Truth

Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the fifth of his six Gifford Lectures earlier this evening. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version is available at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion. Dr Tripp Fuller will offer his initial reflections on the lecture Fuller is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Divinity here at the University of Edinburgh and he is also the host of the popular theology podcast Homebrewed Christianity. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Welker started off the lecture by giving a general road map to where he would go in this lecture concerning the multimodal nature of truth. The first section of his lecture aimed to deal briefly with various conceptions of truth and the various aspects that characterize the search for truth and the dissemination of knowledge. In the second section he aimed to discuss the significance of international and interdisciplinary searches for truth by scholars and scientists that seek “to expand their approaches to anthropology and whose findings can acquire relevance for an anthropology shaped from the perspective of natural theology.” In the final section of his lecture he aimed to bring in various “concepts of God within natural theology that might support such anthropological findings.” He was quick to point out, however, “that the insights and assertions of natural theology itself must be subjected to modern critiques of religion.” He also hinted that, in this final section of his lecture, he would inquire into “whether the assertion from the theology of revelation  that ‘God is spirit and seeks to be worshipped in the spirit and truth’ can be rendered as an assertion commensurate with natural theology.” Furthermore, here at the beginning Welker briefly noted that he would take issue with bipolar approaches to understanding truth when they are taken to be absolute—the bipolar constellations of truth and approaches to understanding truth, according to Welker, are better understood “as manifestations of the multimodal spirit” of truth.

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Lecture 4: Called to Freedom

Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the fourth of his six Gifford Lectures earlier this evening. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version is available at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Victoria Turner will offer her initial reflections on the lecture. Turner  is a first year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, New College.  We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Earlier this evening Welker gave his fourth lecture on the call to freedom. He started by recapping some of the points that he had made in the previous lecture on justice as a multimodal spirit. Welker went on to state that in this lecture he would “survey the elementary forms of this multimodal spirit of freedom before turning to its moral and political manifestations and, finally, to its relationships with religion.”

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Lecture 3: Called to Justice

Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the third of his six Gifford Lectures earlier this evening. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Taylor D. Holleyman will offer his initial reflections on the lecture. Holleyman is a second year PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh, New College.  We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Welker opened up his third lecture on justice by talking about a social state and a state governed by law, and as a case study he focused on Germany after the Second World War and the document produced by the United Nations Human Rights Convention in 1948. As he explained his key terms, “’governed by law’ involves the self-obligation to create universally binding laws and to tie the actions of all state organs to this constitution and these laws” where “’social state’ expresses the political self-obligation to secure social justice and security for all citizens . . . and to support the disadvantaged and those otherwise  in need of protection.” The goal of both is to ensure equality for all people.

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Lecture 2: Human Spirit and Divine Spirit

Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the second of his six Gifford Lectures earlier this evening. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Dr Clement Wen will offer his initial reflections on the lecture. Wen currently serves as Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at China Evangelical Seminary in Taiwan and holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

The topic of Welker’s second lecture was the human spirit and the divine Spirit. At the outset he outlined the path that this lecture would take. First, he stated that he would “unfold a natural theology of the divine Spirit by means of a contemporary example” before, second, moving on to discuss the human spirit and the divine Spirit as “multimodal powers.” Thirdly, he stated he would discuss “observations on early-childhood mental development” in order to demonstrate the complexity and richness of the human spirit. Fourthly and finally he mentioned that he would engage Hegel’s “natural theology of the human spirit and of the divine Spirit” since the early Hegel helpfully “developed a theological and moral concept of these spirits that ultimately focuses on freedom and justice” in a multimodal manner.

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Lecture 1: Human Beings as God’s Image?

Earlier this evening Senior Professor Michael Welker gave the first of his six Gifford Lectures. The video of Welker’s lecture is embedded below (followed by a short summary) for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to watch it again. An audio only version can be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion Gregory Parker Jr. will offer his initial reflections on the lecture. Parker is a second year PhD student in Systematic Theology at the School of Divinity here at the University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Welker’s lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Welker opened his lecture by stating his profound honor for the opportunity to give the Gifford lectures and his gratitude to those who have helped make it happen. Welker then moved on to discuss Lord Gifford’s intentions for the lectures regarding the stipulation that they be an undertaking of “natural theology” and that they be delivered with a “general and popular audience in mind” (including those who might be “critical of or indifferent toward religion”). Keen to take up these two challenges Welker noted that “at this point Christian theologians must leave aside for a moment the central tenet of faith, namely, that God is revealed to human beings in Jesus Christ.”  He went on to state that he perceived “two fundamental ways of meeting these challenges.” One is to start with scientific and historical research “and then try to reach out to human ‘belief’ and faith’ in their various forms” while another is to start with the “social and cultural realities” of various aspects of human existence today including, in part, “the wealth of philosophical, cultural, religious, and theological impulses” embedded and embodied within these realities. While admitting that the scientific and historical research approach is worthwhile, he stated that the latter social/cultural approach is how he proposed to proceed in these lectures. He described it as a “realistic theology” that works from the bottom up, taking the various particularities of human existence seriously as they are actually experienced by various people today.

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2019/2020 Gifford Lectures Quickly Approaching

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The Gifford Lectures this year are happening earlier than previous years and they are only a little over two weeks away! Senior Professor Michael Welker (from the University of Heidelberg) will deliver the first of his six lectures on the concept of the image of God in humanity on the 28th of October. As he himself describes the series, “This lecture series explores the concept ‘in God’s image’. Human existence, ranging ‘from dust to dust’ to ‘only a little lower than God’, challenges us to discern the moral, scientific, technological, and religious powers that human beings bring to bear most effectively within this broad spectrum. An examination at an intellectual level and beyond illuminates the emergence of the human potential for justice, freedom, truth, and peace.”

The lectures will be held in the Playfair Library at the University of Edinburgh and (free) tickets are now available for booking. Like in past years this blog will be active alongside the lectures to facilitate further discussion of Welker’s lectures online. The videos (and audio) of each lecture will be posted here shortly after they have been given and a number of contributors will offer their reflections to further facilitate conversation. Whether you are able to attend the lectures in person or are only able to engage from a distance all are most welcome to join in on the online discussion. For further details on how to join the conversation see How to Engage.

Professor Welker’s lecture series “In God’s Image: Anthropology” promises to be of interest to anyone who is interested in how we might better understand the ongoing implications of an ancient theological concept for understanding human existence in today’s world.