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Staff Q&A: Fergus King

The Revd Dr Fergus King is our Farnham Maynard Lecturer in Ministry and Director of Trinity's Ministry Education Centre. He also has a strong relationship with Tanzania.

The Revd Dr Fergus King

What are your areas of interest or specialisation?

My academic areas of interest and specialisation are New Testament Studies and Mission. They overlap for me because I am particularly interested in seeing how the NT writers did their mission in their environment, and what we can learn from them.

A number of experiences have honed these interests. First, I studied Classics at school and university (the old-fashioned way – with a heavy focus on texts and translations). When I came to study theology for ordination, it seemed obvious to exploit that prior learning by focusing on New Testament Studies. Additionally, the NT department at Edinburgh was populated by enthusiasts who communicated a passion for the subject they taught.

Lastly, when I went to work in Tanzania, I became acutely aware that environment  (especially culture and language) is a sine qua non in doing and living theology and mission. So, it seemed a logical step to fuse that realisation with my NT studies both historically and in their application in ministry and mission.

So here I am, pottering about with how the NT writers communicated their message in their context, in the hopes that I can learn something about how to do that today.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Trinity College?

I enjoy teaching a lot. My teachers at St Andrews and Edinburgh always encouraged questions and interaction in classes, so, while I go in with an idea of what I am going to do, there is room for what actors might call 'improv'. Camille Paglia puts it well:

The teacher is present as a living, breathing embodiment of the humanities. Interpretation begins with the teacher’s ability to think out aloud and to follow the beguiling stream of associations, often inspired by the students themselves, in their many moods from euphoria to narcolepsy.

– Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf, p. 199

I cannot begin to count the number of times a student’s question or determination to get me to give an answer has resulted in research and writing outside the class.

How would you describe Trinity’s theological community?

Well, first and foremost, our staff, faculty and students are enthusiasts who love what they do. And because they love what they do, they do it well.

We do not have an ideological sausage-machine approach to theology, where everyone comes out thinking and believing the same. We treasure the ability to disagree fundamentally, but always arguing the point, not the person. Too much theological difference descends into name calling these days. It is not good enough and the world deserves better. We try to model a better way.

It’s a personal view, but you can come to Trinity believing whatever you like – and you can leave holding those same beliefs. I will think we have failed if the depth of thought and knowledge that informs those beliefs has not been developed. Leave, if you like, ‘as a better [whatever]…’  Come in catholic, or orthodox, or evangelical, or nothing, and leave that way. Yet, if you come in looking for something, find it…

What is one of your favourite Bible verses and why?

Revelation 3:16 because it warns me against complacency, being comfortable and not caring.

Where does your interest in theological study come from?

Henri Nouwen, in his Genesee Diary, mentions the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who was arrested for high-wire walking between the two towers of the trades buildings in New York. When asked why, Petit said, ‘If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk’. That works for me.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn’t plan that far ahead.

Has there been a pivotal moment in your life?

Going to Kenya in 1985 as a volunteer teacher broadened my horizons as a person, politicised me and introduced me to some of the most fascinating people I could ever have met. It was an intro to further time in Tanzania in 1992.

What’s your favourite movie, TV show or book?

Sorry, one is impossible; here’s three.

The Cornish Trilogy by Robertson Davies, because it is a rich celebration of life, faith and culture which cocks a snook at the conventional wisdoms of the bland, homogenised modernity that thinks it is so much better than everyone else: the culture of the complacent… (embodied in Kater Murr in the Lyre of Orpheus). Now you will need to read the book to find out who Kater Murr is…and my plan to get everyone of my acquaintance to read the trilogy now kicks in.

For television, I am caught in a time warp. Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns never fails to entertain.

And, lastly, THHGTTG as a book, radio series and BBC TV (but stop when it gets to the Planet Earth and Louis Armstrong), but not the ghastly film version. Because we all need a sideways look at life and language.

What’s a story from your travels you’d like to share?

When I visited the parish of St Teresa’s Eastleigh in Nairobi I went to Mathare Valley, which was at that time one of the biggest slums in Nairobi. I had seen pictures of slums and poverty from around the world on TV before then, of course, but I had not realised how foul the smell of poverty was when there was no drainage and one WC per 10,000 people … TV does not do smell.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,

Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;

Tho' hundreds worship at his word,

He's but a coof for a' that:

For a' that, an' a' that,

His ribband, star, an' a' that:

The man o' independent mind

He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A Man's a Man for A' That by Burns. The whole poem is a bit long to quote.

What would make the world a more peaceful place?

A lot less selfishness on  every level – personal, neighbourhood, national, international. ‘Sin’ is being incurvatus in se (turned in on oneself) – Augustine of Hippo

‘Randy has turned in on himself – no mean feat for a 40-stone man.’ – Vivian Stanshall, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

Which activities make you lose track of time?

Reading, especially The Cornish Trilogy.

What is your life philosophy?

All the great saints have known they were sinners, so recognise that fact and your own limitations. Then, find a moral compass which comes from somewhere more reliable than yourself: God, as evidenced in the Bible and the classics has helped me. Follow it, wherever it points.

Read Fergus's bio.