Building Connections: Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield, England

Published 09 June 2020

John Vincent’s visit to CLBSJ last November delivered a resounding jolt to us in Stony Point, NY, as well as to the faculty and students he addressed at New York Theological Seminary, the staff at InnerChange East Harlem, and discipleship groups in Jersey City. At 91 years of age, John serves as elder of the social justice organization he founded in Sheffield, England. His Urban Theology Unit is closely parallel to CLBSJ in mission and vision.

John, a Methodist minister, was headed for an academic career when he earned his Doctorate at the University of Basel where Karl Barth was then teaching. His dissertation was on the Gospel of Mark. Increasingly, the voice of Jesus’s calling to the disciples became a personal calling to John. The Gospel of Mark became a guiding and energizing motif for John as he turned to serve the pastoral and social needs of the inner city and to teach generations of seminarians, clergy and laity concerning the demands of Christian discipleship as an imperative for the present day.

John understands the essence of Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as not to believe in Jesus, not to worship Jesus, but to follow him: “Do as I do!” It is the calling of every Christian to discern what “doing as Jesus did” personally requires. John models a process of “Practice Interpretation” of the Biblical text. After all the other forms of Biblical criticisms are put in play, we are challenged with the question, “What does this text tell me to do?”

John’s blunt but loving advocacy of discipleship, moved by his deep conviction, and salted by his down-to-earth wit, made a deeply impression at CLBSJ. We are looking forward to finding ways to co-operate with the Urban Theology Unit going forward.