As well as being chaplain at Queen's College, Oxford and author of the popular book, Cafe Theology, Mike Lloyd is one of the voices behind the hugely popular podcast, God Pod. His passionate challenge is for Christians to engage with theology and culture in new ways.
1. You’ve spent much of your life combining academic and pastoral ministry. Has this been useful?
It’s been a very useful thing to do and a very enjoyable thing to do. When I was first ordained I was expecting to be a parish priest for the rest of my life. My professor at university and Tom Wright were both willing me into taking the academic ministry seriously.
I’ve felt that my main role is as a bridge between the academic world and the church. The two have drifted off in different directions to their mutual impoverishment I think.
What I want to do is hold the two together and feed the insights of the academic world into the teaching in the church but also feed the questions of the church to the academy so there’s a mutual enriching relationship between the two.
2. You’ve spent a long time studying the problem of evil. What are your conclusions?
My students call me Dr Evil. I take a very dim view of suffering. Some Christians try and get round the problem of evil by saying, 'I know it seems very unpleasant at the time but really it’s very good for us and that’s why God allows it, because it’s character making.'
I don’t buy that, I think suffering is destructive. God can bring good out of it, but it’s God we have to thank for that, not suffering itself.
The question is: 'If not him, then who?' I draw on the Jewish Christian tradition of the fall of the angels, suggesting there are other rational intelligent beings in existence and the fact that there was a rebellion in that realm long before humans appeared on the scene.
That could have distorted the whole way creation developed so it was no longer the harmonious place God intended it to be. The Genesis narrative implies things have already gone wrong before human beings rebel. Even before the fall, they are commanded to fill the earth and subdue it.
3. How did Café Theology come about?
My vicar felt his congregation was mainly bright young things doing their first job in the city in their 20s and felt they were being stretched in every other area of their lives but not in their Christian lives. He asked if I’d do a serious of evening lectures.
I thought that having given it all as talks, it wouldn’t take much writing but that proved a naïve fond illusion.
How you speak is very different from how you write, so I had these transcripts in front of me that made absolutely no sense at all when you read them. It actually took me 20 months full time to write it.
4. What is the book about?
I call it a romp through the whole of Christian theology. I thought about calling it ‘From Primeval Soup To Apocalyptic Nuts’ because it goes from creation through to new creation. The subtitle is 'exploring love, the universe and everything'. It’s not asking much in 400 pages.
5. Despite it being released some years ago, it’s still selling very well. Are you surprised at its success?
Not entirely, if that doesn’t sound too arrogant. My experience is people are crying out for depth and for someone to take them a little bit deeper than they are normally taken.
6. Are there any plans to write more?
There’s a new edition of Café Theology coming out with a study guide in it. We found a number of people who would like to study it as a Lenten penance or something like that.
The other thing I’d like to write is my big book on evil. My evil book! It will be on an academic level and look at the areas we covered about 70 seconds earlier in this interview but at inordinate length. So ‘don’t hold your breath’, I think is the answer.
7. Explain what God Pod is for those who haven’t listened to it.
Graham Tomlin, Jane Williams and I were involved in setting up a new theological training centre in London called the St Paul’s Theological Centre.
We’d all worked in theological colleges before, and one of the things we noticed is we never had the time to talk theology with our colleagues.
Graham had this brilliant idea that one excuse for talking theology would be to record it and put it on the web.
What happens is we make ourselves some coffee and get some biscuits, or in my case some healthy nut equivalent, then we look through the emails people have sent in with questions about life the universe and everything. We decide which ones would be fun to answer, then we start the tape rolling and chat.
It’s a different way of doing theology. The sermon is one thing, the lecture is another and the book is another, but this is different. It’s a discussion rather than a carefully structured argument. It has its place, not as alternative to the others, but in addition to them.
People seem to enjoy listening to it, you know, people with insomnia, that kind of thing. We don’t plan what we’re going to say, we literally just turn up, read the questions through and talk.
We’ve done 67 of them, we ought to be planning the 100th and see if we can get the Pope to be a guest on it or something.
8. Is it always as easy to record as that?
On one terrible occasion our engineer pushed the wrong button and it hadn’t recorded so we had to do it again. Doing it again when we knew what we were going to say was like telling the same joke for the 3rd time. It just doesn’t work. It lives by being fresh and unseen.
9. What’s the best Christian book you’ve read?
I’d go for Oliver O’Donovan’s book on the 39 articles which sounds really dusty and dull but it really isn’t. It’s an exciting dialogue between him and Tudor Christianity. It covers the whole of Christian theology and is full of insight. It sparkles and I learnt a lot from it.
10. What has God been teaching you recently?
I got married three years ago and that’s been delightful and wonderful, difficult, creative and quirky. He’s been teaching me about the reality of love, rather than the froth of emotion. That’s a glorious thing, despite the fact that it’s not an easy thing.
April 2nd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes