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Challenge for New Oak Hill President in Avoiding 'Good Disagreement' Trap

Challenge for New Oak Hill President in Avoiding 'Good Disagreement' Trap

By Julian Mann
Special to Virtueonline
February 12, 2018

With the leadership of the Church of England increasingly expecting its future ministers to be enthusiastic about theological diversity, the new president of the one distinctively Reformed Anglican training college, Oak Hill in north London, faces a demanding task.

The Revd Jonathan Juckes took up the newly created role of college president last month at the age of 56. This was after the college council decided to appoint a president to work alongside the academic principal following the sudden death last year of former principal Dr Michael Ovey (1958-2017).

Mr Juckes served in a parish on the outskirts of Hull in the north of England for 19 years and served on the Oak Hill council for 18 years. According to informed sources, he was an outstanding parish minister applying evangelical principles in a manner that, under God, enabled the local church of St Andrew's Kirk Ella to grow numerically and in Christian commitment.

Oak Hill's official announcement of Mr Juckes's appointment could be described as vague about the exact nature of the president's role. Bordering on management speak, it said he would be joining the acting principal and the current leadership of the college 'to bring additional strategic vision, an energised partnership across the evangelical and wider community, and an entrepreneurial approach to considering how we best enhance our formation of men and women preparing for a lifetime of ministry and mission leadership in Britain and around the world'.

This lack of prescription might be a blessing in that it allows Mr Juckes freedom of action in developing the role in a way that does not tread on the faculty's toes or it could lead to a lack of clear demarcation between his role and that of the academic principal. The Lord willing, a good partnership between president and principal will emerge with Mr Juckes acting as senior pastor and ambassador for the college, leaving the faculty to get on with its teaching work.

Though it is not stated, one imagines that the president would take the lead in negotiating the college's position as a residential training college with the CofE hierarchy.

It is here that Mr Juckes has the challenge of holding out for Oak Hill's Reformed theological commitments as set out in the historic Anglican formularies. The college has faced threats of closure in the past for being too narrow. In a denomination in which 'good disagreement' is increasingly expected on issues that confessing Anglicans regard as primary and therefore non-negotiable, Mr Juckes's engagements with the hierarchy are bound to be challenging if he is to avoid theological compromise.

It is also not clear from the announcement what the expectations are on Mr Juckes personally in terms of preaching and training Bible preachers. But if in the college chapel he preaches what might be termed 'Kirk Ella' sermons, drawing on his experiences in frontline parish ministry as illustrative material, these could be invaluable to the future ministers of Christ he is called to serve. Twenty minutes maximum sermons of this nature could be a real tonic in an academic environment and save many a young man from getting into the habit of preaching over-long snoozers out in the parish.

And how he avoids the 'good disagreement' trap will also set a vital example for these future ministers of the biblical gospel.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK -- www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk -- and trained at Oak Hill from 1993-1996.

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