One of the side-books that I found fascinating during my MA, and that I’ve been reading (on and off!) over the few years since, is John Inge’s brilliant and surprisingly readable exploratory essay, A Christian Theology of Place. Published by Ashgate, this is one of the most serious and sustained engagement with the question of ‘place’ in the context of Christian theology. It’s formed a lynchpin in my preparation for one of my SVS papers, ‘Where are You Church? An Invitation to a Vineyard Theology of Place’, and I’d recommend it strongly to those thinking about location, geography, Doctrines of Incarnation and Sacrament, and related issues.
Inge’s approach means that book forms a very helpful introduction to a little-thought about area of theological reflection. What little has been written, it seems, has also not particularly penetrated the wider theological consciousness. Inge’s book offers a helpful corrective to this trend. His structure is clear and held to – making this a book that I can imagine coming back to from different angles at different times. We begin with a thoughtful overview of ‘Place in Western Thought and Practice’, which is disarmingly simple despite being very clearly well researched. This is immediately followed, as is appropriate for the task of Christian theology, with a discussion and exploration of ‘Place and the Scriptures’, which is divided into Old and New Testaments, and demonstrates a good engagement with what these two ends of the Bible say.
The third chapter/section is an interesting curveball, as Inge invites us to consider ‘Place and the Christian Tradition: A Sacramental Approach’. This is particularly interesting, as Inge is careful to note throughout that ‘churches’ are not places but people, as the relationship between sacrament and place is a fascinating one. Fourthly, Inge considers ‘Place and the Christian Tradition: Pilgrimage and Holy Places’. Personally, I found this the weakest section, as it was relatively uncritical about some ‘shrines’ and the concept of pilgrimage. That said, the recognition that in Christian thought and Scripture any place can become holy by the presence of God and his people, is helpful. Finally came Inge’s conclusion, ‘A Renewed Appreciation of Place: An Offering to the World’. This was excellent – the author moved confidently into constructive mode, and rooted this in the biblical story, an appreciation of humanity, and the eschatological nature of Christian hope.
In conclusion, then, Inge has done a double service to the church with this book. Firstly, he has written a concise yet comprehensive book of theological reflection that brings together a wide range of disciplines and thought to offer an introduction to a subject of vital importance. Secondly, by rooting his own construction of theology in the scriptures and those who have gone before, yet neither uncritically, Inge has given us a helpful and fruitful theology of place. Personally, I’ve found this book immensely helpful, and would expect that it be a standard work in this emerging field (no pun intended) for years to come. I’d recommend it to those thinking seriously about the relationship between the Christian faith and ‘place’ or physical/geographical location, and also to those engaged in ministry wanting to reflect on issues that questions of place and faith bring up.