Frances Young

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The Reverend Frances Margaret Young, OBE (born 1939[1]) is Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham, and a Methodist minister.


Frances Young taught theology at the University of Birmingham from 1971, becoming the Edward Cadbury Professor and Head of the Department of Theology in 1986. During her time at the University, she also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1995–97) and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (1997–2002). In 1984, she was ordained as a Methodist minister, and has combined preaching in a local Circuit and pursuing her academic career. In 1998, she was awarded an OBE for services to Theology and in 2004, elected a Fellow of the British Academy. In 2005, she retired from the University. On 15 November 2005, she preached at the opening service of the Eighth General Synod Church of England, the first Methodist and the first woman to preach at the five-yearly inauguration ceremony. She delivered her sermon at the Eucharist service at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, presided.

She served as editor of volumes 39–43 of the Studia patristica and wrote academic and more popular theological writings, drawing on her work on the New Testament and on Christianity in its formative centuries, but also on her experience as the mother of a son (Arthur) who was born with profound physical and mental disabilities. For this reason, she worked on the theological and ecumenical dimensions of the L'Arche communities with Jean Vanier, their founder.[citation needed]

The Myth of God Incarnate[edit]

Young was one of the contributors to The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), alongside Don Cupitt, Michael Goulder, John Hick, Leslie Houlden, Dennis Nineham, and Maurice Wiles. This book caused quite a controversy at the time of its publication, as it seemed to cast doubt on the traditional Christian belief in the incarnation. In her essay "Two Roots or Tangled Mess", she criticised her fellow contributor Michael Goulder for presenting a hypothetical reconstruction which had "an exclusive concentration on one or two specific sources" and thus failed to look at the complexity of the borderlines of Judaism.[citation needed] In "A Cloud of Witnesses", she calls attention to the different forms in which the early Church spoke of Jesus, and suggests also that the idea of incarnation is part of a symbolic or mythological framework, by which she does not mean the terms are false but rather that "they refer to realities which are ... indefinable in terms of human language, and in their totality, inconceivable within the limited powers and experience of the finite human mind." Trevor Beeson, in his review in Christian Century (31 August – 7 September 1977 edition, p. 74) found her section one of the most important, saying that her "contribution deserves the most careful examination".

In the follow-up volume, Incarnation and Myth (1979), she looked at what kind of "evidence" existed in the sources, and showed the strangeness of the language used in her essay "God Suffered and Died", and questioned whether traditional concepts of incarnation made sense, and whether they tended to docetism, losing sight of the suffering of Christ: "I find myself able to say: “I see God in Jesus,” and “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” and other such traditional statements without necessarily having to spell it out in terms of a literal incarnation. I find salvation in Christ, because in him God is disclosed to me as a “suffering God.” God is not only disclosed in him, nor is revelation confined to “biblical times”; but Jesus is the supreme disclosure which opens my eyes to God in the present, and while remaining a man who lived in a particular historical situation, he will always be the unique focus of my perception of and response to God." However, after further historical research, when she came to write "From Nicaea to Chalcedon", she remarked that she had changed her views; she now thought that the metaphysical language of the early church fathers did make sense once understood properly "as a result of a more profound engagement with the material in the research", a position she was later to take up in "The Making of the Creeds".[citation needed]

Theological Work[edit]

Other notable theological work includes "The Making of the Creeds" in which she explained how the creeds arose in the struggle to understand ideas of incarnation and trinity: "they were not initially 'tests of orthodoxy' but as summaries of faith taught to new Christians by their local bishops, summaries that were traditional to each local church and which in detail varied from place to place". She convincingly explains that, far from being abstract theological mind games, the credal disputes were "fired by concern that the gospel of salvation be safeguarded. At the heart of the life of the church was the belief that salvation was being realised, and at the heart of early Christian theology was a sense of the sacramental and spiritual reality of that salvation."


  • Sacrifice and the death of Christ, 1975
  • The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. John Hick,SCM, 1977
  • Incarnation and Myth, ed. Michael Goulder, SCM, 1979
  • From Nicaea to Chalcedon, SCM, 1983
  • Face to Face: A Narrative Essay in the Theology of Suffering, 1991
  • The Making of the Creeds, 1991
  • The art of performance: towards a theology of Holy Scripture
  • Can these dry bones live?
  • Meaning and Truth in 2 Corinthians
  • All of You are one in Christ Jesus
  • Virtuoso Theology: The Bible and Interpretation, 1993
  • Dare We Speak of God in Public?, London, Mowbray,1995
  • Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Theology Of The Pastoral Letters, 2003
  • Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality, 2007


  1. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF) .

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