Frances Young

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Frances Young
Born England
Occupation Theologian, Methodist Minister

The Reverend Frances Margaret Young (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 (1995-7) 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.

Because of this she has worked on the theological and ecumenical dimensions of the L'Arche communities with Jean Vanier, their founder

The Myth of God Incarnate[edit]

Frances 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.

It is notable that she took a very different line from the other contributors. 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. 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 (August 31-September 7, 1977. 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 again 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".

Christianity and Disability[edit]

Frances Young is notable for an extensive work in 1985, extensively revised in 1990 on Christianity and Disability, entitled "Face to Face: A Narrative Essay in the Theology of Suffering", which explores both theological and pastoral matters. She has also given talks on this subject, which draws its impetus from her faith, and the need to make sense of her severely disabled son Arthur within the framework of Christianity.

Here she notes that "we are a psychosomatic whole. We cannot be divided into soul and body. I was even more convinced of this by the experience of Arthur. A damaged brain means that the whole personality is damaged, and lacks full potential for development." The biblical view of a person she sees as a whole creature, which is where the idea of resurrection speaks of restoration of the whole; it was later Christianity that brought in Greek ideas about immortality of the soul, and this strangely dualistic way of seeing people. "Granted all the difficulties in asserting a doctrine of bodily resurrection, it does at least preserve that profound integration of our selves which is inescapably part of being what we are in this world and experience"

This also throws up the problem of such suffering and evil and a good God. "The phenomenon of handicap can produce a naive sentimentality which refuses to admit it is an evil, but everything in me protested against it as cruel and unnecessary. And if every individual is important to God, how could he even afflict one of his creatures in this way... denying them the possibility of fullness of life."

She saw her questioning like the story in which Jacob wrestles with God; and will not let God go even when he is marked by the struggle, wounded, a thigh dislocated; he keeps on struggling until he receives a blessing: "In the end Jesus did not waft away the darkness of the world, all its sin and suffering and hurt and evil, with a magic wand. He entered right into it, took it upon himself, bore it, and in the process turned it into glory, transformed it. It is that transformation which the healing of the blind man foreshadows."

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? Editor and Contributor,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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