Frances Young

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Frances Young

Frances Margaret Young

1939 (age 79–80)
EmployerUniversity of Birmingham
TitleEdward Cadbury Professor of Theology
SuccessorDavid C Parker

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


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]

According to local guides, in August 1965 she became the first woman to climb Ranrapalca (c. 20,000 ft) in the Peruvian Andes.

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, Philadelphia : Westminster Press, 1975, ISBN 9780664242107
  • The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. John Hick, London : SCM Press, 1977, ISBN 9780334010654
  • Incarnation and Myth : The Debate Continued, ed. Michael Goulder, London : SCM Press, 1979, ISBN 9780802811998
  • Can these dry bones live? : the excitement of theological study, London : SCM Press Ltd, 1982, ISBN 9780334049654
  • From Nicaea to Chalcedon : a guide to the literature and its background, London : SCM Press, 1983, ISBN 9780334004950
  • Meaning and Truth in 2 Corinthians, with David F Ford, London : SPCK, 1987, ISBN 9780281043170
  • The art of performance: towards a theology of Holy Scripture, London : Darton, Longman and Todd, 1990, ISBN 9780232517798
  • Face to Face: A Narrative Essay in the Theology of Suffering, Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1991, ISBN 9780567291776
  • The Making of the Creeds, London : SCM Press, 1991, ISBN 9780334024880
  • Virtuoso Theology: The Bible and Interpretation, Eugene, OR : Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1993, ISBN 9781579109776
  • Theology Of The Pastoral Letters, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1994, ISBN 9780521379311
  • Dare We Speak of God in Public?, London: Mowbray, 1995, ISBN 9780264673660
  • Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 9780511583216
  • Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality,Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Academic, 2007, ISBN 9780801035043
  • God's Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2013, ISBN 1107642787 ISBN 978-1107642782
  • Arthur's Call: A Journey of Faith in the Face of Severe Learning Disability, London : SPCK, 2014, ISBN 0281070466, ISBN 9780281070466


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

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