An Interview with Ian McFarland, the new editor of Scottish Journal of Theology
Find out more about the new editor of Scottish Journal of Theology (SJT) as he offers advice to authors, discusses where he sees the journal progressing and tells us what the most exciting currents in theology are today.
Can you tell us some background about SJT and your connection to it?
SJT has been a leading theological journal for decades, and up until now it has been led by Scotland’s “first family” of theologians, the Torrances: first T. F. Torrance, and then Iain R. Torrance. Though the title “Scottish” might suggest a regional focus, the journal has long been recognized as a leading forum for the best contemporary theology internationally. It is subscribed by individuals and institutions in more than 90 countries. I first became involved with the journal as a book reviewer when I was a colleague of Iain’s in Aberdeen. Later, I was invited to be part of the editorial board, and I am more honoured – and excited – than I can say to have been given the opportunity to help carry on the tradition of theological excellence that the journal represents.
Have you previously worked as an editor?
I have worked as the editor of books (both series and individual volumes, including the Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology), and I have served on the editorial board of the SJT for some years now. But this is the first time I will have been the chief editor on a journal.
Where would you like SJT to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like SJT to be positioned where it is now: at the forefront of English-language theological scholarship. But to maintain that status, it will, I expect, need to look different than it does today, especially with respect to the confessional and geographical breadth of its contributors (more on that in no. 5 below!).
What advice do you have for any author submitting work to SJT?
The most important thing for any article is to have something to say that is thought-provoking and thus advances the conversation. An article that impresses me – whether or not I agree with the substance of its conclusions – is one from which I come away thinking, “Hmm. I need to think more about that!” In terms of presentation, the chief values I place in theological writing (and, for that matter, in all scholarly writing) are precision, clarity, conciseness in expression. Nothing discourages a reader more quickly than being unsure what is being argued, or what difference it makes.
What kind of work would you like SJT to publish more of?
This is a hard question to answer, because I don’t look at SJT as being significantly deficient in its current publication practices. If I had to say something about this, I suppose it would be that I would like SJT to continue to expand the confessional and geographic location of its authorship. It has tended to be have been marked especially (though by no means exclusively) by Reformed and North Atlantic voices, which increasingly does not reflect the shape of world Christianity. I suspect this largely reflects the sort of scholar who thinks about submitting to SJT in the first place, rather than any overt editorial bias. But I would like to see more Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal contributors; and I would hope that simple demographics would mean that more and more of our authors come from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania.
What do you think are the most exciting currents in theology today?
What I find most exciting about contemporary theology is what I see as the steady growth of truly ecumenical spirit. By this I don’t mean any explicit move toward ecclesial unity (as important as that is), but the ways in which theologians of all stripes seem to feel increasingly called to draw on the full breadth of the Christian tradition in articulating their views, without regard to the degree to which the writers so drawn upon necessarily share their own confessional identity (including figures – I think particularly of many medieval women writers – who have in the past been marginalized across ecclesial traditions). I take this as deriving from recognition that the Spirit is not tied to ecclesial boundaries, and, correlatively, that theologians from different church backgrounds and commitments are nevertheless committed to a common enterprise.
How do you spend your time when you’re not doing theology?
I like to walk/hike in the countryside; I also enjoy classical music (my wife is a classically trained oboist, so I have long been spoiled in this regard).
Read Ian McFarland’s first editorial in Scottish Journal of Theology for free until 31 December 2015 here.
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