Thinking Faith Network was was founded in 1986 by David Lyon and Ruth Hanson, who both worked in research and teaching at the University of Bradford, as the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies (WYSOCS). When David had lectured at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC), John Stott suggested that a similar centre for biblical engagement with contemporary life be set up in the north of England.
From its beginning, Thinking Faith Network has sought teachers who are authorities in their field and have developed a distinctively biblical perspective. Seeking to address all areas of study and diverse issues, we have welcomed Christian scholars from around the world. In particular – and perhaps uniquely in the UK – we seek scholars who draw from and develop a systematic Christian philosophy. Christians are increasingly aware of the importance of worldviews, but if we are to acknowledge God in areas thought to be secular, we may need more systematic analysis and deeper critiques. We have found the non-reductionistic approach of Reformational philosophy to be essential for this kind of deeper critique and learning.
David Lyon’s seminal course on ‘The Biblical Drama’ was co-led by David Hanson, Ruth’s husband. When David Lyon eventually moved to Canada, the Hansons’ home in Leeds – once home to the Christian labour reformer Richard Oastler (1789-1861) – became a venue for WYSOCS meetings. Over the years that followed, Outwood House and its Barn were used for numerous lectures, concerts, art exhibitions, film viewings, round-table discussions and symposia.
Our development was helped by links with the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action and with Christian scholars around the world. Indeed the Hansons played a role in the first international conference on Christian Higher Education at Potchefstroom University in South Africa in 1975. Another seminal event came in 1996 when the great missionary theologian Bishop Lesslie Newbigin led a colloquium for us, challenging us to make the culture-transforming work of Abraham Kuyper known in this country.
As our work moved into the new century, it became clear that new initiatives are needed to reach and challenge more people to engage with their faith in all areas of their lives. Our first step was a gap-year programme to equip young people for academic study or training. Thinking Space ran from 2003 to 2006 and prompted us to employ our first paid teaching staff – Arthur Jones and Mark Roques. This led to the distinction of LifeMatters, for continuing education, from the RealityBites ministry for youth and schools work. The launch of Faith-in-Scholarship enabled us to help postgraduate students think about their studies and callings from a non-reductive Christian perspective.
2016 marked 30 years of our story and we embarked on a new vision with a new name (Thinking Faith Network) under which to take forward our work of transforming all of life through applying Christian thinking, which we’ve been doing ever since.