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2021 Whitley Lecture

23 Aug 2021
Public Lecture

As churches increasingly seek to include people with disabilities, how disability fits into the gospel is a pressing question. Disability and sin often appear together in the Bible, which is awkward.  Jesus’ healing signs, as a foretaste of the saving power of the cross, only seem to make matters worse.  The lecture asks whether the insights of people with disabilities might help here.  Is there a way of understanding God’s saving, healing work at the cross that does not equate disability with sin and that avoids people with disabilities feeling like outsiders?

The cross, with its power to heal and save from sin, lies at the heart of Christian faith and life.  Yet that message has been awkward in the context of disability.  The fact that disability and sin often appear together in Scripture, as well as assumptions about them in some healing ministries, have left people with disabilities feeling like outsiders to the gospel.  This tension is perhaps also why the growing field of disability theology has not so far grappled more closely with God’s work of atonement through Jesus at the cross.  The lecture draws on insights from disability theology and explores whether it is possible to have an account of the atonement, and of healing, that is genuinely inclusive and does not conflate disability and sin.  It also asks whether in that way the cross, rather than being a source of tension, could become the best foundation for the continued development of a distinctively Christian theology of disability.

An Australian First

In 2021, Whitley College will host an Australian first for the British Whitley Lecture. Whilst COVID restrictions make it impossible to host this year’s Whitley Lecturer, Rev Dr David McLachlan, in-person, technology enables us to proceed with the event: on Monday the 23rd of August from 6pm (AEST), Dr McLachlan will join us via Zoom to present “Does this Cross Have Disabled Access?”  Dr McLachlan’s presentation will be followed by an Australian response from Dr Shane Clifton, with questions and discussion from participants to follow.

For further information, please email Whitley College’s Director of Research, Darrell Jackson, on

Rev Dr David McLachlan BA, BD, MTh, PhD

David McLachlan trained and worked as a Baptist minister from 2003, following a career in London.  He was pastor of Dormansland Baptist Church in Surrey, where he was involved for many years as a governor of Young Epilepsy, an organisation providing education, accommodation and care for young people with complex neurological conditions.  More recently, David has been an associate lecturer at Spurgeons College in London, teaching ministry students.  There, he has also been researching the theology of disability since 2013, completing his PhD in 2018.  The lecture draws on some of that work.  David is married to Mary (also a Baptist minister) and they have four grown-up children.  His more active hobbies include climbing, surfing and music.

Dr Shane Clifton

Dr Shane Clifton is honorary Professor at the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at the University of Sydney and Assistant Director of Research at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. He was formerly Professor of theology and ethics at Alphacrucis College. He is a quadriplegic and passionate advocate for disability inclusion and flourishing.

The Whitley Lecture

The Whitley Lecture highlights emerging scholarship that draws upon over 400 years of Baptist scholarship in the British Isles. The Whitley lecture has also been delivered by theologians and scholars from other Christian traditions. This will be the first time that the Whitley Lecture is delivered in Australia, as part of an annual cycle that until now has been restricted to venues in the British Isles.

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