Close this search box.

2021 Whitley 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.

Register Now

1 Step 1
Register Now
First Name
Last Name
FormCraft - WordPress form builder


Humanity in the 21st century faces enormous challenges. Australian Christianity in the 21st century is also facing enormous challenges. It will be argued that both of these challenges are linked to a crisis of the dominant mode of living in the West: consumer culture. This lecture will consider the tasks of Christian witness in Australia if it is to take these twin challenges seriously. How might ecological responsibility and economic justice be linked to the health of faith and the content of witness? And what might this actually look like?

Jonathan Cornford is the co-founder of Manna Gum, a ministry in good news economics. He has a doctorate in political-economy and is currently undertaking a doctorate in theology through Whitley College.

This richly illustrated lecture will explore the ways in which the figure of Jesus Christ has appeared in the history of Australian Art. Some of these images will appear familiar and confirm the roles of Jesus as teacher and healer. Some of the images can be found in Churches while others appear in the private studios of artists who have been drawn to the figure of Christ as a source of inspiration. Other images will be surprising as they arise in unexpected place with artists outside the Christian faith who nevertheless bring insights about the search for spirituality in Australia. Some of these images arrive with a sense of shock as they break open expectations about who Jesus is in the complexity of our contemporary culture. This fascinating overview will explore how the image of Jesus has found a home within Australian culture while also turning to challenge its comfortable illusions.

Rev Dr Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian interested in the power of images. He considers that looking at art helps us see more clearly the culture we inhabit and what shapes our faith, hopes, and desires in this complex postmodern era. Rod has written and lectured widely on art and spirituality in Australia and for many years was the Chair of the Blake Prize for Religious Art. He is currently minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church where he leads a vibrant arts and community development ministry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis for his role in the resistance to Hitler, refused to conform either to what nationalism or conventional piety wanted a pastor to be. In the face of massive injustice and evil he insisted that “the church is church only when it exists for others.” We know where that belief led Bonhoeffer. Where might it lead Christian ministry in our world today?

Keith Clements is a British Baptist minister, theologian, writer and ecumenist who has written extensively on the life and thought of Bonhoeffer.