A Wonderful First Week in Australia

About a month ago I posted about my upcoming sabbatical visit to Australia.

I’ve now completed two weeks Down Under, in Adelaide (South Australia). I’ve just arrived in Canberra (the national capital), where I’ll spend another two weeks.

In this post I’ll report on the activities of my first week in Adelaide; in my next post I’ll cover the second  week.

I left the USA on Thursday, September 15 and arrived in Adelaide (via Sydney) nearly forty hours later on Saturday, September 17 (Friday just disappeared in the time zone change).

It took me a good three or four days before I felt recovered from travel. I guess you could say I was jet lagged; but I think it was simply the lack of sleep (four hours sleep in a day and a half just wasn’t enough).

Travel on Qantas Airlines

And yet the trip itself (apart from the lack of sleep) was quite wonderful. I had never traveled on Qantas before (Australia’s national airline), but this is now my favorite airline.

Not only is Qantas the largest airline in the world (in terms of number of planes, flights, and destinations), but they had the best service I’ve encountered in years (especially in comparison to the American airline companies I’m used to).

There was a hot meal on every flight, not only on the long haul (fifteen hours) between the US and Australia (there were actually two meals on that flight); there was a hot meal offered even on the flights within the US and within Australia (when’s the last time a US airline served a hot meal on a domestic flight, included in the price of the ticket?). In fact, the meal on both the US leg and the trans-Pacific leg came with a free serving of wine or beer.

We even had a printed menu with our choices.


I was picked up at the Adelaide airport by the Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey, the principal of St Barnabas College, who was my host for the two weeks. Not only was he a wonderful person, and smart to boot (with a PhD in Hebrew linguistics), it turns out that we both did our PhDs at the Free University of Amsterdam; in fact we defended our dissertations just a year apart. It’s a small world!

My First Few Days in Adelaide

Having arrived in Adelaide on a Saturday afternoon, I got a decent night’s sleep and then went to church (Holy Innocents Anglican Church) with Matthew and his family the next morning. There I heard a thoughtful message by the Rev’d Steve Daughtry about the use of money in the kingdom of God, based on the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13).

That evening I was interviewed on 1079 Life FM by the Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold about my upcoming activities in Adelaide and my various bookshe had certainly done his homework. But then Lynn Arnold has been the Premier of South Australia (1992-93) and headed up World Vision Australia from 1997 to 2007; he is currently an Anglican priest stationed at St. Peter’s Cathedral and teaches Public Theology and Church History at St Barnabas College.

The next day (Monday) I got a tour of St. Barnabas College, including an office I could use, and I got set up with internet access, a printer, and so forth. That afternoon there was a reception with staff and friends of St. Barnabas, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant (I had kangaroo for the first time).

St. Barnabas College (founded in 1880) is a member of the School of Theology of Charles Sturt University. The College recently relocated its physical campus to the same building as the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, as a re-affirmation of its commitment to the church.

The very week I arrived St Barnabas College had just unveiled a new logo, new signage, and a brand new website, as part of a process of re-branding. So folks were pretty busy the first few days I was there.

Lament in Scripture and Life

The highlight of my first week in Adelaide was the two-day Workshop (September 22-23) on “Lament in Scripture and Life” held at St. Barnabas, which was attended by eleven biblical scholars (nine in Old Testament and two in New Testament); apart from me, everyone was from Australia or environs (one traveled from New Zealand).

All eleven of us wrote and submitted papers in advance on some aspect of lament. My paper was on Genesis 22, part of my research for the book on Abraham and Job that I’m working on during my sabbatical.

These papers weren’t actually presented at the workshop; instead we all read each others’ papers in advance. Each person had an opportunity to summarize their paper (5 minutes), followed by a 10-15 minute response that had been prepared by someone else, followed by feedback and discussion by everyone else for another 40-45 minutes.

The authors and topics of the papers were as follows:

  • Elizabeth Boase, “Engaging Westermann and the Assumptive World”
  • Jione Havea, “By the waters of Pasifika: Wailing at Noah’s altar (Genesis 8)”
  • Michael Trainor, “‘Did you know that little girls could be nailed to the cross?’: The Lament of the Gospel”
  • Timothy J. Harris, “Appropriation and Juxtaposition: Experiential Readings of the Lord’s Prayer in Contexts of Lament”
  • Mark G. Brett, “Psalm 94 and the Hermeneutics of Protest”
  • Matthew Anstey, “The Narratological Necessity of Lament”
  • Peter Lockwood, “Jephthah’s Enemies and His Daughter: Narcissism, Violence and Lament (Judges 11)”
  • J. Richard Middleton, “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22″
  • Jeanette Mathews, “Prayers of Lament as Performance”
  • Monica Melanthon, “Slumdog Despair: Taking Dalit Laments to Church”
  • David Cohen, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Psalm 89 as Liturgical Memory”

We had two wonderful days of intense and serious discussion, and the feedback we each received will greatly improve our papers as we revise them for publication. We are planning for a volume of essays possibly called Lament Rekindled.

Then, after our (serious) scholarly endeavors, we had fun posing for photos (I don’t remember what the joke was, but it must have been good).

A Trip to the Barossa

Although most of the participants in the Lament seminar had to leave soon after to catch flights home, four of us were around the next day for a trip to the Barossa, a beautiful wine region of South Australia near Adelaide. The only trouble was that it began to rain that morning, so it cut down on the sightseeing component. Nevertheless, I saw kangaroos in the wild, as we were driving by. And the wine tasting proceeded as planned.

All week I had been learning distinctive Aussie lingo, including:

  • no worries, mate [= you’re welcome; in Jamaica we would say “no problem, mon”]
  • footy [= football]
  • uni [= university]
  • breaky [= breakfast]
  • a flat white [= coffee with milk]

I learned one more on the Barossa trip: “cellar door,” which is a reference to the wine tasting room associated with a winery (the term has a sort of Hobbit feel, though some of the cellar doors we visited were quite spacious).

We visited four cellar doors in all on the trip, two before lunch and two after. It stopped raining briefly when we came out of Peter Lehman Wines (the third stop), which allowed us to have a group photo taken outside.

And the sun actually shone brightly (though briefly) just before we headed for home. But it was pouring when we got back to Adelaide.

This weather was a portent of what was to come.

I’ll soon post a report of Week Two in Australia.

Three Recent Theses Completed at Northeastern Seminary

Three Master’s theses that I supervised were recently completed, two last year and one this summer. They are all substantial pieces of theological research, with clear implications for the life of the church.

  • Living Sacramentally: The Problem of Being and Doing with Special Reference to Thomas Aquinas (Margaret Giordano)
  • The New Creation Fugue: The Interweaving of Individual, Community, and Cosmos in Paul’s Theology of New Creation (Calvin Smith)
  • Two Pauline Ways to Describe the Ethics of the Resurrection Life (Matthew Davis)

Although my area of expertise is Old Testament, none of these theses were in that area. Meg Giordano’s thesis was in philosophy, while Calvin Smith’s and Matt Davis’s were in New Testament. So for the Giordano thesis I had to draw on my own M.A. in philosophy (my thesis addressed God language in Thomas Aquinas and Paul Tillich), and for the Smith and Davis theses, I could draw on my research for my recent book on eschatology, A New Heaven and a New Earth.

Meg Giordano’s thesis addresses the contemporary problem, particularly evident in Protestant churches in the evangelical tradition, of downplaying “works” (actions, good deeds) by emphasizing “faith” (this is often tied to the claim that “being” is more important than “doing”). Not only is this is a totally bogus distinction (we can’t simply “be” without “doing” anything; and faith without works is dead [James 2:14-26]), but she shows that the writings of Thomas Aquinas are helpful for exploring how action may be thought of as the core of being. Although there are tensions in Aquinas’s formulation (which Giordano explores), Aquinas drew on Aristotle, whose primary category of being was “energeia” or activity, a signal improvement over Plato’s more passive concept of Being (many Christian theologians have been more influenced by Plato).

Through this study, Giordanto aims to “reclaim the value of action in the life of the individual and in the relationships of community,” in such a manner that our action can be thought of as sacramental—living so that our ordinary lives “can be centers that activate in others grace, peace, and even connectedness to the presence of Christ, and to lay down our lives to ensure that they be so.”

Despite its clear philosophical character, this thesis resonated with me as a biblical scholar, since it is clear from both the Old and New Testaments that the goal of salvation is sanctification or transformation, which is manifested in a concrete life of discipleship and obedience to God.

Calvin Smith’s thesis addresses the interpretive question—which continues to surface in New Testament scholarship—of whether Paul’s references to “new creation” (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17) speak primarily to the transformation of the individual or the community (the way the debate is often set up) or even to the entire cosmos (which is the primary reference of “new creation” in Second Temple Judaism).

His profound argument is that there is an interweaving of all three in Paul’s writings, and it is impossible to understand any of these emphases without the others.

As Smith aptly puts it: “There are two basic relationships to attend to: new creatures [individuals] making up the new community; and the new community as the signpost for the new cosmos. Altogether it is a cumulative relationship with the new community as the central link.” Smith likens the interweaving of these three motifs to a musical fugue. He writes: “This thesis is, in a way, an attempt to learn this fugue by separating the three parts and practicing each part before putting them all back together.”

Matt Davis’s thesis addresses the typical disjunction, both in contemporary theology and in the life of the church, between eschatology and ethics, with a focus on the resurrection. To overcome this disjunction, Davis focuses on two Pauline ways of speaking of resurrection life, signaled by Paul’s two-fold use of investiture language.

The first use of the investiture metaphor is Paul’s language of the resurrection as putting on a new body, in 1 Corinthians 15 and in 2 Corinthians 4–5, while the second is the more explicitly ethical language of putting on the new humanity, along with its practices, found in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3. As Davis explains: “The eschatological foundation in 1 Cor 15 and 2 Cor 4–5 sets up Eph 4 and Col 3 as texts of profound ethical practices to follow. Paul stressed the community life and tied it to the transformation because of the Christ event.”

Davis wants to follow up by applying his research to the local church. He explains: “My plan is to create a church discipleship program from this labor of love, something that will help the church to practically and actively live out the resurrection life in the world.”

What They Are Doing Now

Meg Giordano has been adjunct professor of philosophy at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY for the past year; she has just begun a PhD in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto.

Calvin Smith has been a pastor at Valley Chapel Free Methodist Church. Perry, NY for the past two years; he is currently exploring doctoral programs in New Testament and theology.

Matt Davis has been working in the Golisano Library at Roberts Wesleyan College for the last number of years, while also serving as adjunct professor in the religion department of the College. He has just begun a PhD in ministry studies at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, ON.

I’ve written before about Northeastern Seminary, where I teach, and what a special place I have found it to be.

Fall Theology Conference with Iain Provan (October 15, 2016)

The Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) has two theology conferences each year. One occurs at the end of May/early June, in conjunction with the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada. The other (which was inaugurated in 2012) is held in the Fall (usually in October), in conjunction with a local theological seminary or college.

The Fall 2016 CETA theology conference will be co-sponsored with the Associated Canadian Theological Schools (ACTS seminaries), a consortium of theological schools located on the campus of Trinity Western University, in Langley, BC.

The date for the Fall conference is Saturday, October 15, 2016, and the keynote speaker is Iain Provan, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College, in Vancouver, BC. Dr. Provan’s book Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters (Baylor, 2014) won the 2016 R.B.Y. Scott Book Award at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies.

You may access the conference website here.

Click here for online registration. Early bird rates are in effect before September 20.