A Visit with Walter Moberly and St. Cuthbert in Durham

This is part 3 of my journey through the UK.

Having left Aberdeen, I got on the train from Scotland to England, arriving in Durham around suppertime. I was welcomed at the station by Walter Moberly, professor of Old Testament at Durham University.

Walter Moberly is a brilliant scholar who cares immensely about reading Scripture theologically for the sake of the church. I have benefited greatly from his work over the years; indeed, my very first email contact with him (ten years ago), prodded me to significantly nuance my interpretation of a particular biblical text (Genesis 12:1-3).

Walter was also the doctoral supervisor of my colleague Josef Sykora, for which I am very grateful.

Abraham’s Response to God in Genesis 22

I came to Durham, at Walter’s invitation, to give a paper in the Old Testament research seminar for postgraduate students in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. My topic was “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22.”

My interpretation of this famous story (known in Jewish tradition as the Aqedah or the binding of Isaac) deviated significantly Walter’s (he has written extensively on the topic). Whereas I was critical of Abraham’s silent response to God in Genesis 22, Walter has defended Abraham in numerous articles and thinks the story was meant to teach about the true attitude of the heart when Israel offers sacrifices at the Jerusalem temple.

I don’t doubt that the story came to have that use, but I wanted to understand what it could mean in the narrative world of the Abraham story itself.

Despite our disagreement, and the questions that he raised in the wake of my presentation, Walter was extremely gracious to me throughout my visit to Durham.

The Hospitality of Walter Moberly

He was, in fact, a wonderful host. I stayed with Walter and Jenny Moberly in their house near the university, the very house that Charles Kingsley Barrett (the famous New Testament scholar) used to live in.

Having lived and taught in Durham since 1989, Walter Moberly has become very knowledgeable about the history of the university and the cathedral (which are both on the same grounds).

He gave me a fascinating walking tour of Durham cathedral, which dates back almost to the Norman conquest (which took place in 1066). Construction began in the late eleventh century and was completed in the early twelfth century—which makes the cathedral about a thousand years old (that’s pretty impressive to someone from the New World).

St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral

Among the historical details I learned was that St. Cuthbert (634–687), the monk who became bishop of Lindisfarne and who died there, was buried in Durham cathedral.

When it became evident that the island of Lindisfarne (off the east coast of Northumbria) would no longer be safe from invasion by enemies, the monks moved their order (along with the body of Cuthbert) to Durham and he was re-interred there. This was before the Cathedral was built.

Legend has it that when Cuthbert’s tomb was opened (first to move him to Durham, then to rebury him in the cathedral once it was built) his body was incorrupt. This magnified the fame of Cuthbert, who was a saint in his own right independently of this phenomenon.

Even when emissaries from Oliver Cromwell (the staunch Puritan) opened Cuthbert’s tomb in the seventeenth century, they were awed by the incorruption of his body, and re-buried him, despite Cromwell’s distaste for the veneration of saints.

I had the amazing experience of sitting where this picture was taken, looking at Cuthbert’s tomb (the dark rectangle set in the floor), overwhelmed by the depths of time (a twenty-first century man contemplating a seventh century monk buried in a twelfth century cathedral).

I prayed silently, offering thanks for the faithfulness of God from the beginning of creation, through all the ages of the world, including his revelation through Abraham, Israel, and Jesus, up through medieval England, and into all the lands of the world, right up to the present day—and on into the consummation of all things.

Thanks be to God, the Alpha and the Omega, the creator and redeemer of all times—including this brief epoch we call human history.

My next post takes us to the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield.

A Sabbatical Visit to Australia

I haven’t had a chance to write much for this blog in quite a while, since I am hard at work on papers and talks that I will present in Australia during my sabbatical, this Fall.

I will be in Australia for a month, as Visiting Theologian-in-Residence first at St. Barnabas College, Adelaide (Sept. 18-Oct. 1, 2016) and then at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra (Oct. 2-15, 2016), both member schools of Charles Sturt University.

My activities in Adelaide include:

My activities in Canberra:

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When I return from Australia, I will give the J. J. Theissen Lectures (on Lament), at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB, October 25-26, 2016.

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These presentations are all related to research for my book, tentatively called The Silence of Abraham, The Passion of Job: Explorations in the Theology of Lament (to be published by Baker Academic).

It’s Been a Crazy Semester for Papers, Talks, and Blogging

This has been an extremely busy semester.

I’ve been working hard on preparing various talks and lectures, and also a number of essays for publication (not to mention teaching four courses). So I’ve fallen behind in my original goal (made nearly two years ago, when I began this blog) to post something new about once per week.

I’m afraid this will be the case until the end of the semester, when I hope to complete most of this writing.

So, in the meantime, I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve been doing, and also post some of the pieces I’ve been working on.

Holistic Eschatology

Near the end of summer I wrote a short meditation on holistic eschatology for an online newsletter for United Methodist theological students, called The Catalyst. Then in September I expanded this piece into a longer talk for the Asian-American IVCF group at Cornell University (co-sponsored with Chesterton House). Both pieces were called “To Love What God Loves: Understanding the Cosmic Scope of Redemption.”

Imago Dei and Evolution

In October I gave a lecture at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) on humanity as imago Dei in a symposium on what it means to be human in light of hominin evolution (this was part of a series of four events on evolution in relation to the imago Dei and the fall for Evangelicals and Catholics, held in different regions of Canada, organized by Paul Allen of Concordia University, Montreal). My lecture (which had three respondents) will be revised for publication (probably next year) in a volume of essays edited by Allen. An audio of the lecture is being made available by Regent College.

Creation and Fall in Genesis 2-3

Roberts Wesleyan College (where I’ve been teaching since 2002; at the seminary since 2011) is having their 150th anniversary next year, and will be producing an anthology of essays in honor of B. T. Roberts, the founder of the College. My contribution to this volume is a close reading of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2-3 for what it teaches us about God’s original intent for work and male-female relationships, including how these ideals are distorted by sin. I presented a short version of this paper in October at the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association conference at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto. The published volume should be available by Fall 2016.

Evolution and the Fall

I’ve also been working on another essay on Genesis 3, exploring how the account of the fall might be related to what we know about human evolution and the origin of evil. I gave an lecture on this topic at Roberts Wesleyan College in October 2014 and then again at a conference organized by the Colossian Forum in Chicago in March of this year. This essay will be published in 2016 by Eerdmans in an anthology entitled Re-Imagining the Intersection of Evolution and the Fall, edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh.

This past week I presented four papers at conferences that were being held in association with the large American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings in Atlanta.

Eschatology Session at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)

I presented an invited paper for a special session on my eschatology book at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 19). My paper, entitled “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World,” was followed by an appreciative but critical response to the book by Greg Beale of Westminster Theological Seminary, and then by an immensely practical paper by Victor Cortez of Food for the Hungry, on “Landing the Biblical Theological Plane” of eschatology, in which he vividly showed what difference a holistic vision of the future makes for transforming people’s lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. The papers were followed by a panel discussion on the topic.

Paper on Psalm 51 for the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR)

I then presented a paper on Psalm 51 as a critique of David’s inadequate repentance, in one of the research groups of the IBR at their annual meeting (November 20). This was a precis of a longer essay I wrote for a volume sponsored by IBR called Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, ed. Robbie Castleman, Darian Lockett, and Stephen Presley (to be published by Pickwick Publications in 2016). A draft of the essay is available on the IBR website.

Paper on Bob Marley for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The following day (November 21) I was scheduled to give a paper on the reggae band Third World for the Islands, Islanders, and Scriptures program unit of the SBL. But due to elder care family issues, I wasn’t able to get this done. The organizers therefore allowed me to present a short version of a previous paper I had written on Bob Marley and the Wailers (complete with music clips).

Paper on Genesis 22 for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)

The next day (November 22), in the Genesis program unit of the SBL, I presented a paper on the Aqedah (the “binding” of Isaac) in Genesis 22. I explored a reading of the text that did not automatically take Abraham’s silent attempt to sacrifice his son as exemplary, given the normative example of lament or protest prayer in the Bible. This paper was part of my initial work on reading Genesis 22 and the book of Job in light of biblical lament prayer, which will be the topic of my research for a new book during my upcoming sabbatical (in 2016-17).

Given all the above, I haven’t got a lot of blogging done recently. Hopefully, this post will somewhat make up for that.

Future Posts

Once I finish editing the final two of the above essays, I hope to be able to turn more wholeheartedly to blogging in the new year. In fact, I’ve just been appointed a Theological Fellow for BioLogos, so you can expect a variety of posts on the Bible and evolution (among other topics) during 2016.