Biblical Faith and Evolution at Cambridge

This is the seventh installment about my speaking tour in the UK.

In between my two visits to Oxford I spent the day in Cambridge.

I gave a lunchtime lecture at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge (housed in St. Edmund’s College), as part of their bi-weekly series of Research Seminars on various topics relating to science and Christian faith.

Most of my other lectures in the UK were presented to divinity students and faculty at various universities and in a few cases to wider audiences that included non-academics.

Those lectures were all related to my teaching and research on the Bible, deriving either from my published writings (A New Heaven and a New Earth) or from material I am currently working on for publication (the lament psalms, Genesis 22, and Job).

My lecture at the Faraday Institute was a bit different; my assigned topic of how the early chapters of Genesis might relate to an evolutionary account of human origins (“Human Distinctiveness and the Origin of Evil in Biblical and Evolutionary Perspective”) was quite new to me; I’ve only begun thinking about this issue in the last few years.

The audience for the lecture was also different, being composed of scientists, theologians, and students, including people of different religious faiths, and even some skeptics.

This was the largest group I spoke to on my entire UK trip. Whereas some of the academic audiences I addressed were as small as 15 or 20, the Faraday organizers told me they counted 99 people in the audience, the largest turnout they had in recent memory for one of their seminars.

In the Faraday lecture I was representing BioLogos, an organization in the US that tries to help Christians see the harmony between science and faith, especially focusing on how we might understand evolution as the way that God has worked in the created order.

I became a BioLogos theology fellow in 2016, tasked with writing a number of blog posts on issues relating to biblical interpretation and evolution. I was also asked to become a member of BioLogos Voices, which is their Speaker’s Bureau (I am one four speakers listed under Bible and Theology).

My approach in the Faraday lecture (which has also been my approach in my BioLogos blogs) was to use my expertise as an Old Testament scholar to help the audience notice what the relevant Scriptures were saying about the topic at hand, and then speculate (tentatively) on how this might connect with what we know about human evolution.

I had very diverse questions from people of different faith stances; I can only hope that my exposition of Scripture helped those in the audience (Christian or otherwise) realize the rich resources of the Bible, when it is taken seriously and read carefully.

Some Interesting People That I Met

Keith Fox is Associate Director of The Faraday Institute and Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Southampton. He was my initial contact with Faraday and the person who decided on the topic of my lecture (from the options that I suggested).

Jennifer Wiseman works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope (having previously headed the Goddard’s Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics); I had previously met her at a BioLogos conference in the US. She was at the University of Cambridge to work on a short-term research project in astrophysics and was the next speaker for the Faraday Research Seminars, two weeks after my lecture.

Hilary Marlow, Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at University of Cambridge, is an Old Testament scholar well-known for her work on ecology in the prophetic literature. She is one of the editors of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Bible and Ecology, for which I wrote an essay on “The Image of God in Ecological Perspective.” I met Hilary last November when she gave the keynote address on ecology and justice at the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Ethics and Biblical Studies research group of the Institute for Biblical Research (I will be giving the keynote address on ecology and hope at the 2017 meeting).

Fox, Middleton, Weisman, and Marlow

Ruth Bancewicz, a biologist, is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute, who also writes for BioLogos. After my lecture Ruth interviewed me for the Science and Belief blog, which she is in charge of. The interview, which will also be released as a podcast, is meant for those who couldn’t attend the lecture, and generally appeals to a wider audience. The interview has been requested by the editor of The War Cry, a Christian newspaper in the UK published by the Salvation Army (since 1879). Unlike many Christian organizations in North America, it looks like the Salvation Army in the UK isn’t afraid of evolution!

Daniel Weiss is Polonsky-Coexist Lecturer in Jewish Studies, in Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. After my Faraday lecture, Daniel took me aside and chatted enthusiastically about his work on biblical interpretation and the Jewish intellectual tradition. I was pleasantly surprised when he affirmed that my analysis of humanity as the image of God (in The Liberating Image) was helpful for his own work.

The Work of Michael Faraday

And now a word about Michael Faraday, the nineteenth-century English Christian (1791-1867) for whom The Faraday Institute is named. Although he had almost no formal schooling, Michael Faraday became fascinated with science in his teenage years and became an important experimental scientist as a young man. He was the first to demonstrate the relationship of electricity to magnetism, and he developed the first electric motor. Later on he demonstrated the connection of electromagnetism to light. In 1825 Faraday instituted a series of Christmas lectures on science for the public that continue to this day.

In the plane on the way home, I happened to watch a special episode of Cosmos (the science TV series) on Michael Faraday; it was quite inspiring.

There and Back Again—My Visit to “Oxbridge”

This is the sixth installment about my speaking in the UK.

After spending the weekend in Leeds, giving talks on eschatology and lament for the Thinking Faith Network, we headed for “Oxbridge,” where I would speak three times on the topic of biblical eschatology (“A New Heaven and a New Earth”).  For those who don’t know the term, “Oxbridge” refers the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the two oldest universities in England.

Although bound together by prestige and history, the two universities are in different cities; and they not connected by any clear, straightforward route—either by road or by rail (as I found out, when I traveled between them, twice).

Oxford

My first stop was Oxford, to speak at the Monday evening meeting of the Graduate Christian Forum, held upstairs in The Mitre pub. A small but collegial group of Oxford students, professors, and friends gathered for the lecture; and we had continued conversation for about an hour afterwards, interspersed with drinks and snacks.

I don’t know if C. S. Lewis and the Inklings ever met in The Mitre (I know they met in a variety of Oxford pubs), but I did see their most famous meeting place, the Eagle and Child (fondly known as the Bird and Baby).

So I’ve mentioned C. S. Lewis, and the title of this post alludes to J. R. R. Tolkein (the subtitle of The Hobbit), but it was Francis Schaeffer’s presence that I felt at The Mitre.

This was because I met Joe Martin, a retired American engineer, who had spent time as a young man with Schaeffer at Swiss L’Abri, the Christian study center that Francis and Edith Schaeffer founded in 1955.

Francis Schaeffer’s writings greatly impacted me as a young theology student, as I noted in the introduction to my book A New Heaven and a New Earth:

I was therefore delighted to meet Joe Martin, who functions as a pastor to Oxford students, nurturing their consciousness of a biblical worldview and its impact on all of life.

Joe gave me a theme issue of an Oxbridge journal that was devoted the topic of Jerusalem in history and theology. His article on the “New Jerusalem” made many of the same points that I addressed in my eschatology lecture (in his case, I was clearly preaching to the choir).

Cambridge

The next morning we headed for Cambridge, where I would speak twice—first at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (which I’ll report on in my next post), and then at the Jubilee Centre (on eschatology).

The Jubilee Centre is a sort of Christian think tank and outreach ministry that (according to their web site) “offers a biblical perspective on contemporary issues and underlying trends in society, of relevance to the general public.”

Among their forms of outreach, they publish a series of papers that bring incisive Christian analysis to a range of topics of concern to a wide audience in the UK and Europe.

My lecture at the Jubilee Centre was co-sponsored by the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), which exists under the umbrella of Tyndale House at the University of Cambridge.

My initial connection with the Jubilee Centre came through Jonathan Chaplin (about to retire from being the director of KLICE), who was a fellow graduate student with me at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, before he returned to his native England to do PhD work.

It was great reconnecting with Jonathan Chaplin and meeting the staff at the Jubilee Centre, including Jonathan Tame, director of the Centre, who introduced my talk (above).

Oxford

The next morning we headed back to Oxford, so I could speak at Wycliffe Hall, an evangelical school of theology in the University of Oxford. Although this stop was added only at the last minute (in fact, I only found out about it when I was about to leave my home in Rochester for the airport), it was a worthwhile addition to the speaking tour.

I gave my eschatology talk to a group of faculty and students and after a brief Q&A, I gathered with a smaller group for more in-depth discussion of issues raised in the lecture.

I was glad to reconnect with Ben Johnson, tutor in Biblical Interpretation at Wycliffe Hall, who I had previously met at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in 2016 (we both gave papers in the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures section). Ben is a friend of my colleague Josef Sykora, both having studied Old Testament with Walter Moberly at Durham University.

Ben Johnson is currently co-editing, along with my long-time friend Keith Bodner, two volumes of essays on Characters and Characterization in Samuel-Kings; I will be contributing an essay on the prophet Samuel.

In my next post I’ll talk about my time at the Faraday Institute in Cambridge.

 

 

After Tom Wright—Speaking on the Lament Psalms in Aberdeen

This is a continuation blog post about my speaking tour in the UK.

After a great time with Tom and Maggie Wright, I left St. Andrews, heading north for Aberdeen, before I would need to head south from Scotland to England.

I arrived in Aberdeen at the start of the weekend and had some time to poke about the city and work on polishing some of the talks I would be giving over the next couple of weeks.

The Lament Psalms in Aberdeen

On Monday morning I was picked up by Grant Macaskill, the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen. We drove to “Old Aberdeen,” where part of the university campus was located. There I spoke on the lament psalms (“Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World”) in the School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy.

Lament was was one of the topics I had addressed in St. Andrews and it was the topic Grant specifically requested for my Aberdeen visit. Not only did this topic relate to the interests of many graduate students, but the lecture was attended by Brian Brock, Lecturer in Moral and Practical Theology, who has co-edited an important volume of essays called Evoking Lament: A Theological Discussion (T & T Clark International, 2009), in which he has a chapter on Augustine and lament.

I had a great discussion with students in a variety of fields, including biblical studies, systematic theology, and practical theology on the value of the lament psalms for the church’s processing of pain and suffering, in prayer to God.

Meeting Grant Macaskill in the Islands Group at SBL

I had originally met my host Grant Macaskill (who is an excellent New Testament scholar and ethicist) at the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings a few years ago, in a session on Islands, Islanders, and the Bible. Although most of the presenters in these sessions were from either the Caribbean (like myself) or the Pacific islands, Grant did a beautiful paper called “Gaelic Psalmody and a Theology of Place in the Western Isles of Scotland.”

His paper and mine (which was called “Islands in the Sun: Overtures to a Caribbean Creation Theology”) were both published in Islands, Islanders, and the Bible: Ruminations (Semeia Studies 77; Society of Biblical Literature, 2015).

The Jamaica-Scotland Connection—Past and Future

Grant and I managed to carve out time for some preliminary talks about a possible doctoral program in theology that Aberdeen might co-sponsor with the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology.

Having been made aware of the possibility of a joint PhD with Aberdeen by my colleague Easu McCaulley, I had been deputized by these two schools to begin the conversation; Grant and I discussed some intriguing possibilities about how we might go about developing a workable doctoral program in theology between Jamaica and Scotland.

It is not well known, but Jamaica and Scotland have numerous historical ties, including our flags. It turns out that the Jamaican flag was modeled on the Scottish flag, due to the advice of Rev William McGhie, a Church of Scotland minister who was living in Jamaica at the time of independence. This has led to an organization called Flag Up Scotland Jamaica, that is dedicated to developing ties between the two countries.

When my lecture was over, Grant put me on the train to Durham, which was the start of a long, but leisurely trip, from Aberdeen through Edinburgh, then on into England.

What happened in Durham is the subject of my next post.