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.

 

 

Redeeming Reason with John Mullholland

I met John Mulholland, who works at the University of Chicago Law Library, back in 2007. Over the years John has been a consistent proponent of a holistic Christian worldview, including its relevance for the university, and has organized many conferences on the subject, helping many to reflect on what it means to serve Christ in academia.

At John’s invitation I came to speak at an event called “The Redemption of Reason” at the University of Chicago in October 2007; I gave two talks, one on God’s validation of Job’s lament in the speech from the whirlwind, a second on the meaning of the imago Dei as God’s call for whole-life service.

Recently I became aware of a Facebook page that John has been involved with, that is grounded in the heritage of Charles Malik, the Lebanese Christian intellectual and diplomat who was president of the UN General Assembly.

Malik, who was Eastern Orthodox, studied with Alfred North Whitehead and Martin Heidegger and earned a PhD in philosophy from Harvard, and later taught in both the US and Lebanon. He entered the civil service in Lebanon and besides service to that country he was instrumental in developing the UN charter of rights and served as president of the UN General Assembly from 1958-59. Malik also wrote in the area of theology and I have heard his name dropped and seen his works cited especially when I was a campus minister with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, back in the 1980s.

One of my M.A. students (Cord Sullivan), who is coming on staff with IVCF at the University of Buffalo, has a Malik quote as the byline for his email: “more potently than by any other means, change the University and you change the world.” Now you can see why this Facebook page is called the “Charles Malik Society for Redeeming Reason.” I’m glad I discovered it.

Recently, John posted some comments there about the talk on “Restoration” I gave at Jubilee 2015.

A gift of Shalom from Professor J. Richard Middleton for this little venture, where we seek to engage the university and culture as Christians with the Good News of Jesus. Middleton, NT Wright and others now see an holistic message of salvation, which empowers us to do both deeds of mercy, but also deeds of creation in science, art, medicine, et al.

Nicholas Wolterstorff echoes this work by Middleton and others with remarks about God’s call to us all to be messengers of Shalom in this world, agents of God’s mission – see esp. p.72

Then John quotes some of my blog post on the Jubilee conference, and concludes by saying:

Click around Middleton’s blog to find more resources. Here is the table of contents for his new book, A New Heaven and a New Earth.

I recommend the postings on the Malik/Redeeming Reason Facebook page for inspiration and enlightenment on seeking God’s kingdom in the academic realm.

Thanks, John, for your service in the cause of Christ that goes back a long way!

On My Way to Jubilee 2015

It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport, waiting for a flight to Pittsburgh. I’ll be speaking at the annual Jubilee conference tomorrow (Sunday) morning. This year’s conference theme is “This Changes Everything”————a reference to the radical message of the gospel. A brochure for the Jubilee 2015 conference can be found here, for those interested.

I’ll be giving the last of four keynote talks that stretch from Friday through Sunday. The topics for the talks are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. The title of my talk is “Restoration————The Destiny of God’s Good Creation,” and I hope to take the attendees (mostly college students) on a tour of Scripture, to introduce them to the depth and length and height of God’s amazing love for this world, a love that leads to God’s commitment to redeem and restore creation.

I’m sort of going in to the conference blind, since I won’t have heard the other talks that precede my own; I will get there just in time for supper this evening. I would have liked to have been part of the entire event, which started on Friday. But my wife and I were already committed to being in Jamaica to take care of her mom and stepdad who live there (they are in their eighties); we left the cold and snow for sunny Jamaica ten days ago and we praise God for the wonderful things we were able to accomplish while we were there.

That prior commitment initially led me to turn down the invitation to speak at Jubilee 2015 since I couldn’t be in two places at once. But the good people who plan the conference wouldn’t give up and offered to fly me up directly from Jamaica to Pittsburgh, and then send me home to Rochester.

So, goodby sunshine! Welcome snow and cold!

I’ll let you know how it goes (the conference, not the cold).