Visiting Tom Wright—A Good Start in Scotland

I drove from Rochester to Toronto on Wednesday and took the overnight flight to Glasgow to begin my two weeks of talks in the UK. I arrived at the Glasgow airport on Thursday morning (9:00 am), with almost no sleep, and was picked up by Tom Wright.

From Glasgow we drove to the Wrights’ home (named the “Hilton Cottage”) just outside of the small town of St. Andrews. It was a bright sunny day and the scenery on the drive was glorious.

Great Conversations with Tom and Maggie

The conversation on the drive was pretty good too!

In fact, one of the highlights of the trip so far (besides my interaction with students and faculty at the University of St. Andrews) was getting to know Tom and Maggie.

Although Tom and I have had lots of sporadic contact over the years (we first met in the mid nineteen-eighties), and we each have found the other’s writings helpful for our own scholarship, this was the first time I was able to have extended conversations with Tom, both about theology and biblical interpretation and about our lives and families.

It was also a delight getting to know Maggie, who is a brilliant amateur photographer—and who, in an amazing coincidence, uses the exact same make and model of camera that I do (a Panasonic Lumix).

Talks at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology

I gave two talks at the University of St. Andrews (one on biblical eschatology, the other on the theology of lament psalms). Both were well attended by faculty and students, many of whom were in the doctoral program of the Logos Institute. This is an innovative institute with an interdisciplinary doctoral program that tries to integrate analytic theology/philosophy with in-depth biblical studies.

The problem (as many in academia know) is that theologians and biblical scholars often speak what seem to be totally different languages (or discourses), with very little overlap. They often talk past each other.

Biblical scholars often focus on the minutiae of textual and linguistic (or historical) issues to the detriment of thinking about the big theological and ethical claims of Scripture. Theologians, likewise, often engage in the analysis of ideas that are at a far remove from biblical exegesis.

This was a problem I highlighted in the introductory chapter of my book The Liberating Image in relation to the interpretation of the imago Dei. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Pretty much all my publications over the years have tried to address this problem by modeling an approach to Scripture that is both exegetically detailed and concerned for theological coherence.

The Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology was founded to tackle this problem head on. It is a bold enterprise that seeks to help theological students, especially those trained in the analytic tradition of philosophy, to indwell the particularity of biblical texts and learn to ground their theological analysis in serious, in-depth biblical exegesis.

Although it hadn’t been planned this way, I was perfectly suited to addressing this audience. My training in philosophy at the graduate level (with an MA thesis on the nature of religious language), followed by my subsequent move to Old Testament studies, allowed me to interact with many of the Logos students, taking their concerns seriously.

Although my talks were on what I would describe as biblical theology, I managed in my second talk (having taken the pulse of the audience) to weave in some philosophical analysis (concerning the problem of evil) in relationship to the topic I was speaking on (the lament psalms).

The question time (along with the reception afterward) was very valuable, as I was able to engage students philosophically where they were, while showing the fruitfulness of grounding theology in the careful study of Scripture.

Of Eggs and Chicken Pie

To top it off, I was fed very well by Maggie and Tom, both in local eateries and by their own cooking.

Maggie baked an amazing chicken and leek pie for our supper on Thursday (she nicknamed it her “resurrection pie,” since she hadn’t made it in so long, and also because we had been discussing the meaning of the resurrection); the pie was so amazing that I asked for the recipe.

And Tom cooked us bacon and eggs for a late night snack on Friday—he quipped that not many people could produce a photograph like the one below.

All in all, I am grateful to God for the experience so far (including the fact that I managed to get three solid nights’ sleep after the overnight trans-Atlantic flight).

And I am looking forward to heading to the University of Aberdeen with Grant Macaskill tomorrow morning for my lecture there. While there, Grant and I will begin informal talks about a possible doctoral program in theology co-sponsored by Aberdeen and two Jamaican graduate schools that I am affiliated with.

You can read about my trip to Aberdeen here.

Congratulations, Dr. Esau McCaulley!

Esau McCaulley, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Northeastern Seminary, successfully defended his PhD thesis on Monday, April 3, at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland (his supervisor was N. T. Wright, pictured below with Esau, after the defense).

The full title of Dr. McCaulley’s dissertation is: Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance: Davidic Messianism and Paul’s Worldwide Interpretation of the Abrahamic Land Promise in Galatians.”

Northeastern Seminary is proud of you, Esau, and we are delighted that you are part of our faculty. Congratulations!

For more on Northeastern Seminary, see my earlier blog post, “Northeastern Seminary—A Hidden Gem.

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.