Speaking on a Biblical Worldview at Leeds—Again after Twenty Years

This is the fifth installment about my journey through the UK.

From the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, I returned to nearby Leeds for a few more days, both to visit with David and Ruth Hanson and to give two talks (Friday evening and Saturday morning). I had a very relaxed time with the Hansons, involving lots of conversations and good food, plus a tour of downtown Leeds with David.

It was David Hanson who originally invited me to come to the UK to speak for he Thinking Faith Network , a Leeds organization that he and Ruth helped found some years back. The organization (I guess I should say organisation) exists to educate Christians in the UK about a holistic vision of life lived in God’s kingdom.

David initiated my visit because he wanted me to speak on the topic of my eschatology book, A New Heaven and a New Earth.

This was the second time I had come to the UK to speak in Leeds. The last time was twenty years ago (1997). Back then the Thinking Faith Network was called the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies (WYSOCS). When my wife Marcia and I came to the UK in 1997, we first visited relatives in London, then we spent time with the Hansons in Leeds.

I remember giving two talks for WYSOCS, on the image of God/cultural mandate and on the problem of suffering. Although my talks this time around were new, the topics were similar (I guess my interests have been consistent over the years).

My talks for the Thinking Faith Network on this visit were on eschatology (tracing the motif of the image of God from creation to consummation), and the lament psalms (as a resource for addressing suffering).

A UK Speaking Tour

However, David Hanson suggested that if I was coming all the way across the Atlantic, I should do some more speaking in the UK. This resulted in a series of fourteen talks that I gave at eleven institutions in nine cities in Scotland and England. Although the talks I did at Leeds were the two talks I gave most often on the trip, I spoke on five different topics (some specially requested by the institution).

I’m very grateful to Richard Gunton, a volunteer with the Thinking Faith Network, who did the organising and liaised with the various groups I was speaking for. Richard made sure I had the requisite train or bus tickets for each leg of the journey (and that there was someone waiting for me when I got there) and also that I had accommodations in each city.

I was particularly blessed that Richard and his wife Diana accompanied me for two and a half of the most intensive days near the end of my trip—from Leeds to Oxford, then to Cambridge, and back to Oxford (then Richard put me on the bus to Cheltenham).

Richard and Diana made sure that I got where I needed to be on time (without them I’m not sure how I’d have managed the trip from Oxford to Cambridge and then back again, since it required two train trips with the London underground in-between).

It was also a genuine delight getting to know them both.

Humour and the Gospel

It was also great to reconnect with Mark and Anne Roques, who I first met in Canada, through the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) in Toronto. Mark had been a student there in the eighties and Anne had organized various conferences for the ICS, including one at which Brian Walsh and I spoke, back when we were writing our book The Transforming Vision.

Mark is an astute philosopher, who has developed an effective approach for reaching out to high school students and young adults in the UK. He has a particularly quirky sense of humour (it has to be spelled this way, since it is a distinctively British sense of humour), which can be seen in his penchant for telling weird and wonderful stories (combined with incisive worldview analysis), in which he takes his cue from Jesus’s parables.

Mark’s new book, entitled The Spy, the Rat, and the Bed of Nails, is a brilliant introduction to the rationale and art of storytelling in a postmodern world as an entrée to communicating the gospel; plus the book ends with a collection of stories (which he calls spiels) that he has used (some true, all wacky).

Mark has written a brilliant short introduction to Christian philosophy, called “Crocodiles and Philosophy.” If you can read this piece without bursting your sides laughing out loud, you have better control than I do.

You can read an interview with Mark Roques here (on his ministry, sense of humour, and the book).

My next post will tell the story of what happened after Leeds.

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.