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.

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Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution

A few months ago I posted briefly about my appointment as a theological fellow for BioLogos. In that post I explained a bit about the history of BioLogos and why they appointed three theology fellows this year (of which I am one).

My task as a theology fellow will be to write six or more blog posts on the topic of biblical faith and evolution—on topics ranging from cosmic creation and human distinctiveness to the origin of evil, divine providence, and eschatology.

The series is tentatively titled Biblical Faith and Evolution: Loving the Questions.

My first blog in the series, “Why Christians Don’t Need to Be Threatened by Evolution,”  appeared today on the BioLogos website.

You can read the whole post there and also post comments and questions in response.

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My next post in the series is called The Ancient Universe and the Cosmic Temple; it addresses the relationship of biblical creation accounts (especially Geneses 1) to what science tells us about the age and size of the universe.

Earth Day in the Bible

Today is Earth Day, when we attend to the health of our earthly environment. The first Earth Day was observed in 1970, when the environmental movement was born in the wake of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

The Original Earth Day

But there’s a sense in which Earth Day goes back to Genesis 1, when God looked at what he made and saw that it was good. We could say that was God’s “observance” of Earth Day.

But then came human sin, which brought ruin to the world. We today can understand very well how human evil can taint our earthly environment. But it’s quite an achievement for the ancient author of Genesis to understand how inextricably humans are bound to the earth.

We see the human effect on the earth when we read on in Genesis.

Take the contrast between Genesis 1 and 6. Whereas God had looked at the initial world he made and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31), later we are told that when God looked he saw something quite different—that human evil was great on the earth (Genesis 6:5), and that the earth had as a consequence become become corrupted or ruined (Genesis 6:12).

Later, in the New Testament, Paul can talk about not just human beings, but creation itself, groaning in bondage to futility and yearning for liberation (Romans 8). This is something we today can understand with perhaps other levels of meaning than first-century Christians could—we who live in a world of global warming, melting icecaps, toxic waste, bleaching coral reefs, and rapid species extinction due to habitat erosion.

The Pain that Plagues Creation

Just yesterday I was listening to an old song (from the eighties) by Mark Heard, called “The Pain that Plagues Creation.” It’s very appropriate for Earth Day.

Mark Heard was what we might call an alternative Christian singer/songwriter, who was not quite in the mainstream. He died young, and Bruce Cockburn wrote and recorded a song about him called “The Strong Hand of Love” for a tribute album.

Here’s a recording of “The Pain that Plagues Creation,” and you can follow along with the lyrics below.

As this planet falls around the sun
Trapping us in the orbit
Creation groans in unison
Like a race of frightened orphans

The darkness of this raging storm
Is covering up our portals
But a yearning for the light is borne
In the heart of every mortal

Day to day we ache
With the pain that plagues creation
Night to night we lie awake
And await its restoration

Heaven knows our lonely ways
Heaven knows our sorrows
And Heaven knows things that we don’t know
And the joy of eternal tomorrows

But through this glass we dimly see
This world as it was made
Oh and the good we know must surely flow
From the heart of a kind Creator

Refrain

So hold on in this restless age
And do not fear your shadow
Your alternating tears and praise
Are prayers that surely will matter

Refrain

Mark Heard, “The Pain that Plagues Creation”
From the 1983 album Eye of the Storm
© 1983 Bug ’n Bear Music

New Earth Day

Yes, there is a pain that plagues creation—both human beings and the earth and its varied lifeforms. But the Bible envisions a great change coming, an end to pain when tears will be wiped away.

In the book of Revelation, John tells us: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). He sees the New Jerusalem (representing the renewed community of believers) descending from heaven, and he hears a voice from the throne declaring God’s permanent dwelling with us on earth, since the curse is removed.

Then comes the amazing announcement: “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).

For those (ancient or modern) who know the ruined earth, its hard to take this seriously; so the voice adds: “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Since I’m preaching this Sunday at Community of the Savior (my home church), I’m aware that Revelation 21:1-6 is one of the scheduled lectionary readings, along with Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, and John 13:31-35.

It isn’t exactly clear how all these texts fit together—and it isn’t every week that those who organized the lectionary intended all four assigned texts to mutually illumine each other.

But in this case I think the lectionary texts fit together remarkably well.

And that’s what I’m going to try and communicate in my sermon for this Fifth Sunday of Easter (a.k.a. Earth Day Sunday).

And for my Jewish readers this Friday afternoon, Shabbat Shalom!

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Click here for the audio of my sermon (“Enlarging Our Vision: God’s Plan for All Creation”), and click here for the written text.