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.

The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job—Exploring Genesis 22 in Mirfield

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

After leaving Durham, I visited friends (David and Ruth Hanson) in Leeds overnight, then David drove me to the College of the Resurrection in nearby Mirfield to speak on the same topic I had presented on in Durham—Genesis 22.

The College of the Resurrection is an Anglo-Catholic seminary attached to a monastery in Mirfield. There I was hosted by Dorothea Bertschmann, tutorial fellow in New Testament at the College.

Those organizing the event decided to give my talk on Genesis 22 the same title as the book I am currently working on, “The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job,” even though most of the talk was focused on Abraham, with only a bit on Job at the end.

I met some great people at the College of the Resurrection. Besides Prof. Bertschmann, I had a good chat with Steffan Mathais, a senior student (who already had a PhD in Old Testament) currently studying for the pastoral ministry.

Below is Steffan’s account of my talk on Genesis 22 (written for the community’s newsletter). He starts with a Rabbinic quote about how to study Scripture, and why it is worth studying.


Turn it and turn it again, for all is in it; see through it; grow old and worn in it. – Rabbi Bag Ben Bag, Pirke Avos, 5:22

One of the great ironies of biblical scholarship is that often those who have given their lives to study of the bible are at best bored, and at worst irritated, by the texts they spend their days with. By contrast there was an infectiousness of Prof J. Richard Middleton’s excitement and playfulness, in his lecture The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job, delivered to the college on the 27th April, in conjunction with SIIBS, the Mirfield Centre, and St Hild’s College.

Prof Middleton is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary, New York State. The body of his lecture focused around the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. While central in the imagination of Judaism and Christianity – and Islam – Middleton initially explored some of the ethical ambiguities of the narrative, before pointing out some of the interesting quirks of the story, notably the breakdown of relationship between Abraham, Isaac and Sarah, who henceforth in Genesis are said to live in different parts of the land.

Middleton asked if, perhaps, the text is more complex than our traditional reading, that Abraham was tested to see if he was willing to kill his son to submit to God. Through a close reading of the Hebrew (and without giving any surprises away to those who wish to read his next book on the subject!) Middleton read the story as a test of a very different kind: that God required Abraham to argue back, to say no, to be so sure of the mercy of God that he could wrestle with him. And in the end Abraham failed the test, remaining silent where those such as Job could not, but God’s faithfulness to his covenant carried them through.

Middleton’s reading was surprisingly compelling for one so provocative, but even more compelling was a reading of an old text which brought it alive again; which rather than ironing over the difficulties understood the creative tensions at play – the gaps, the lacunae, the ambiguities – and saw the scriptures as something to be enjoyed, to be wrestled with and poured over, not to be compartmentalised and ‘solved.’ Through his reading Middleton – partly through his study of Jewish exegesis – embraced the advice of Rabbis of old to always make the scriptures always new: ‘turn it and turn it again, for all is in it.’

~Steffan Mathais


I shared three meals with faculty and students at the College of the Resurrection, as well as gathering for coffee, drinks, and conversation. I also participated in a eucharistic liturgy led by the principal of the College, Fr Peter Allan.

All in all, it was quite wonderful to share worship, meals, camaraderie, and theological reflection with the members of this unique community of ecclesial learning.

My next post recounts my time in Leeds, with the Thinking Faith Network.

A Speaking Tour in the United Kingdom

I am getting ready to head to the UK to give a series of lectures, mostly on eschatology (but with a few other topics included as well). The first stop is in Scotland, with most of my time spent moving southward through England.

I was initially invited by folks who run the Thinking Faith Network (in Leeds) to speak on the topic of my eschatology book, A New Heaven and a New Earth. Given that I would be coming all the way across the Atlantic, they worked out a series of other speaking events for me in the UK.

It is a bit of a grueling schedule, so I would appreciate prayers from anyone who feels so led, both for my sustained energy and that my talks would be helpful to those in attendance.

If you are going to be in the areas where I’m speaking, you are invited to attend any of the public lectures.

So far the following locations and events have been confirmed.

St. Andrews

Two public lectures sponsored by the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology and the School of Divinity (St. Mary’s College), at the University of St. Andrews.

  • April 20 – “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World.” Thursday afternoon lecture (4:00 pm), Lecture Room 1, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews.
  • April 21 – “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World.” Friday afternoon lecture (4:00 pm), Lecture Room 1, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews.

Aberdeen

Durham

  • April 25 – “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22.” Old Testament research seminar for postgraduate students in the Department of Theology and Religion, Tuesday afternoon (4:00-5:30 pm), Seminar Room C, Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham University.

Mirfield

Leeds

Two public lectures in the Life Matters series, Thinking Faith Network, Leeds. Click here for a flier about both talks.

  • April 28 – “Why Are We Here? Our Sacred Calling in God’s World.” Friday evening lecture (7:30-9:00 pm),  Quaker Meeting House, 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.
  • April 29 – “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World.” Saturday morning lecture (10:00 am-12:00 noon), Quaker Meeting House, 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.

Oxford

Cambridge

Oxford

Cheltenham

  • May 3 – “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World.” Wednesday evening public lecture (6:00-7:30 pm), University of Gloucestershire, Room TC001, Francis Close Hall Campus, Swindon Rd., Cheltenham. You can download a flier here.

Bristol