Friday, July 10, 2009
Tyndale Fellowship - Part 1
I'm back from the Tyndale Fellowship and had a brilliant time. It was a matter of automobiles (Inverness to Edinburgh), planes (Edinburgh to Stanstead), and trains (Stanstead to Cambridge) to get there, but well worth it. I was most pleased to see folks making the effort to arrive there after International SBL in Rome and after the Sinaiticus Conference in Birmingham too.
The first plenary session featured John Drane, David Wenham, myself on the "Nature & Purpose of the Tyndale Fellowship". John Drane raised questions about the publicity of the fellowship (since some Bible College principals in the UK have not even heard of it), the distinctivness of the fellowship (since many of us belong to other learned societies already), the value of the fellowship (what do we do for the church), and what kind of "fellowship" is the fellowship? In my response I reviewed the goals for the Tyndale Fellowship espoused in F.F. Bruce's charter for the organization published in EQ in 1947 and said that we are more or less meeting them and remaining true to the vision of the founders. I also pointed out that while publicity can be handled better, we already have an international reputation which is great. On distinctiveness, the Tyndale Fellowship is one of the few places where scholars can be nakedly and unapologetically evangelical and not be called a neanderthal. As for value-added, we can make a significant impact to the church by encouraging study of the biblical languages when some colleges are dropping them from the programme - this roused hearty "amens" from the audience. We should make our scholarship more accessible for others, but that is not to say that good cutting edge scholarship by evangelicals simply is valuable in its own right (Peter Williams cogently stated this during the Q&A). On being a fellowship, I don't see the need to reproduce what the local church should do, Tyndale Fellowship is a fellowship in so far as it fosters cooperation, encouragement, learning, and friendship in a Christian environment. See more thoughts on this by Nijay Gupta who was there.
The Christian Doctrine lecture was given by John Webster on "Creatio ex nihilo" which was brilliant (as JW always is). Ironically, the lecture was given during a thunder storm which added further excitement to the lecture. Webster basically showed how CEN gives us a particular Christian understanding of Creator, Creation, and Creatures. He raises a good question, one that many biblical scholars and scientists ask: how can an ANE text provide a rationale for a metaphysical reality? Although Webster believes that theology is "biblical reasoning", he also believes in the value of theological reasoning. That is becasue God's actions in salvation-history cannot be divorced from the inner-life of God in himself which is the condition of God being for us. To contemplate the work of creation is to conteplate the Worker in his work. One quote for one of my M.Th students I have to mention: "Immutability is not the absence of love, but the grounds for the constancy of his love."
The Old Testament lecture was delivered by Lena-Sophia Tiemeyer on "To read - or not to read - Ezekiel as Christian Scripture" and this was probably the most provocative and interesting of all the papers at TF this year. Basically, Tiemeyer wants to read Ezekiel for authorial intent and with the "grain" of the text, as part of Sola Scriptura, in canonical perspective, but she recognizes elements of Ezekiel which she finds morally abhorent such as that which happens to the populace of Jerusalem and Judea. She believes that a "Christian" reading requires honesty as some parts are morally offensive and sound to us as unworthy of God, yet we cannot be selective and we cannot explain it away. Instead she chooses to look Ezekiel's "violent and misogynist God" in the face and plea before him. We should read Ezekiel with Lamentations and be willing to lament before God, appeal to his mercy, honour, and grace, and accept God's acts but also call him to account. I thought Tiemeyer was giving a no holds barred wrestling with God (esp. her reflections as a woman on Ezekiel 16). My question to her was whether her approach was distinctively "Christian". Granted it was canonical, but a Jewish readership could come to the same conclusion. What I wanted to know (and Chris Wright pressed her on this too) what would happen if we read those hard parts of Ezekiel not just canonically with Lamentations, but in dialogue with the story of the cross too? How does that impact our reading of suffering, judgment, and God in Ezekiel?