Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Flourishing through Bible Study

Recently Ian Paul through his blog Psephizo has generated a storm or two of controversy (e.g. #mitregate) and he has a stirring reflection/report on the recent CofE General Synod which seemed to be dominated by, er, one or two related issues.

I might yet come back to mitres and other clergy vestments (noting that the same General Synod resolved to permit greater freedom of clergy dress). But today I simply note to you a lovely guest post on Psephizo, by Richard Peers, a recent and well-received visitor in this country when he spoke at the Anglican Schools conference. Richard is Director of Education in the Diocese of Liverpool.

The post is on the value of participating in depth, academic Bible study conferences - a matter dear to my own heart - and its loveliness for me personally is that the conference he went to was at Tyndale House, Cambridge, a study centre and library it has been my privilege to visit on a number of occasions.

The last two paragraphs of the report make an important point in an era when we talk about the church "flourishing" and doing so precisely because we work on this flourishing occurring when we are acutely aware that our differences might inhibit it.

"I gained a great deal from the conference and would love to go again next year although I might be more comfortable with Biblical Theology than the very detailed work of New Testament. Tyndale is, of course, not my natural milieu but, as always, I was struck by the way in which orthodox Christian belief provides a deep fellowship. I met many people with whom I enjoyed talking and getting to know. It is probably just a personality thing—but I especially loved the lack of apparently clever cynicism that all too often pervades Anglican gatherings; there was no attempt at pretending other than that we were a group of people who love to talk about Scripture. There was no embarrassment, over meals or walking between sessions, at talking about this endlessly fascinating subject.

There is much talk in the Church of England about mutual flourishing. I spend a considerable amount of my time and energy trying to ensure that it is a reality. I am convinced that if it is to be real it must mean not that groups each flourish separately but that the ‘mutual’ means that we flourish because we gain from each other. I gained much from this conference and am grateful that I have had this enriching experience."

18 comments:

Brian Kelly said...

I also enjoyed Richard Peer's piece and noted as well the comment about 'the lack of apparently clever cynicism that all too often pervades Anglican gatherings'. In the days when I attended diocesan or national chaplaincy events, I also saw this at Anglican gatherings and wondered what the source of this spirit was. Rightly or wrongly I put it down to the half-believing liberalism and the rampant careerism pervasive in those who go into church politics. They seemed to be people not much given to intercessory prayer, and such theology as they had was shaped by Bultmann or Nineham. It was certainly very naturalistic in its assumptions (adoptionist and anti-supernaturalist).
I have been part of the Tyndale Fellowship since 1990, serving as OT Study Group secretary for some years, but work demands in recent years has precluded me from attending. I was pleased to read that a tried and trusted formula for shaping doctoral and post-doctoral students is still followed. It is because evangelical students, believing in the inspiration of Scripture, are willing to put in the long, long hours of language study in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and German that there has been a renaissance in university biblical scholarship since 1945 - the very aim of the Tyndale Fellowship. The demise in Classics in schools means that few students of theology are inclined or equipped to read the ancient languages very well, but from the beginning the TF has promoted this knowledge at a deep level. The most recent fruit of this is the Tyndale Greek New Testament now being published.

Anonymous said...

Yale will publish David Bentley Hart's new translation of the NT in October--

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/christs-rabble

BW

Father Ron said...

Brian Kelly's asessment of the relative value of Biblical scholarship reminds me of the FACT that spirituality is a discipline more accessible to the heart than to the head. Scriptual warnings about the undue elevation of scholarship abound; most visible in this remark of Jesus, addressed to God: "I bless you Father, ruler of heaven and of earth, that you have hidden these things from the learned and the clever and revealed them to mere children; for that is what it pleased you to do". 'These things'are more likely to be deep spiritual realities, which mere human speculation and philosophical exploration are not privy to. Prayer providees that personal relationship with God that no amount of study can replace. The Holy Spirit is the preferred Teacher of The Apostolic Faith.

For instance, when Peter uttered the words that bore evidence to his personal understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God; Jesus greeted this acknowledgement as the pure work of the Holy Spirit: "For flesh and blood (human intellectual capacity) have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven!".

'Faith is not taught, but caught' is the experience of the mystics of the Church, some of whom were neither learned nor privy to Hebrew, Latin or Greek. No amount of study can make up for an open heart and mind - free from prejudice!

(Fr.Ron, en route from Tenriffe to Lisbon)

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Ron and Bowman
Great article by DBH - challenging!

Brian Kelly said...

The Tyndale Fellowship exists first of all to foster believing scholarship for the Church in the fields of Bible and theology. Not everyone is called that way, but those who are not should not practise inverted snobbery, which is not spiritual. There is prayer at the start and end of every day at Tyndale, but the TF is not primarily interested in fostering 'spirituality' or prayer. Its concern is with producing publications and doctorates that will pass muster in the best of Western (and now Asian) universities. No amount of prayer, however worthy in itself, is likely to solve difficulties in translation or resolve historical or archaeological or philosophical conundra.

Anonymous said...

Why, Father Ron, do you see any competition at all between knowing God's self-revelation accurately and prayer to the God thus revealed? We can't send a text, if we don't know the number. We can't join a conversation until we know who has been speaking and what they have said.

Every great mystic of the Church that I can think of-- even your beloved St Francis, or any of my English or Byzantine voices-- was thoroughly soaked in scripture. And likewise, the greater doctors of the Church were also rather advanced contemplatives, especially SS Thomas and Maximus, but even Luther and Calvin more than is widely known. Sometimes-- I'm thinking here of St Maximus's Ambigua--we cannot tell whether their writing is scholarship (it comments on comments on texts) or contemplation (its startlingly acute spiritual insights are criterial). Finally, whether we love or hate the scientific sort of scholarship that began in the high middle ages and continues today, it was not practised in C1 Palestine, and so it cannot be the direct referent of the words of Jesus you cite. But scholarship of another kind abounds in the canon, which is itself a collection of collections of writings from the schools of, say, David, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Paul, and John. This is how we came to have a Bible.

Personally, I suspect that Jesus thanked the Father for not first revealing him to an establishment that, in trying to co-opt him for its own self-preservation, would have misrepresented his universal mission and eschatological gospel. The old wineskins could not have held the new wine.

And that is still the problem. Today, the most invigorating insights into God, the soul, and the world are coming from prayerful scholars of many confessions. Israel's prophets had libraries and so do ours. Yet, just because they are prayerful and are scholars, they tend to be overlooked by the ignorant armies that clash by night in the ecclesiastical parliaments from which much heat but no light comes. I suppose that I should emulate my Lord and thank the Father that he has hidden the insights of the diligent from the schemes of the pretentious. But I have resisted the thought that this circumvention is his final judgment on the churches we know and love. Might it serve his universal mission and eschatological gospel to sweep them too all away?

Bowman Walton



Anonymous said...

Postscript: Father Ron may find his concerns better addressed in Alexis Torrance's chapter on the Gaza ascetics-- a case study in the use of the Bible by a decidedly non-academic constituency committed to prayer. Unfortunately, I cannot post that chapter here, but I can send it to an email account.

http://www.augsburgfortress.org/media/downloads/9781506410746_Contents.pdf

BW

Bryden Black said...

From today's RCC daily office app:

"Saint Lawrence of Brindisi was born in 1559 in southern Italy. As a young boy, he was heavily influenced by local Capuchins and became a friar in their order at age 16. Languages came supernaturally to him as he mastered Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, German, and French. Because of this, he influenced a breadth of people including; Rabbis, German reformists, and emerging Christians. Steeped in the spirit of Franciscan preaching, he layered practical teachings, a witness to life, upon his mastery of Sacred Scripture and theology. Able to balance Church and State; he was professor of theology, novice master and minister general in his Order as well as an envoy for peace for various diplomatic missions. This theological maturity was captured in his numerous writings and as such Saint Lawrence of Brindisi was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1959 by Pope John XXIII."

Occasionally our Lord gives us a complete package!

Brian Kelly said...

Christian prayer needs believing scholarship to undergird its assumptions, otherwise it may only appear as an elaborate internal conversation with oneself with no purchase on the exterior world. As well as providing an intimate knowledge (and accurate understanding) of Scripture, believing scholarship engages in the best critical way with the conundra of faith: whether and how we can know that Jesus actually said and did the things attributed to him by the NT; the unity of the two testaments; whether the Incarnation is historical fact or poetry; whether miracles happened and still happen; how divine sovereignty can co-inhere with human freedom; and whether theism itself makes sense. I don't think there is any 'finality' to these questions in the way that there is finality to mathematical theorems; but that is because our faith is historical and has the shady boundaries of history - unlike mathematics, which is purely intellectualist (and yes, I know there is a lively debate between realists and anti-realists as to the nature of numbers and other mathematical entities).
Biblical scholarship can also act as a corrective to abuse in the name of 'spirituality'. The terrible acts perpetrated against young men by Peter Ball in the guise of 'spiritual exercises' (recounted in the Gibb report) and the physical abuse of other young men by the Iwerne Minster leader - acts purportedly to 'consecrate' them - hardly stack up against what the NT actually says about the devotional life. But deceivers are first of all deceived about themselves.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Brian for your latest. One further thing:
Mathematics was waiting for a mathematician to arrive ...
Lastly, have you seen the film The Man who knew Infinity? All about the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Brian Kelly said...

Or as I would prefer to say (well, Augustine said this before me), The Mathematician was always there and mathematics already existed (including the solution to Fermat's Last Theorem) as His 'rationes aeternae'.
No, I haven't seen that film yet, I keep waiting for the price to go down on amazon before I buy it. But I would also like to buy (and this is much pricier and a lot harder) William Lane Craig's new book on God and abstract objects. It deals with a fascinating range of questions, including realism, anti-realism, nominalism and modern Platonism, which are central today to the philosophy of mathematics.
So it strikes me that the sciences have a kind of hierarchy in reverse (or maybe I should say foundationalism) of dependency and construction. Thus:
Sociology > Psychology > Biology > Biochemistry > Chemistry > Physics (where 'things' now get really weird) > Mathematics > Philosophy ... > Theology?
Incidentally, Andrew Wiles of Fermat fame is the son of Maurice Wiles of 'Myth of God Incarnate' notoriety - and I understand, a noted Patristics scholar in his day.

Bryden Black said...

Ah yes; Maurice Wiles. Put up with his brand of ever so polite Arianism during the mid 70s. And why can't you see I'm being so ... reasonable.
Er, well; it might be ... Er, wrong!
But one can't say that .... surely?!

Ah; THE Mathematician was surely there!

Enjoy Craig as and when

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bowman, the Blessed Francis of Assisi was never known to have studied theology. His knowledge of Christ came from the connection between what he gleaned from Scripture and his intimate experience of the crucified, risen and glorified Christ - in the Word-made flesh of the Eucharist, andinthe imprinttofTheCrucified, Himself.

Anonymous said...

And how, dear Father Ron, is that not theology? From a certain (admittedly polemical) eastern point of view, St Francis is one of the few theologians that the West has produced to join St John the Theologian, St Gregory the Theologian, and St Simeon the New Theologian.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

And, Dear Bowman, you have mistaken my point, which is that Francis never studied at, or through, any educational establishment. He never wrote a single book, nor did he look too kindly upon those in his Community whose preoccupation was with academic speculation. For Francis, the Holy Spirit was the preeminent Counsellor and guide. The many stories from his life bear witness to this. He obviouly drew inspiration from the simple Scriptural admonishment of those who put too much emphasis on intellectual gifts: "Where are your wise men now, your philosophers?"

Anonymous said...

Yes, dear Father Ron, I have read the sources on St Francis, and from them am aware that his gifted mind was not formed in the schools. But you must decide whether you wish to criticise mental gifts or institutional schools. If the former, then I am puzzled, because it seems that the Holy Spirit guides the mind more often than the muscles. If the latter, then, although I do love universities, I am inclined to agree that Spirit-led theology is not usually an academic product, although it can be. Who can set limits on what the Holy Spirit will do or where he will do it? That, I think, was our Lord's point.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

I agree with on your last point, Bowman, that the inspiration of the H.S. cannot be purchased by intellectual striving.
She; "blows where She listeth" - not at the beck and call of the human intellect and "resisteth the proud". "A humble and a contrite heart; God will not despise". Agape!

Bryden Black said...

Seems the website cannot keep up with posts ...!!! Tardy piece of tech ...

Delightful reference Bowman. Many thanks indeed for it! See now this link:

https://muse.jhu.edu/book/45407