Looking Back

Thursday afternoon I took back the bicycle I had borrowed from Bernard Brown. I got a little bit lost, spent a few minutes visiting with the village blacksmith, but finally found my way back to the right path. When I got to his house, it seemed like just a few days had gone passed since I picked the bicycle up.

The time has gone by fast, but I also have experienced a lot-more than I normally would in a month. I wrote my wife yesterday and said I have met wonderful people and wonderful places-what more could you want in a travel adventure? She wrote back and mentioned food and entertainment. I’ve enjoyed that too.

I came here to learn, to get acquainted, to see what God is doing here, and to help out if I can. I think I’ve done a little of each of these. I have certainly learned a lot and enjoyed myself in the process.

Bill Clark accompanied me on a bicycle ride to Spey Bay and back (with a little detour on the way back, but we won’t mention that). Then he followed up a couple days later with a trek up Ben Hill. Malcolm and Lorraine took me to the Queen Mother Library at the University of Aberdeen, where Raemond later picked me up and dropped off at the train station. Ronald met me at Keith and brought me on back to Buckie. Later Wullie and Jeannie to me back to Aberdeen. While at the university I gave them examinations in theology and they both passed.

They also showed me the castle at Huntley, and then later took me on another trip to Elgin and showed me the ruined cathedral, the monastery, and the chapels that were disguised as a barn to avoid being burnt. We added a little unplanned adventure to that days outing, but we won’t go into that either.

Dyllis took me to Fochabers and into the Grampians and along the River Spey, where I saw some beautiful scenery. She also showed me the plant where the cashmere products are made. I saw a beautiful robe I would have liked to get for my wife-but first I would have to sell a condo in Florida. (Since I don’t own one, my sweetie won’t be getting the robe.) Dyllis also took me to hear some fine fiddle music in Elgin today.

Ruth and Stuart showed me the coastal villages between here and Banff. They also introduced me to the joys of haggis-and they let me get acquainted with Cody. Bernard introduced me to the men’s Bible study that meets on Monday night, and I met some wonderful Christian brothers.

In my Sunday morning messages at church, this is what I said: God is at work and all we need to do is become aware of what God is doing, and then make ourselves available. There is a ministry or place of service for each one of us. We don’t all have the same gifts, but we all have gifts that we can use to share God’s love with someone else. The Christian life is a life of faith, hope, and love.

I am grateful to the people of Buckie for their hospitality, prayers, and friendship. If the Lord opens the doors, I hope I can come back again, and bring Sonja with me.

Monday morning I fly to Tuebingen.

from Malcom by George MacDonald

That night the weather changed, and grew cloudy and cold. Saturday morning broke drizzly and dismal. A north-east wind tore off the tops of the drearily tossing billows. All was gray–enduring, hopeless gray. Along the coast the waves kept roaring on the sands, persistent and fateful; the Scaurnose was one mass of foaming white: and in the caves still haunted by the tide, the bellowing was like that of thunder.

The next day, the day of the Resurrection, rose glorious from its sepulchre of sea-fog and drizzle. It had poured all night long, but at sunrise the clouds had broken and scattered, and the air was the purer for the cleansing rain, while the earth shone with that peculiar lustre which follows the weeping which has endured its appointed night.

Review here, Gutenberg Project e-book free download here.

Religious Wars

The Reformation Era by Robert D. Linder

Westport, CN and London: Greenwood, 2008

I have just finished reading Robert Linder’s new book on the reformation and plan to write a formal review. Dr. Linder is distinguished professor of history at Kansas State University.

A couple years ago he graciously agreed to speak to a small conference we had in Manhattan. I asked him to address the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. He agreed, and as the date approached changed the working title of his lecture.

His first title was something like “The Health of the Evangelical Church in America.” Later he revised it to “The Seriously Ill Evangelical Church in America.” When he finally gave the lecture, the title was “The Apostate Evangelical Church in America.”

But that’s another story . . .

The book on the Reformation is written for high school and undergraduate students wishing to write a term paper the topic. It is packed full of information, including many primary documents, glossaries, brief biographies of major players, charts of main events and other helps, along with the main narrative. The book will prove very useful for its intended readers. I suspect that it will also be useful for graduate students preparing for exams. But I’ll finish the formal review later.

Right now I am thinking about all the bloody religious wars during that era.

This week I visited the ruined cathedral of Elgin. The remains are impressive enough–but how did the cathedral get ruined?

This one was actually destroyed well before the Reformation by the Wolf of Badenoch, son of the illegitimate father Robert II, in revenge for his excommunication.

But after the Reformation many of the catholic churches were destroyed by zealous reformers. These wars were probably political more than religious–except that religion and politics were so intertwined it was impossible to untangle them.

The thing that impressed me while reading Linder’s book and while visiting historic sites was that the only ones who came out without blood on their hands were the Anabaptists or radical reformers–those who took seriously the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the nonviolent lifestyle of the pre-Constantinian Christians–the forerunners of the Mennonites, the Brethren, the Baptists and other similar followers of Christ who believed in free association, separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience.

They were suspected of being related to the rebellion of the fanatical Thomas Müntzer, with whom they had nothing in common, and were persecuted mercilessly by protestants and catholics alike. The Anabaptists women in particular showed tremendous courage; many of them were tortured and eventually murdered, usually by drowning.

Photo of the Week

The people of Buckie can’t imagine what it would be like to live over 1000 miles from any ocean, like I do.  We do have sunsets, though.

Enn and Out

I can’t imagine a greater contrast than the behavior of Westminster Theological Seminary and the attitude of F. F. Bruce (whose autobiography I recently reviewed). F.F. Bruce guided the evangelical community away from anti-intellectualism and showed the value of historical research in the Bible. He showed that a historical-critical approach to the Bible is compatible with faith and an aid to faith in helping us understand the Bible properly. He celebrated the freedom provided to him in his own church affiliation and in his working environment.

Professor Bruce began his career as a professor of Classics.  He believed that the Greek and Latin literature from the centuries before and after the events of the New Testament is the best guide to understanding the setting of the events and literature of early Christianity.  Peter Enns undertook a similar type of study of the Old Testament–he studied the ancient literature from the region and time of the Old Testament events–ancient Babylonian literature, for example.

Petter Enns has written a very helpful guide to some difficult historical issues relating to the Old Testament, called Inspiration and Incarnation. He never calls into question the truthfulness or authority of the Bible for believers, but he does raise questions about its interpretation. He argues that we have to understand the understanding of the first readers and writers if we are going to understand the message of the Bible.

I have read his book, and many of the ancient writings to which he refers, and the Westminister Confession of Faith–I can find nothing in Enns’ book that contradicts what that 17th century document teaches “Of the Holy Scripture“.

I know that the seminary named after the Westminster Confession has held traditional (not to say rigid) theological positions; in particular some of their opinions expressed by Westminster faculty on issues related to gender and freedom seem quite retrograde to me. When I read Inspiration and Incarnation I changed my opinion of the seminary–there is evidently some academic freedom there, I thought.

Evidently I was wrong. On All Fools Day this month the administration of WTS gathered their students in the chapel and announced that professor Enns had been suspended pending further investigation into his orthodoxy.

(See Peter Enns website here.)

Train of Remembrance

I hope I don’t get in trouble for plagiarizing myself!  I posted this note on my “Theological German” blog:

Zug der ErinnerungThe Train of Remembrance is making its way through German cities, commemorating German children who were deported by the Nazis.  The German government seems to be dragging its feet in supporting the traveling exhibit.

Margaret, who keeps us supplied in eggs, forwarded this notice from Ursela.

The train will be in Dresden when I arrive in Germany.

Here is the link to the press releases in English.

Traveling Mercies

Anne Lamott

If you have ever walked out on a speech by Tony Campolo, this book is not for you. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies is one of the reading selections I brought along.

Anne grew up in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s with secular parents who were devoted to progressive causes. She did have some adopted “moms” who told her she was beautiful and God loved her. Later in life when she eventually admitted she was an alcoholic (but before she admitted she had an eating disorder) she started attending an African American church. If C.S. Lewis was was England’s most reluctant convert, Anne eventually became America’s most reluctant convert.

Somebody forgot to tell her some things, e.g.: Christians don’t cuss; Christians don’t believe in abortion; true love waits; and God is a republican. In a chapter dealing with forgiveness, she includes Ronald Reagan and George Bush (the elder; the book was published in 1999) among those who have hurt her personally and whom she finds it hard to forgive.

The portrait she paints of her self is not always attractive. You see her making the same dumb mistakes over and over again. One thing I admire about Anne Lamott, though, is that she remained loyal to all her friends whether they were atheists (most of them), Buddhists (a few), alcoholics (most of them), or whatever–I don’t suppose she ever had any republican friends; but she does describe one attempt to forgive one who happens to be the mother of a classmate of her son Sam.

If you can get past her personal failings, the book has something important to say: namely that people like Anne Lamott are the very people Jesus came to call as his disciples. She is a pretty good example of the kind of people the “emerging church” (or is it “emergent”? I sometimes forget) movement is trying to reach. She is a pretty good example of what Bonhoeffer’s nonreligious Christian might look like.

Kiva Loan Repaid

From the reader who earlier recommended Kiva:

“exciting stuff! My christmas loan is being paid back already.”

Here is the letter from Kiva:

Dear [Kiva Sponser],

The business you have loaned to, trade of vegetables run by Hayom
Ayomov, has made a repayment of $91.00. The total amount repaid is now
$364.00. This repayment will be divided amongst all the lenders who
helped to fund this business, depending upon the percentage each lender

Best wishes,

Kiva Staff

Kiva gives microloans to small entrepeneurs. For more information, click here. To see the Faith Matters prior post on Kiva, click here.

More on F.F. Bruce

Hard SayingsI’ve almost finished the autobiography of F. F. Bruce, In Retrospect: remembrance of Things Past. The book was published in 1980, I have seen it before, but it took a trip to Scotland to get me to read it. I should have come to Scotland sooner!

Professor Bruce describe how he switched from being a professor of classical Greek to becoming a professor of “Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.” One of his reasons was that he wanted to help evangelical Christians overcome their anti-intellectual bias. He also joined in several enterprises directed toward this goal: Intervarsity Fellowship and Tyndal House in Cambridge in particular.

When he moved to the University of Sheffield, he helped to establish a “secular” or nonsectarian division of biblical studies. His approach was “secular” not in the sense that it required unbelief or a suspension of belief, but that he approached the Bible historically and presented evidence and reason for his conclusions, as opposed to being bound by prior confessional or dogmatic conclusions.

NT History

James Crossley currently teaches in the biblical studies department at Sheffield, and he also is interested in a secular approach to the Bible. He does seem to define “secular” differently, though. In his book “Why Christianity Happened” he argues that it is preposterous for a serious historian to argue, for example, that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. How could a Muslim scholar, for example, join in such an investigation?

N.T. Wright has argued recently (as F.F. Bruce did in his day) that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event and the best explanation for the rise of early Christianity. Wright (here and here) and Crossley (here and here) have exchanged their views recently.

One of F.F. Bruce’s most famous contributions was his commentary on Acts. Rather, I should say commentaries. He spent ten years producing his commentary on the Greek text of Acts. This was followed by a major commentary on the English text of Acts, where he attempted to answer the criticism of a reviewer of his previous book that it was a work of the head and not the heart, of erudition but not devotion.

In his commentary on Acts he expressed the belief that there is more historically valuable material in the book than had previously been recognized. A century earlier F. C. Baur of Tuebingen set forth his thesis that Acts was basically a work of fiction, an attempt by Luke to reconcile two competing versions of Christianity: a Jewish version represented by James and Peter, and a Gentile version advocated by Paul. Other theologians at Tuebingen in the 19th century gained a reputation for radical thought.

More recently at Tuebingen Professor Martin Hengel took a more historical approach to the NT. He is now retired, but taught his students that, if it is now impossible to master all the secondary literature on a subject, they should at least master all the ancient literature. Hengel believed that students of the New Testament should know all of the literature of the ancient world, from aproximately 300 BC to approximately AD 300, including the literature in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic (as well as Syriac and Coptic).

I will fall woefully short of Hengel’s standards for my presentation next month in Tuebingen (at a colloquium that is co-sponsored by his student and successor), but at least I have been motivated by the standards. I have been influenced by the kind of study recommended by Bruce and Hengel.

Passing the Torch

The Final Four interrupted my posts about Buckie, F.F. Bruce, Doric, and other related matters. If the Lord wills, as James his brother taught us to say, tomorrow I will get buck to such matters.

As I was following the American basketball tournament this week (watching online in the middle of the night), there was some sports-related news on television. The Olympic torch passed through London and then through Paris–accompanied by vigorous protest in both cities.

I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me wants to agree with those who say, “you shouldn’t mix politics and sports.” Our family was thrilled at the opportunity our niece Melissa had to represent her state and country in the Special Olympics in Shanghai this past October. (See prior posts, Feb 14, 2008; Oct 9, 2007; and Oct 2, 2007.) I can imagine how disappointed we would have been if Melissa and her friends had been forced to cancel their trip due to protests or boycotts.

I also remember how disappointing it was to all the athletes preparing for the 1980 Olympic games when they learned they would be going to Moscow. Our president decided we would boycott the games in protest to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. We also lived in a farming area at the time and saw how farmers were hurt by the canceling of grain sales to the USSR.

Yet I also remember thinking at the time how much better these harsh matters were than war.

The current “politics” that is being mixed with sports is not a question on what percentage of their income the wealthy should pay in taxes, or whether there should be fuel economy standards, or other typical political issues. The “political” questions are questions of basic human rights; issues of torture, freedom of speech and thought, freedom of religion. They are not trivial matters that are less important than sports.

But the real questions is whether the best way to change the tyrannical ways of an intransigent geritocracy is shame, punishment, humiliation, and isolation–or whether openness and interaction is better. I hope that more good comes from the world coming together for a few days to celebrate nonpolitical achievements, than the harm that comes from supporting a bully’s ego.


MelissaSuper Mario Chalmers

helped the Jayhawks come back from a 9-point disadvantage to  tie the score and then go on to an overtime victory over Memphis.

It was a great game, neither team gave up, they both fought bravely to the end.  Roy Williams showed up wearing his Jayhawk jersey and spoke at halftime.

There are other things more important than sport, and I’ll turn to other topics later.  But I’m not going to let that spoil the fun for now.

The picture above is my niece Melissa.  A couple months ago the Jayhawks opened their fieldhouse on a Sunday afternoon to the Special Olympics kids; and the players and coach volunteered their time to teach the kids some skills and play basketball with them.

Melissa new how the season would end up!

My Bonnie Jayhawks

Jayhawk FanJayhawk Sasha Kahn

and one of his biggest fans

I took a nap Saturday afternoon so I would be fresh for church in the morning. Then I set my alarm for about 1:30 am and got up to watch the big game online. Round one of the Final Four. I saw the last two minutes of the Memphis-UCLA game. Since we lived in Memphis for 10 years, I was glad to see them trounce the Trojans. But the game I was interested in was up next: The Jayhawks of Kansas vs. the Tar Heels of North Carolina.

The announcers, at the close of the game, said there had been three periods instead of the normal two. For the first 14 minutes or so the Jayhawks fairly demolished the Tar Heels, establishing a lead of 40 to 12, completely shutting down the opposition’s offense. Then before the buzzer sounded Roy Williams regrouped his troops and they regained much of the lost ground. They continued their comeback for several minutes after the halftime break pulling to within 4 points. Then finally the Jayhawks remembered why they had come and finished with a solid victory.

I’ve been educating the local folks here in Buckie on who and what the Jayhawks are, including the pre-civil war history.

I’m not one to gloat over my enemies destruction. Five years ago most Kansans turned against their beloved coach Roy Williams, who had pledged to finish out his career in Kansas, when he took an offer to return to his native North Carolina. But we have now grown to love Bill Self. I’m not one to gloat–still the victory was especially sweet. (If I were writing that epic poem, I’d find room for William HimSel and Roy O the Williams Clan; and lament how what Missouri Fire could not accomplish, Carolina gold hath wrought–and how treacherous Roy got his just deserts.)

My kids are glad Memphis made it this far; in a sense they can claim the champion either way. But there preference is for the Jayhawks. I’ll have to take another nap this afternoon.

Dialect Difficulties

I’ll write a wee bit more about F.F. Bruce, in a proper post tomorrow. Right now I note an amusing comment that I can certainly relate to. He mentioned his struggles in Vienna to communicate in German, and to understand the Viennese dialect. He had a professor with a strong Berliner accent, which he found difficult. He looked to the other (native Viennese) students and they said,

“You must not think that we understand him any better than you do.”

Some of the residents here who have come up north from England tell me that the local speech was just as difficult for them, initially. And, in a month I will be traveling to Tuebingen, where the local Swabbish dialect, I understand, is quite distinctive. I doubt that will be a problem in the academic setting; it might be when I try to order Maultaschen. (Not that I don’t expect to struggle with standard Hochdeutsch!)

F. F. Bruce

FFBruceMap NE Scotland

I am about 17 miles from Elgin (hard ‘g’ as in again), the hometown of the world famous biblical scholar F. F. Bruce.

I am tempted to write an epic poem about “Frederick the Bruce.”

If my grasp of Gaelic and Doric advances at a miraculous pace, and if the Muse of history visits me–I just might do it.

I might tell how Frederick the Bruce as a young loon, after gaining his footing in auld Aberdeen, ventured south among the treacherous English, and took degrees from Cambridge; thence to Vienna, and on Leeds where he relieved many an oor of wartime tedium commentatin on the Wondrous Acts of the Auld Apostles; how he met the Tübingen critics, the McBaur clan, on their own turf, wresting the Scriptures from the academics and returning it once more to the kirk; how he returned to his own land, crossing the Firth of Forth (an ay, the Firth of Fyvie) to pass his mantle to young Howard the Marshal, to whom young William the Baker, sailing the rough Atlantic, came seeking Aberdonian wisdom, and returned to the barbarous land of the North Americans, where he has gainit glory for himsel.

But while I wait for my muse to appear, I will have to trim my sails and speak plain prose.

F. F. Bruce was respected among historians, classicists, and biblical scholars of all stripes; but it is in particular the tribe of evangelicals, British and North American especially, who are most greatly indebted to him. He showed that faith and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. He showed that a believing Christian could undertake a historical interpretation of the Bible.

He began his academic career as a teacher of classical Greek, and received his first university appointment as a professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis after completing his commentary on the Greek text of Acts.

The Buckie library is just across the street from my back door. The librarians treated me with great kindness and extended a library membership to me, complete with a card and a permit to use their computers. I found on their shelves an autobiography of one of Morayshire’s favorite sons, from which I will be quoting or reporting in days to come.

The thing that impressed me most about professor Bruce was his broad and gracious spirit. His example of taking his graduate degree (an M.A. from Cambridge) in classics influenced me to follow in that path. I didn’t make it to Cambridge, but the training I received in classics at the University of Kansas has given me a good foundation for the study of the Bible, as well as introducing me to a world that is fascinating in its own right.


Buckie Skyline

I’m having a wonderful time, although I was greeted with news of a tragedy that affects the whole town. There was a terrible accident in which three people were killed and one remains in critical condition. One of the victims was an 8-year-old boy, two were his great aunt and grandmother, and one was a 19-year-old young man. The granddaughter of one of the women, Lisa, is a member of the church. She came back from the US, where she is studying nursing, for the funeral. On top of her loss, she now has to reapply for her visa. Pray for everyone affected by this loss.

We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

I have also been doing plenty of rejoicing.

We did find the Loch Ness Monster. You can see her clearly in this picture:


To see a few other pictures from Scotland (one is from NY, and some are from the air), click here.