Friday, March 2, 2007

Last Day at Tyndale House: Sad Ending. Joyful Anticipation.

After I arrive home and have an opportunity to settle back into the routines of our home life, then I will offer some reflections upon studying and research in Cambridge at Tyndale House. For today, I simply offer this simple observation. It is a day of sadness mingled with joyful anticipation, sadness that long days (8:00 AM to 10:00 PM) dedicated to research in a superb biblical studies library had to come to a close, but joyful anticipation of embracing my wife, Lois, at the airport in Minneapolis tomorrow afternoon and being reunited with our sons, their wives (John & Naomi, expectant with our second grandchild, and David & Renae) and our granddaughter, Anna.

Toss
a measure of disappointment into the mix of sadness and joyful anticipation, too. Today, as I was leaving Tyndale House, Martin Hengel was arriving. The good folks at Tyndale House hosted Martin Hengel who will be honored tomorrow now in his eightieth year. Dr. Peter Head, New Testament Research Fellow at Tyndale House and Fellow at St. Edmund's College (Cambridge University), kindly arranged for Tyndale House to host Martin Hengel during morning tea time. Regrettably, when I made my travel arrangements I had no knowledge of the special event tomorrow. Had I known, I almost surely would have extended my stay by at least one day. The bright side is that I have an even greater event awaiting me tomorrow, I will see my wife again. Sorry Dr. Hengel.

The Georgian pediment and familiar red door, the front door to my residence for the past several weeks, welcomed me when I arrived and bid me goodbye as I departed. Truly, it is a doorway to biblical studies.

As the bus rolled out of Cambridge I looked upon a number of scenes that had become quite familiar during my stay in the old city--bicyclists wending their way to lectures, children walking to school, athletes practicing with a ball on the green, scholars carrying their bags as they walk to their colleges, and a man with sunken eyes and no teeth scrounging for food in a refuse can on the green as people of all walks of life busily pass by taking no notice of him.

After leaving Tyndale Hous
e by Panther Taxi to Dummer Street, I boarded a National Express bus bound for Gatwick airport by way of stops at Stansted and Heathrow airports. About four and half hours later we arrived at the south terminal of Gatwick airport. I called Carmel at Cumberland House, and in just a short time she was there to pick me up. (If you need a room near Gatwick, I commend Cumberland House. Carmel and Clive are wonderful hosts.)

For dinner, I trudged through the rain under my umbrella down to Ye Olde Six Bells pub, where the aroma and warmth of flames in the fireplace welcomed guests. I'll have you know that I did not make the same mistake about ordering water as I did last time. I decided this evening to celebrate the close of sev
eral weeks of intensive research and my anticipation of being home tomorrow. So it was neither bottled 'still water' nor tap water on ice for me.

As I sat alone, enjoying my meal quietly celebrating an end and a beginning, I observed others in the pub. Two couples, in particular, were of interest, and both were Americans, as I surmised by overhearing their manner speech and content of conversation. One was a married pair of 'seasoned citizens.' The other was an obviously unmarried couple early in middle age. The married couple barely conversed. O
h, I suppose that they care for one another, but no one would have made the mistake of thinking they did, given their demeanor. The other couple, quite obviously not married to one another but speaking of their spouses or former spouses and children, were also obviously enjoying one another. They talked continuously and with noticeable gestures of affection. "What a situation!" I thought. Two couples, one married but barely speaking to one another, another not married to one another but clearly romantically involved with one another, and there I sat, married but without my wife. We would have been speaking with one another, romantically involved with one another, and married to one another. Tomorrow, I will hug her and kiss my wife. One more night, then I'm home.

Update: While at Gatwick Airport, I happened to see both couples that I had seen the night before at the pub. The younger couple were airline flight attendants walking together toward the gate for their flight. The older couple were as detached from one another as the night before.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Pleasant Discovery at Tyndale House Library

Today has been preparation day for my departure from Tyndale House tomorrow. One of my tasks has been to replace the stacks of books that I have been using for research. (The library is a self-serve resource center. Use a book and replace it when finished with it. The design is efficient and saves on paying someone to do what we researchers can do ourselves.) Well, as I was replacing a Ph.D. dissertation, I spied another dissertation that I could not resist taking back to my study carrel.

I sat down and began to read the dissertation. After reading the introduction and preliminary pages, one chapter in particular, Chapter X, caught my attention. So I devoted a fair amount of time to give it a careful reading. The chapter is titled "Justification by Faith." Oh, I didn't tell you whose dissertation it is. It is J. I. Packer's Ph.D. dissertation. Packer gave the copy as a gift to Tyndale House in May 1957. It is titled, "The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter: A Study in Puritan Theology," presented for the degree of D.Phil. in the University of Oxford, Trinity term, 1954. Packer's dissertation is extremely long; it is 499 pages. Yet, to look at it on the shelf, one would think that it was only 150 to 175 pages. How does it look so thin? It is typed on onion skin paper. Imagine a dissertation that is 499 pages. No supervisor today would allow such length.

My friend and fellow Ph.D. student and candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Tim Beougher, now Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote his dissertation on Richard Baxter. I know that he accessed J. I. Packer's dissertation, and Dr. Packer was his External Reader for his dissertation. As I recall from several conversation with him, Tim Beougher focused his dissertation on Baxter's beliefs concerning justification. Hence, I was eager to read Packer's treatment of Baxter's view.

Richard Baxter forges his beliefs concerning justification on the anvil of controversy with men called "Antinomians," particularly men such as Tobias Crisp (Christ Alone Exalted) and James Saltmarsh. Whether they were justly called "Antinomians" is disputable. Nevertheless, Baxter took a view of justification by faith that he distinguished from the view articulated by Crisp and others. Baxter saw his own view as in agreement with that of the Puritan Divines, such as William Perkins, Samuel Bolton (True Bounds of Christian Freedom), Thomas Hooker, and others. Baxter's views roused several critics and
caught the sharp point of John Owen's pen as they engaged one another. This, then, is the focus of Chapter X of Packer's dissertation.

It seems suitable to quote a portion of J. I. Packer's commentary on the controversy stirred by Richard Baxter's beliefs.


But in fact Baxter's alleged heterodoxy amounted merely to this: he had assimilated the four characteristic Protestant positions concerning justification (that it is a forensic act, done in this life; that it is grounded on Christ's satisfaction; that it is secured through faith; and that a dead fait justifies nobody) to his 'political' doctrine of the new covenant as a legal instrument for its conveyance; and he had distinguished two decisive moments in justification, one present and one future, where other Protestants recognize only the first. The charges brought against him were ludicrous. But we can see why they were made. His readers were completely bewildered by the 'political method'. It involved re-definition right and left: terms like law, works, merit, righteousness, justification, imputation, instrument, all meant something different in Baxter from what they meant in the rest of Protestant literature. Few had the patience or the ability to master his method and definitions; consequently, a great deal of breath and ink were wasted in confuting what he would have meant had he been using these key words in the accepted sense. The controversial wranglings between Baxter and his critics on justification make tedious and unprofitable reading, for the two side make no intellectual contact at all. Both Baxter and the orthodox Calvinists had perfectly consisten positions granted their first principles, and constructive discussion between them could only take place at the level of their first principles. But their endless acrimonious dissections of each other's statements never got down to this level. The only issue of these exchanges was that each side learned to state its own position more accurately. The root difference between Baxter and orthodox Calvinism, from which all their other disagreements sprang and to which they can all be reduced, may here be pin-pointed. It concerned the idea of law. . . .

To orthodox Calvinism, the law of God is the permanent, unchanging expression of God's eternal and unchangeable holiness and justice. It requires perfect obedience from mankind, on pain of physical and spiritual death, and confers salvation and eternal life only upon those who perfectly obey it. God could not change this law, or set it aside, in His dealings with men, without denying Himself. When man sins, therefore, it is not God's nature to same him at the law's expense. Instead, he saves sinners by satisfying the law on their behalf, that He might continue just when He becomes their Justifier. . . .

Baxter's 'political method' led him to a very different idea of God's law. To him, God's justice is merely a rectoral attribute, a characteristic quality of His government, and His laws are no more than means to ends. Like all laws, they may under certain circumstances be changed, if the desired end is attainable by other means. When man had fallen, and God purposed to glorify Himself by restoring him, He carried out His plan, not by satisfying the law, but by changing it. . . . Where orthodox Calvinism taught that Christ satisfied the law in the sinner's place, Baxter held that Christ satisfied the Lawgiver and so procured a change in the law. Here Baxter aligns himself with Arminian thought rather than with orthodox Calvinism. And from this source, as is now clear, all his differences with orthodoxy on the subject of justification took their rise.

We may think that Baxter was wrong; we may even judge him wrong-headed; but we must recognize that it was not gratuitous pedantry that drove him to new ways of stating old truths. He was sure that they were Scriptural and necessary for the Church's holiness and peace ("The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter," 302-306).

I quote these words at length because they seem quite relevant to the controversy that swirls in the church today. Another Englishman is at the center of the current vortex, N. T. Wright. One may disagree with N. T. Wright, but wouldn't it be wonderful if disagreement would bring about more than the controversy of the seventeenth century yielded in Puritan times?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crocuses and Daffodils

Spring has sprung in green England. Since I had to take my laptop computer to the University Computing Center this morning, I took the opportunity to enjoy the colors bursting forth. Crocuses, which have been pushing up for some time, are now in full and variegated bloom. Daffodils, too, have broken out in their yellow dress. Shrubs and trees are blossoming. It seems that the blossoms precede the leaves on many of the shrubs and trees.

I leave England's spring on Saturday to enter snowbound Minnesota. According to my wife, Lois, they received about 15-18 inches of snow in the past few days and expect 11-13 more inches by Saturday morning. Well, I am enjoying spring while here in Cambridge. And, when I return home, I will enjoy the final gasps of winter and enjoy the return of spring all over again.

Here are some flowers at Qu
een's College, daffodils and crocuses. Tulips are also blooming.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Villainous Computer

Unfortunately Tuesday was not very productive. I learned that the technicians at the University of Cambridge Computing Center identified my computer as a villain to the network and particularly invasive to their data bases. (Isn't it a bit frightening that the technicians can isolate which computer is posing undesired issues?) It's not a happy thought that I am operating a villainous computer, my Traveling Companion. I was requested to disconnect my Traveling Companion from the network and briefly connect once or twice a day just long enough to read e-mail. Well, now, that was a bit more final than I was prepared to hear. I inquired if there was not another option, particularly having my computer checked by one of the Cambridge University computer technicians. Well, inquiry paid off. Off to the Computing Center I marched. Much to my amazement, a technician spent at least two hours on the computer, cleaning up a number of problems that have evidently been operating for a long time. Four o'clock struck and she was gone. She wants me back at 10:00 AM on Wednesday.

Update: Wednesday morning I was waiting for the technician at 10:00 AM. When she came to look at the computer and to work her technical magic, she placed the computer before her and suddenly the screen became pixelated, discolored, and it turned black. Of course, all operations seized and functionality ceased. I tried to resurrect the computer, but nothing worked. I gave it all I could to resuscitate the poor thing, but my powers were gone. Of course, the technician muttered numerous words and expressions of deepest foreboding, of darkest calamity, and of impending death. At any moment, it seemed, a eulogy should be uttered. Her words were not eulogy-worthy, however. My heart sank. I felt lost. I carefully packed the expiring computer into its padded sleeve and placed the sleeve into its pouch in my bag. As I thanked the technician and walked out the institutional waiting room, I felt as though I were departing a hospital after having resigned myself to the death of a close friend. (Oh, I may be exaggerating just a bit.)

I trudged back to Tyndale House pondering my options. It would seem that the computer is verging on its final days, if not hours. Is there any life left in it? If not, what are my options? A computer is quite essential to most of the research work I have been doing in the library. Well, I suppose that I could put the computer away and either work without its assistance in some limited way, or I could put it away and explore a few parts of Cambridge that I have not yet seen. I decided to give my Traveling Companion one more opportunity to prove itself. It booted up without any screen issues. Now it is functioning, but I do not know for how long. So, I will continue to work in the library as long as possible. And, I will try to fill out my journal as well as I can, given my Traveling Companion's capacity to hold on for my sake.


Update (3/07/07):
When I arrived home, my laptop computer died completely. It is now at the coroner's office awaiting an autopsy.

Update (4/26/07): The computer went to Silicon Cemetary. Fortunately, it was still under warranty, so I received a new Gateway computer to replace the dead one. The new one works wonderfully.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Today's Research, N. T. Wright


As I enter my final week of research and reading at Tyndale House I decided to give N. T. Wright's doctoral dissertation a closer read than my earlier rather cursory reading of it.

First here are the bibliographical data concerning the dissertation:
Wright, N. T. (1980). "The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans." Oxford University. Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation.
Many if not most of the views that Wright has expressed in his numerous publications are present within his dissertation in seed form at least. Some of his later published views are fairly developed in the dissertation, especially his view of the relationship between Israel and Christ, which is at the core of his thesis.

It seems evident to me that N. T. Wright has become a noticeably improved writer since his doctoral research days. The argument in his dissertation is cumbersome to track. It is quite scattered in its presentation. It is not well focused. Though his thesis is about Paul's letter to the Romans, Wright regularly follows trails that lead away from that letter into Paul's other letters, such as, Galatians, Philippians, the Corinthian letters, etc. One gets the distinct sense that Wright attempted to do too much. One also receives the sense that he could have used closer guidance to tighten his argument and to tie each portion into the core of his thesis much more closely than he did. Often his exegesis leaves one puzzled. Either his argument was too thinly demonstrated, too densely expressed or else my reading capacity is too dense to follow with approval.

The formatting of the dissertation leaves much to be desired. Given that it was typed on a typewriter and not compiled with a word processor, it is understandable why footnotes were eschewed in favor of endnotes. Flipping to the back of the copy to locate footnotes is annoying, but even more annoying is the compressed and packed format of the notes. Margins spill over any formatting regulations, such as found in Turabian, running almost to the paper's edge.

The dissertation copy that Wright gave to Tyndale House puzzles me. Elements of this copy prompt me to wonder if it is unique or if the wording and format is actually the same as the presentation copy Wright submitted to Merton College, Oxford University. I have never seen this phenomenon in any thesis or dissertation before. It contains several pages that have whole sections covered over with paper upon which different text has been typed. On one page, page 159, the lower half of the page is covered over with paper upon which different text is typed. One can read at least ten lines under the paper that have not been replaced with different text. This unusual feature gives Wright's dissertation the feel that portions of it are a palimpsest. If I ever get back to the Bodlein Library at Oxford University I will try to remember to access Wright's dissertation to compare it with the copy Tyndale House holds.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ely Cathedral

On this, my final Sunday in Cambridge, I visited St. Andrews Street Baptist Church with my friend Barry, who attends the church. There are two matters of interest in the church. One is a cane-bottom chair used by William Carey in Serampore, India. The other is the stained glass window in the front of the sanctuary. It features three characters from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: Valiant-for-Truth, Christian, and Faithful.

Following the worship service, Barry and I drove to Ely to tour Ely Cathedral and grounds. What a massive and majestic cathedral it it! We took the Octagon Lantern tour. We climbed narrow, I mean extremely narrow, spiral staircases up two different towers. The first tower is situated on the northwest corner of the main transept. It brought us up to a catwalk overlooking the main transept where we saw the huge base organ pipes. Above us, in the center of the transept, was the octagon lantern designed by Alan of Walsingham following the collapse of the original square tower in 1322 that had stood for two centuries. That same tower brought us up to the interior where we could observe the massive oak beams that support the octagon lantern tower structure and open the panels to view the up close. The beam structure shown was put in place in 1322-1328 when the lantern tower was rebuilt as an octagon to replace the former square structure that had collapsed.

Ely Cathedral is immense and impressive. Its length
is 537 feet. For other dimensions, click here. The present cathedral dates from the 11th century.

After touring the cathedral we took a tour of Oliver Cromwell's house which is just west of the cathedral.

Below is a floor plan of the cathedral and a view from the west. Observe that there is no north (on the left) transept and tower off the west tower. It separated from the main structure, due to shifting soil, and had to be dismantled during medieval times.