9 July 2013
This week Terri and I are living in St. Andrews, Scotland, the home of golf. No, I am not here to play golf. Truth be told, my handicap does not allow me to play on the Old Course. When asked what my handicap is I usually reply, “I am one.” None the less, we have been to the course, walked across “The Bridge,” eaten dinner at the Old Course Hotel, and enjoyed the atmosphere of this ancient and historic town.
I will allow Terri to put into her own blog her activities during this week but I am attending the international conference for The Society of Biblical Literature. The course work is organized topically. My focus has been in the New Testament shifting between topics on Peter, Paul, John, and biblical leadership. Each section is three hours long. Within that time there are six twenty minute presentations followed by a five minute discussion. Usually there is a half-hour break in the middle of the session for refreshments and further conversation. All-in-all I have attended 28 sessions with 18 more to go. My brain is full.
Who are the folks who make these 20 minute presentations? In most cases the presenters are professors of the Bible at university level or theologians from various seminaries worldwide. In many cases these individuals have developed a focus which they have pursued for a lifetime. One presenter is writing his 4th book on the Gospel of John with three more in the queue. I have also listened to a few presenters who are in the midst of their PhD studies and are sharing their findings on their doctoral projects.
Here is another way of looking at it. There have been a number of days on our trip where Terri and I have elected to have a lunch of peanut butter and crackers. We came across an article in some of our shared readings that reminded us of George Washington Carver who discovered many uses of the peanut and became an expert in the field. In the years of his research he discovered over 300 uses of peanuts, including everything from peanut butter to glue to shaving cream to soap to insecticides to linoleum to Worcestershire sauce. He was invited to talk to The House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the United Peanut Association of America on his discoveries of peanuts and was given ten minutes. After speaking for an hour and forty minutes the committee told him he could come back whenever he wanted and take as much time as he needed.
These scholars are the George Washington Carvers of the Bible. Sometimes their interest is a single word (this morning there was a whole dialogue on the use and meaning of “glory” in the book of Romans). Sometimes it is one book of the Bible (although hearing 6 lectures on various aspects of the letter of 1 John was a bit more than I could handle). Sometimes there is the tackling of a theme such as leadership (this has been the least satisfying since it is presented by people who are scholars and not necessarily leaders. Theory verse experience). Whatever the focus may be, they are working to discover the 300 meanings within the texts and they are here to share their progress and their findings. Everyone I have listened to presents in English which is not always their first language. They tend to fill their 20 minutes with as much information about their process and their findings from hundreds of hours of research. Listening is hard work.
Did George Washington Carver eat peanut butter or, after all his studying, was it the last thing on his dietary wish list? In general what I have seen are people who are deeply devoted to understanding the peanut of God’s Word. They are committed to learning what the Bible says within the context and language of the day. They want to talk about how a text was shaped by the culture within the Christian community as well as by the secular society. These men and women know the scriptures and can discuss a theme and most passages related to it not only from the English text but also the Greek. Their knowledge of the scriptures is awe-inspiring.
Do they know the peanut or simply know about the peanut? Do they believe in the One the scriptures are talking about? To be honest, faith sharing is not the focus of this conference. People are not here to share their personal testimonies. However, in general I would say yes. There are certain ones who leave you know doubt. You can feel their passion and sense their love for the Lord. There are others from whom you feel it is such an academic exercise that faith does not need to be a part of it.
Does the information I have been gathering directly apply to life as a pastor and teacher? Well, not always. In one of the classes an attendee asked what I thought was a very practical question as to how one could apply the information that had been provided to real circumstances in life. The presenter responded by saying, “What, you want me to write your Sunday sermon for you?” There is a gap between the information given and applying it to everyday life. In another class, an insightful presentation was made on the physiology of leadership within the Greco-Roman world and its’ impact upon the tension between Paul and the church leaders displayed in 2 Corinthians 10-13 (yeowy). I raised my hand and commented on the parallelism to the 21st century (a profound insight I thought) and the teacher brightened up and said, “Wow, I have never thought of that.”
Getting the peanut from the laboratory to the grocery store is a challenge. Making research accessible to the consumer takes work. To say it another way, it is still the responsibility of the pastor/teacher to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.