Average time spent writing one e-mail

Source: PhDComics

David John Williams (1933–2008): Requiescat in pace

In 1993, I was an undergraduate student at Ridley College. It was a year I thoroughly enjoyed and will always be grateful for. All my teachers provided for me a rich introduction to the world of formal theological education. I was saddened to learn today that my NT professor during that year – Dr David Williams – recently passed away. David modelled a passion for the NT and its application that was infectious. I also remember him as a very caring and patient person. (Anyone who was going to try and teach me Greek would have to be). Here’s the ‘farewell to a faithful pastor’ written by Revd Jonathan Wei-Han Kuan, Honorary Archivist, Ridley College:

In David John Williams the church was blessed with a man of gentle godliness, integrity, scholarship and great faithfulness. For half a century his name has been associated with Ridley College. He was an internationally acknowledged New Testament scholar, serving on the translation committee for the New International Version of the Bible and author of commentaries on Acts and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. His magnum opus was Paul’s Metaphors, a study of Pauline metaphors in their first-century contexts.

David was born on 29 October 1933 in Perth. He described himself as an example of what happens when the philosophy behind church schools actually works. It was at Perth’s Hale School, founded by the evangelical Bishop Mathew Hale, that David came under the influence of the Crusaders movement and was converted to Christ. During his first Crusaders’ camp at Bickley Hills he heard the Good News of Christ explained by his tent leader and responded to his invitation to pray to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord. David was thirteen. He went on to be an active member of St Margaret’s Anglican Church Nedlands and the Church Missionary Society’s League of Youth.

David worked in a bank for four years, during which time the seed of the idea of entering the ordained ministry grew. In 1955 he became a candidate for ordination with the Anglican Diocese of Perth and, following other League of Youth members, came to Melbourne to study at the evangelical Ridley College with his wife Audrey. He would remain in Melbourne and at Ridley for the rest of his working life.

David entered Ridley when the dynamic Stuart Barton Babbage was principal and part-time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was Babbage who pressed David into being ordained for the Diocese of Melbourne and organised an ‘odd-bods’ ordination by Frank Woods in the middle of 1959. David was appointed an honorary assistant curate at St Michael’s North Carlton and started tutoring New Testament Greek at Ridley straight away. He would continue imparting his love for the New Testament across another four decades’ worth of students.

Also at Ridley at the time were Leon Morris and Frank Andersen, two other notable biblical scholars encouraged by Babbage. David, like them, was encouraged to pursue further studies, earning his PhD in 1967 alongside several other degrees from The University of Melbourne and Fuller Theological Seminary. His stature as a biblical scholar was recognised when he was selected to serve on the translation committee for the New International Version of the Bible.

Morale was low at Ridley at the departure of Babbage from Melbourne. Leon Morris was appointed principal and together with Frank and David, worked to rebuild student numbers and confidence in evangelical faith. On top of his teaching load, David was college registrar from 1960 -72 and librarian from 1971-78. It was David who brought in second-hand army huts to make up for the lack of appropriate teaching rooms and recognised the possibility of securing government funding through having residential college students by affiliation with the University of Melbourne. That funding, generous donors and an incredible amount of work by the college leadership team enabled the dining hall and library to be built. David also oversaw the phasing out of the Licentiate of Theology and the introduction of Bachelors and later Masters of Theology degrees, as well as certificate level courses.

David would be embarrassed by this recollection of his achievements. He was a quiet, shy and gentle person concerned with the advancement of the kingdom of God and not at all interested in self-promotion. David’s students remember him as a godly softly-spoken teacher who loved the New Testament and who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the first-century context. He had voluminous folders of careful Greek New Testament translation notes in his office. The publication of Paul’s Metaphor’s shortly after his retirement was a fitting capstone to a lifetime devoted to careful analysis of the biblical text. David was loved for his pastoral heart. He was always there with a genuinely concerned enquiry and ready with a kind word of encouragement. Students, undergraduate and higher up, recall his generous exam hints often prefaced by the remark, “If I were studying for the exams…”.

David was also a faithful pastor, taking charge of several parishes when Ridley’s fortunes meant that it was sometimes necessary for lecturers to find other part-time employment. His pastorate at St Michael’s North Carlton from 1974-81 is remembered as a period of renewal and growth. According to David it was mainly an accident of changing demographics. However the reality was that the parish was on the brink of closure when he arrived. It was his biblical preaching and David and Audrey’s loving pastoral care that attracted, nurtured and retained the young families of the area, setting the course for the parish’s healthy development up to this day.

David was acting principal of Ridley on no less than 6 occasions. He once applied, unsuccessfully, for the job but readily admitted that God made the right appointment. Typically self-effacing, David commented that Maurice Betteridge was exactly who the College needed after Leon Morris. It was Betteridge who appointed him Vice-Principal, a post he held from 1982 until his retirement in 1998. He remained active, teaching and deputizing for Ridley up to 2004.

Although David and Audrey lived at or around Ridley over four decades, they made their home at a country property in Bullengarook, outside Gisborne, where they enjoyed growing their own produce and providing generous hospitality. Generations of Ridley students recall picnics on the ground, and weekends away to study the Bible and pray together in a relaxed setting. They hosted a college missions team event there in 2005.

In late 2007 David was diagnosed with cancer. Audrey and David enjoyed a Ridley study tour to Israel that summer. David was called home to the Lord from Bullengarook in the evening of 15 May 2008. He is survived by Audrey and three sons, Michael, Peter, and Stephen; two of whom have followed David into paid Christian work. David John Williams exemplified the gospel that he preached and taught to generations of Ridley students, who in turn have and are still serving the Lord Jesus Christ across Melbourne, Australia and indeed the world.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

There’s a recent article in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr (author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google) which explores the effects of the internet on our reading – and thinking – habits. Drawing upon research by developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf and sociologist Daniel Bell (among others), and citing as examples Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of a typewriter, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s efficiency experiments, Gutenberg’s printing press, and Kubrick’s 2001, Carr makes us wonder what we might be risking when we hand over to the internet (and Google) what we once considered to be far too invaluable to even commit to print – our ability to think!

Carr recalls the spirit of Plato’s Phaedrus, wherein Socrates bemoans the development of writing: ‘He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong – the new technology did often have the effects he feared – but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom)’.

Carr also cites from a recent essay by playwright Richard Foreman wherein Foreman writes:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”

As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’ – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

For the full article.

Samuel Cox on Christ following our path to the end

As well as reading ‘The Gospel of Nicodemus’ (see my previous post), most of today has been spent reading a book that’s been sitting on my ‘to-read’ list for months now: Samuel Cox’s, Salvator Mundi: or, Is Christ the Saviour of all Men?. Cox served as president of the Baptist Association in 1873 and received a DD from St Andrews in 1882. All I can say is that it’s been worth the wait, and I’m glad it didn’t get erased off the list. Here’s one of my favourite passages, not least because of its enormous existential charge:

‘If Christ took flesh and dwelt among us that He might become at all points like as we are and threw open the kingdom of heaven to all believers; if He trod, step by step, the path we have to travel from the cradle to the grave, must He not also, for us men and our salvation, have passed on into that dim unknown region on which our spirits enter when we die? Did He leave, did He forsake our path at the very moment when it sinks into a darkness we cannot penetrate, just when, to us at least, it seems to grow most lonely, most critical, most perilous? And if He followed our path to the end, and passed into that awful and mysterious world into which we also must soon pass, could his Presence be hid? Must not truth and mercy, righteousness and love attend Him wherever He goes? Would not the eternal Gospel in his heart find fit and effectual utterance, and the very darkness of Hades be illuminated and dispersed as it was traversed by the Light of Life? Surely our own reason confirms the revelations of Scripture, and constrains us to believe that, in all worlds and in all ages, as in this, Christ will prove Himself to be the great Lord and Lover of men, and will claim all souls for his own’. – Samuel Cox, Salvator Mundi: or, Is Christ the Saviour of all Men? (London: C. Kegan Paul and Co., 1878), 196-7.

On fearlessly entering the borders of hell

‘When Hell and death and their wicked ministers saw that, they were stricken with fear, they and their cruel officers, at the sight of the brightness of so great light in their own realm, seeing Christ of a sudden in their abode, and they cried out, saying: We are overcome by thee. Who art thou that art sent by the Lord for our confusion? Who art thou that without all damage of corruption, and with the signs of thy majesty unblemished, dost in wrath condemn our power? Who art thou that art so great and so small, both humble and exalted, both soldier and commander, a marvelous warrior in the shape of a bondsman, and a King of glory dead and living, whom the cross bare slain upon it? Thou that didst lie dead in the sepulchre hast come down unto us living and at thy death all creation quaked and all the stars were shaken and thou hast become free among the dead and dost rout our legions. Who art thou that settest free the prisoners that are held bound by original sin and restorest them into their former liberty? Who art thou that sheddest thy divine and bright light upon them that were blinded with the darkness of their sins? After the same manner all the legions of devils were stricken with like fear and cried out all together in the terror of their confusion, saying: Whence art thou, Jesus, a man so mighty and bright in majesty, so excellent without spot and clean from sin? For that world of earth which hath been always subject unto us until now, and did pay tribute to our profit, hath never sent unto us a dead man like thee, nor ever dispatched such a gift unto Hell. Who then art thou that so fearlessly enterest our borders, and not only fearest not our torments, but besides essayest to bear away all men out of our bonds? Peradventure thou art that Jesus, of whom Satan our prince said that by thy death of the cross thou shouldest receive the dominion of the whole world’. – ‘The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate’, in The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 20:1.

In the Beginning: An Interview with Olivera Petrovich

The Saturday Age recently ran this interesting piece. My desire to seek out more then led me to discover this interview with Olivera Petrovich by Rebecca Bryant. I thought it was worth re-posting:

Young children see the world with fresh minds that embrace both scientific causality and metaphysical speculation, says Oxford psychologist Olivera Petrovich. And their conceptions show striking similarities across widely differing cultures, she tells Rebecca Bryant in this exclusive interview with Science & Spirit.

Science & Spirit: What is your current role in the field?

Olivera Petrovich: I am currently with the Experimental Psychology Department at Oxford University, where I research and tutor in developmental psychologist. I also lecture in psychology of religion at Oxford — my course is open to theology, philosophy, and psychology students.

S&S: Your research interests lie in the psychology of religion, focusing especially on the development of spirituality in children. How do you go about it?

Petrovich: My approach to this is very strictly empirical. It begins with children’s accounts of the physical world — notably their causal explanations and the way they categorize objects and events around them. I’m interested in children’s spirituality as it develops in their encounter with the physical world, not through the teaching they may receive in bible classes and so on. I’m not at all looking at the cultural transmission of spirituality.

S&S: You recently conducted cross-cultural studies involving British and Japanese children. What were the aims — and the findings — of this research?

Petrovich: I was really interested in children’s ability to offer both scientific causal explanations and metaphysical explanations, which go beyond the scientific. Japanese culture is very different from Western culture with a very different history of science and religious tradition. So I thought I should be able to get some interesting comparisons between Japanese and Western children.

I tested both the Japanese and British children on the same tasks, showing them very accurate, detailed photographs of selected natural and man-made objects and then asking them questions about the causal origins of the various natural objects at both the scientific level (e.g. how did this particular dog become a dog?) and at the metaphysical level (e.g. how did the first ever dog come into being?). With the Japanese children, it was important to establish whether they even distinguished the two levels of explanation because, as a culture, Japan discourages speculation into the metaphysical, simply because it’s something we can never know, so we shouldn’t attempt it. But the Japanese children did speculate, quite willingly, and in the same way as British children. On forced choice questions, consisting of three possible explanations of primary origin, they would predominantly go for the word “God,” instead of either an agnostic response (e.g., “nobody knows”) or an incorrect response (e.g., “by people”). This is absolutely extraordinary when you think that Japanese religion — Shinto — doesn’t include creation as an aspect of God’s activity at all. So where do these children get the idea that creation is in God’s hands? It’s an example of a natural inference that they form on the basis of their own experience. My Japanese research assistants kept telling me, “We Japanese don’t think about God as creator — it’s just not part of Japanese philosophy.” So it was wonderful when these children said, “Kamisama! God! God made it!” That was probably the most significant finding.

I’ve also established that children’s natural concepts of God aren’t purely anthropomorphic. They certainly acquire a conception of God-as-man through their religious education, but no child actually links the representation of, for example, God-as-Jesus with the creator of the world. Rather, their images of God the creator correspond to abstract notions like gas, air, and person without a body. When you press them, they of course fall back on what they’ve been told, saying things like, “I know he’s a man because I saw him on the telly,” or “He’s just like my daddy.” These are very rational responses, but they’re not natural conceptions formed by children. Rather they’re imposed by the culture in which the children live.

S&S: In what ways do adults’ religious concepts differ from those of children?

Petrovich: I did test adults in Britain, but not yet in Japan. The results show that the differences between lay adults and children tested under the same conditions are largely quantitative. Adults are more accurate at identifying objects and describing their physical properties, but the categories they use in their explanations aren’t qualitatively different from those used by children. When it comes to adults’ speculations about the creator — the source of objects — they do display greater cultural influences than children, but when you systematically compare adults’ and children’s descriptions, you see significant similarities — in their references to God being something like air or gas, for example. Children’s descriptions are very basic, whereas adults use more sophisticated vocabulary, but there is no more information about God in adults’ references than there is in children’s. I think this is perfectly plausible and predictable because we can’t say that we as adults have more privileged access to God than children do. We’re all in the same position.

S&S: From your research, do you think it’s possible that the inclination toward religion or spirituality is universal?

Petrovich: I think possibility is the precise word to use here. I can’t be more certain than that because I have only worked with children aged three-and-a-half upward, and that’s already an old age when it comes to basic understandings, some of which are in evidence in the first year of life. However, the cumulative contribution of many domains of cognitive developmental psychology suggests to me that it’s a serious possibility that spirituality is a universal aspect of human cognition. Recent research shows that human infants aren’t passive recipients of information around them, but obviously think, making inferences and forming hypotheses. There’s also a lot of research showing that very young children are quite good at handling temporarily hidden objects. So, I think it needn’t be too difficult for them to make the inference that surely there must be some kind of invisible principle for what we see around us.

S&S: What drew you to the psychology of religion, as opposed to any other field in psychology?

Petrovich: I’ve always been interested in religion as well as psychology — even before I knew the word “psychology” existed. As a child I remember being interested in how people think, in why I thought this way and others thought that way. I began to notice that some people go to church and believe in God and others don’t. Also, like all children, I kept asking questions about the origin of the world. But I might’ve been more fortunate than some other children because I remember, for example, my mother telling me that even though we don’t really know the answers to these questions, it nonetheless remains very important to think about such issues.

As soon as I discovered psychology as a possible area of serious study, I thought that religion must surely be the most fascinating aspect of human thought. You can’t say that this stimulus is more likely to lead you to the concept of God than any other, and so the interesting question is how thought about God occurs.

S&S: How do you see your work fitting into the wider field of science and religion?

Petrovich: This is a very important question indeed. What drives me is the realization — which I hope is correct — that psychology is probably the best-placed science to explain both the origin and continuity of the interaction between science and religion in human affairs. You can find astronomers, geologists, biologists, and chemists throughout history who have either been religious or non-religious. And the difference between these two groups has always intrigued me. What is it in people’s thought patterns, in their education, in their further development, in their interaction with other people and disciplines that makes them perceive the world in one way rather than the other? I think experimental cognitive psychology is in a unique position to answer most of these questions because we can’t achieve a great deal in inspiring others to see the world as we see it unless we first understand how the human mind works — and that is just what cognitive psychologists aim to do.

S&S: Where do you see your interest in science and religion taking you in the future?

Petrovich: What I ideally would like to do is obtain a proper, funded post in academic psychology of religion within a psychology department. That doesn’t exist at the moment, anywhere, but the interest is tremendous — every year for the past four or five years I’ve had inquiries from students wanting to do research in this area.

The other thing would be to get funding for one or two studentships to work on a large project with me so that people can get trained. At the moment, you have very good psychologists with no education in theology or religion, and theology people who have no technical knowledge of how to do psychological research. Why is that relevant? Because if people have no idea about a field, they can never reach a hypothesis that’s worth investigating.

Olivera Petrovich is the author of the upcoming book, The Child’s Theory of the World. She can be contacted at olivera.petrovich@wolfson.ox.ac.uk. Rebecca Bryant has a doctoral degree in philosophy from Oxford University. She is a writer and researcher based in Oxford.

Do children have a ‘natural belief in God’?

Over the weekend, the Melbourne newspaper The Saturday Age ran this interesting piece:

‘INFANTS are hard-wired to believe in God, and atheism has to be learned, according to an Oxford University psychologist.

Dr Olivera Petrovich told a University of Western Sydney conference on the psychology of religion that even preschool children constructed theological concepts as part of their understanding of the physical world.

Pyschologists have debated whether belief in God or atheism was the natural human state. According to Dr Petrovich, an expert in psychology of religion, belief in God is not taught but develops naturally.

She told The Age yesterday that belief in God emerged as a result of other psychological development connected with understanding causation.

It was hard-wired into the human psyche, but it was important not to build too much into the concept of God. “It’s the concept of God as creator, primarily,” she said. Dr Petrovich said her findings were based on several studies, particularly one of Japanese children aged four to six, and another of 400 British children aged five to seven from seven different faiths.

“Atheism is definitely an acquired position,” she said.

Source: The Age

The conversation is picked up on Barney Zwartz’s blog, The Religious Write, where Zwartz asks whether or not Petrovich’s findings might support an evolutionary anachronism that we are outgrowing. So, what ought we make of all this? Should we really be surprised? Should theists be encouraged by such findings? What difference does it make that the children studied were 3.5+ years old?

There’s also an interview with Olivera Petrovich that I’ve posted here on Paternal Life that sheds more light on the subject.

Genocide Olympics

Panorama is an investigative TV documentary programme that airs on BBC One. Recently (14 July 2008) they aired a documentary called ‘China’s Secret War’. After months of investigating China’s covert arms trade, Panorama offered the first evidence of how China is arming the Sudanese government with arms to enable it to wage a campaign of violence in Darfur. Yet another reason to boycott the Olympics and condemn the IOC’s decision. Here’s a preview.

Makoto Fujimura on art, evil and hope

‘… I find that the theological answer for suffering is not really an answer at all. Rather, the Bible is about looking at evil square in the face and calling it “evil.” All of my work inevitably comes to the questions of wrestling with the question of evil and hope. Of the different ways to address the problem, I think the most effective approach is through the arts, because the question itself is not, fundamentally, a rational question. You need the world of imagination – the language of art – in order to be convincing in wrestling with it. Lamentations is a path to understanding this issue. We in the West don’t know how to lament … I see my art as part of the river of God, made up of God’s tears, which I have in common with a broken world. Rather than offering an idealized landscape for people to look to as an escape from reality, I paint in the ashes. Out of the ashes. From the ashes. And I’m not offering false hope, nor am I offering a nihilistic spiral of despair. Rather, I’m interpreting a longing that is deeply hopefully [sic] and real’. – Wresting With Evil and Hope‘.

I’ve long revered In a (so-far) four-part interview (i, ii, iii, iv) in which he reflects on the significant impact of Nick Wolterstorff’s wonderful work – Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic observes how Wolterstorff’s work is concerned with issues of justice, and with the world’s brokenness. He suggests that art is a fitting medium for mediating conversation about these things. Insofar as art might serve in this capacity, it is, he says, ‘a means for rehumanizing the world’.

In response to the question of what might be the artists’ responsibility towards this end of repairing and rehumanising human culture and the world, and whether Wolterstorff places any such responsibility on artists themselves, he says ‘Yes, and no. Nick is one of the few people who talks about an artist’s responsibility as not the opposite of freedom, but rather that an artist’s freedom is connected to his responsibility in society. To Nick, they’re not disjointed’. he world is drawn to that work which seeks to transform culture’, and to speak of our need to ‘love offensively’.

While it’s certainly not always the case thatto seek those things which transform culture, I thank God for those moments (even in me) when such a reality is realised; for this too is a sign that the kingdom of God is among us, the kingdom which indeed confronts us with an offensive love.

New sounds, great sounds: Jakob Dylan’s Seeing Things … and Tom Waits

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally ditched my unreliable cheap and nasty mp3-player and purchased an iPod for myself, upon which I’ve been enjoying some new sounds. A mate introduced me to Kiwi artists AJ Bell, Dave Dobbyn, Charmaine Ford, Don McGlashaan, and Hollie Smith – all wonderfully-talented songwriters. I’ve also discovered that Bruckner’s ninth symphony sounds just as good while mowing the lawn as it does laying on the couch.

Now I’m eagerly awaiting the release on Monday of Jakob Dylan‘s (son of Bob) new acoustic album – Seeing Things. I’ve already heard a few tracks from it online; great sounds. TimesOnline have run an interview with Jakob Dylan about his upcoming album, and Newsweek have published a review of it. Both worth reading.

While I’m on music and interviews, The Telegraph are running a fascinating piece on the magnificently warped world of Tom Waits. A snippert:

Listening to the beautiful, fluid tones of Waits’s singing voice on 1974’s The Heart of Saturday Night, I wonder: has any other musician done quite so much deliberate damage to his vocal cords while actually building a career on it? At times, he squeaks and squawks in search of notes that are no longer there, and yet Waits’s painful growl has become such a trademark that he has had to sue to protect it … By his own admission, Waits is a notoriously unreliable narrator. Apparently even when talking to himself. He launched his current tour with a funny and intriguing interview with himself, effectively cutting out the media middle-man. “My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket,” he told himself. “My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane.” It is in this straddling of imagination and reality that Waits forges something truly special. For all the antiquarian texture of his music and the comical flourishes of his persona, he remains vital and contemporary because of his full-blooded commitment to artistic truth, and his ability to articulate the human condition. There is nothing shy or lily-livered about a Tom Waits song. This is music to laugh and cry to, a whole world to lose yourself in.

Enjoy this video of Waits’ ‘Hold On’:

Science, Philosophy & Belief

Calvin College recently held a four-week faculty development seminar for Chinese professors and postgraduate students which featured lectures by Alvin Plantinga, Owen Gingerich, Richard Swinburne, and John Polkinghorne. MP3’s of each talk are now available for download.

John Polkinghorne
Can a Scientist Believe in a Destiny Beyond Death?
June 26, 2008, Chapel, Calvin Theological Seminary

Alvin Plantinga
Science and Religion: Why Does the Debate Continue?
July 2, 2008, Chapel, Calvin Theological Seminary

Owen Gingerich
The Divine Handiwork: Evolution and the Wonder of Life
July 9, 2008, Gezon Auditorium, Calvin College

Richard Swinburne
God and Morality
July 16, 2008, Gezon Auditorium, Calvin College

Eugene Peterson on believing without loving

Thoroughly enjoying Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places of late, and spent some time yesterday reflecting on this passage – on its ramifications for nations, for local communities, and for me.

‘No matter how right we are in what we believe about God, no matter how accurately we phrase our belief or how magnificently and persuasively we preach or write or declare it, if love does not shape the way we speak and act, we falsify the creed, we confess a lie. Believing without loving is what gives religion a bad name. Believing without loving destroys lives. Believing without loving turns the best of creeds into a weapon of oppression. A community that believes but does not love or marginalizes love, regardless of its belief system or doctrinal orthodoxy or “vision statement,” soon, very soon, becomes a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9)’. – Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008), 261.

Reviews … et al

Hart on God and human artistry

Those anywhere near Sydney ought not want to miss this year’s New College Lectures (2-4 September) at the University of New South Wales. The three lectures will be delivered by the brilliant Trevor Hart. His theme is God and the Artist: human creativity in theological perspective and his lecture titles are:

  • 1. ‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet’: divine copyright and the dangers of ‘strong imagination’
  • 2. The ‘heart of man’ and the ‘mind of the maker’: Tolkien and Sayers on imagination and human artistry
  • 3. Giveness, grace and gratitude: creation, artistry and Eucharist

New Creation Teaching Ministry 2008 Ministry School

New Creation Teaching Ministry recently held their 2008 Ministry School. The theme was The Wisdom of God and the Healing of Man’. Most talks are now available for download as MP3s, pdfs and video, and the program can be downloaded here.

One of the things I most miss about Australia is being able to get along to this annual school – a smorgasbord for the soul in ministry.

Schools coming up include …

  • Sydney Spring School, Chatswood, NSW – 5-6 September, 2008
  • Theme: To Love the Lord Your God
  • Download brochure
  • Southern Highlands Spring School, Mittagong, NSW – 12-13 September, 2008
  • Theme: To Love the Lord Your God
  • Download brochure
  • Summer School 2009, Victor Harbor, South Australia – 4-9 January, 2009
  • Theme: The Glorious Image of God
  • Download brochure

Around the traps …

I’ve really had no time for blogging of late, but there’s been some good reads around the traps:

In their combination of a sophisticated philosophy with religious aspiration, the pagan Neoplatonists had only one serious rival-Christianity, and, anti-Christian though they were, it was the incorporation of their ideas into Christian theology that ensured their permanent influence on European culture. (p. viii).

The principal figure in the transmission of Neoplatonist thought into Christian theology is St. Augustine. (p. 177)

Homosexuality and the Church

Ben has posted three thought-provoking guest-reflections by Ray S. Anderson on Homosexuality and the Church:

  1. Homosexuality and the church: a meditation on the tragic (Part One)
  2. Homosexuality and the church: a meditation on the tragic (Part Two)
  3. Homosexuality and the church: a meditation on the tragic (Part Three)

I commend them (and the subsequent discussions) heartily to you.

Your Baby Can Read

Trevor Cairney has posted a helpful (and encouraging) review of the ‘Your Baby Can Read!’ program developed by Dr Robert Titzer. While I was unaware of Titzer’s thesis, the concerns Trevor outlines make real sense to me. As I noted in a comment on his post, I spend all day with a 2-year-old. We cook, play, dance, listen to music, read, count the dongs on the grandfather clock, paint, sort through food, and eat leaves in the garden, among other things. It’s learning all the way, and the resultant growth in her is obvious. I can’t imagine how spending an hour a day sitting in front of a TV (which she is not interested in at all) watching DVD’s can compare with sitting on dad’s knee reading, or kicking a football or counting flower buds in the garden, or learning to share toys and attention with friends. I’m keen to hear from others who may have had experience with Titzer’s program, and whether or not their experiences echo any of Trevor’s concerns.

Introducing: Alfred Ernest Garvie

Alfred Ernest Garvie (1861-1945), Congregational minister and theologian, was born on 29 August 1861 at Zyrardow, a Polish town under Russian rule, the son of Peter Garvie and Jane Kedslie (d. 1865). His parents were of Scottish descent, their families having emigrated in the 1820s and worked in the linen and flour trades. Garvie was the fifth in a family of six surviving children; a further three died in infancy, and his mother died when he was four. Plagued by illness as a child, he was left with defective sight after a serious eye inflammation, but during his long periods of convalescence he developed a passion for study, and became fluent in English, German, and Russian. Later he attributed his characteristic preoccupations to childhood influences: the experience of Russian hegemony engendered his instinctive dislike of tyranny and his strong sense of personal liberty. He maintained that his proudly Scottish and reformed upbringing ‘may explain why my Scottish and British patriotism has always been qualified by internationalism, and my congregational loyalty by … ecumenicity’ (Garvie, 53). Sent to Edinburgh to complete his education, Garvie attended George Watson’s College (1874–8) before his four-year apprenticeship as a draper in Glasgow. He attended United Presbyterian church services, committing much of his time to street-mission, but his calling to ministry was hampered by doctrinal difficulties with Presbyterianism and reservations about the Westminster confession. He studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Glasgow University (1885–9), gaining the Logan gold medal as the most distinguished arts graduate in 1889, and, having discovered that creed subscription was not a prerequisite for Congregational ministry, changed his church membership and took first-class honours at Mansfield College, Oxford (1889–92). In 1893 he married Agnes Gordon (d. 1914) of Glasgow. His first pastorates were in Macduff (1893–5) and Montrose (1895–1903). Chairman of the Scottish Congregational Union in 1902, he became professor of the philosophy of theism, comparative religion, and Christian ethics at Hackney College and New College, Hampstead, in 1903. He was principal of New College from 1907 and of Hackney College from 1924. When the two merged in 1924, he continued as principal of the institution later known as New College, London. The death of his wife in 1914 was a considerable blow, ameliorated only by devotion to his two daughters.In 1896 Garvie published his first book, The Ethics of Temperance, reflecting a lifelong aversion to alcohol and tobacco. A work of considerable intellectual power and theological influence, his The Ritschlian Theology (1899), a critique of the works of A. Ritschl, W. Herrmann, J. W. M. Kaftan, and A. Harnack, excited some interest in German theology on the normally insular British scene. He criticized Ritschl’s failure to give pre-eminence to the scriptures, but applauded his emphasis on the experiential, insisting that ‘The experience of the apostolic Church must be relived in order that its doctrine may again be rethought’ (Ritschlian Theology, 390–91). This assertion epitomized his self-styled ‘liberal evangelical’ approach to theology, further developed in popular works such as A Guide to Preachers (1906) and The Evangelical Type of Christianity (1916), and in the three volumes of his systematic theology, The Christian Doctrine of the Godhead (1925), The Christian Ideal for Human Society (1920), and The Christian Belief in God (1932). He reacted against Barthianism, describing the doctrine of original sin as a ‘grievous burden on the Church’, and saw the role of the Christian theologian as being to synthesize the ‘absolute eternal values’ latent in the world’s religions

into one Christian monotheistic faith … so that the common brotherhood of man, the goal towards which human evolution points, may be sustained and sublimated by the one Fatherhood of God, as revealed in history by Christ, and realised in experience by His Spirit. (Christian Belief, 411, 191)

His theology was increasingly cruci-centric and trinitarian.Garvie’s academic career was complemented by consistent social action and ecumenicity. During his pastorate at Montrose he incurred displeasure by announcing his pro-Boer sympathies, and during the First World War he vigorously defended the rights of conscientious objectors. As vice-chairman of the interdenominational Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizenship he chaired its report Christianity and War (1924), but felt that its potentialities for peacemaking were thwarted by arguments about absolutist pacifism. Further ecumenical commitments included the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1907), and the faith and order, and life and work movements. He was co-president of the latter with Bishop George Bell of Chichester, and also developed friendships with churchmen of such varying outlooks as A. Deissman, C. Gore, and C. G. Lang. At the Stockholm conference in 1925 Garvie and Bell wrote a pacifying message to the churches on Germany and ‘war guilt’. In 1927 he was deputy chairman of the Lausanne conference, and became moderator of the Free Church Federal Council in 1928. He received three honorary doctorates: from Glasgow (1903), Berlin University (1930), and New College, London.

Widely respected for his cheerful personality and genuine flair for peacemaking, Garvie’s intellectual and pastoral life was, as was recognized at Berlin University, marked by his ‘devotion in evangelical love and faith to the unity of the Church of Christ’ (Garvie, 220). After his retirement in 1933 he remained an active public figure in British Christianity until his death at the Hendon Cottage Hospital on 7 March 1945.

Giles C. Watson


  • Private school in Poland; home tuition; George Watson’s College, Edinburgh. MA with 1st Class Honours in Philosophy, Glasgow, 1889; BA with 1st Class Honours in Theology, Oxford, 1892; BD Glasgow, 1894; MA Oxford, 1898; hon. DD Glasgow, 1903, Berlin, 1931, London, 1934. Edinburgh Univ. 1878-1879; business in Glasgow, 1880-1884; Glasgow Univ. 1885-1889 (1st Prizeman in Greek, Latin, Logic, Literature, Moral Philosophy, Logan Gold Medal); Oxford University, 1889-1893.


  • Minister of Macduff Congregational Church, 1893-1895; President Congregational Union of Scotland, 1902; Minister of Montrose Congregational Church, 1895-1903; Professor of Philosophy of Theism, Comparative Religion, and Christian Ethics in Hackney and New Colleges, London, 1903-1907; Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, 1920; President of the National Free Church Council, 1923; Deputy Chairman of the Lausanne Conference on Faith and Order, 1927; Moderator of the Federal Council of the Free Churches, 1928.


  • The Ethics of Temperance, 1895
  • The Ritschlian Theology, 1899
  • Commentary on Romans, 1901
  • The Gospel for To­day, 1904
  • The Christian Personality, 1904
  • My Brother’s Keeper, 1905
  • Religious Education, 1906
  • A Guide to Preachers, 1906
  • Studies in the Inner Life of Jesus, 1908
  • Commentary on Luke, 1910
  • The Christian Certainty, 1910
  • Studies of Paul and his Gospel, 1911
  • Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 1913
  • The Joy of Finding, 1914
  • The Missionary Obligation, 1914
  • The Evangelical Type of Christianity, 1915
  • The Master’s Comfort and Hope, and the Minister and the Young Life of the Church, 1917
  • The Purpose of God in Christ, 1919
  • The Christian Preacher, 1920
  • Tutors unto Christ, 1920
  • The Holy Catholic Church, 1921
  • Congregational View, 1921
  • The Old Testament in the Sunday School, 1921
  • The Beloved Disciple, 1922;
  • The Way and the Witness, The God Man Craves
  • The Christian Doctrine of the Godhead, 1925
  • The Preachers of the Church, 1926
  • The Christian Ideal for Human Society, 1930
  • The Christian Belief in God, 1933
  • Can Christ Save Society? 1934
  • Revelation through History and Experience, 1934
  • The Fatherly Rule of God, 1935
  • The Christian Faith, 1936
  • Memories and Meanings of My Life, 1937
  • Christian Moral Conduct, 1938
  • Editor of the Westminster New Testament, 1938


  • 34 Sevington Road, Hendon. NW4. Telephone: Hendon 6834.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Who Was Who
  • A. E. Garvie, Memories and meanings of my life (1938)
  • R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1662–1962 (1962)
  • DNB · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1945)


  • DWL, corresp. and papers
  • LPL, corresp. and papers relating to Reunion
  • LPL, letters to Tissington Tatlow


  • G. E. Butler, oils, New College, London; on loan to DWL, photograph, repro. in Garvie, Memories and meanings of my life, frontispiece

Wealth at death

  • £2651 8s. 10d.: probate, 14 July 1945, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Introducing: William Robertson Nicoll

William Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), journalist, was born on 10 October 1851 at Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, the elder son of the Revd Harry Nicoll (d. 1891), Free Church of Scotland minister of Auchindoir, Aberdeenshire, and his wife, Jane Robertson. Nicoll acquired his lifelong love of books in his father’s copious library of 17,000 books, to which much of his salary was devoted. He attended the parish school of Auchindoir and Aberdeen grammar school. At fifteen, he entered Aberdeen University, graduating MA in 1870. After four years’ training at the Free Church Divinity Hall, he was ordained to his first charge at Dufftown, Banffshire, in 1874. He was already writing regularly for the Aberdeen Journal, by the age of twenty earning £100 p.a. from journalism. In September 1877 he was inducted minister of the Free Church, Kelso, and the next year, on 21 August in Edinburgh, he married Isa, only child of Peter Dunlop, a prosperous Berwickshire farmer; their son and daughter were born in the manse at Kelso. Witnessing Gladstone’s first Midlothian campaign captured Nicoll for the Liberal cause. While in Kelso, he began to edit The Contemporary Pulpit for Swan, Sonnenschein, and The Expositor, which he directed until his death, for Hodder and Stoughton. Nicoll visited Germany and Norway, where he caught typhoid in 1885. Pleurisy and the fear of tuberculosis, which had killed his father, brother, and sister, ended his promising preaching career, and he moved to Glenroy, Highland Road, Upper Norwood, London, to devote himself to journalism. With his wide intellectual base, his liberal political and theological enthusiasms, and his clerical experience, Nicoll was ideally positioned to write for the huge nonconformist constituency, hitherto rather narrowly served by journalists. Hodder and Stoughton began publication on 5 November 1886 of the British Weekly: a Journal of Social Progress, a penny weekly with Nicoll as editor. It quickly became a success, with J. M. Barrie, S. R. Crockett, and John Watson (‘Ian Maclaren’) as regular contributors; for thirty years he was assisted on it by Jane T. Stoddart. Nicoll often wrote as ‘Claudius Clear’, his letters under that name being later republished (1901, 1905, 1913). He portrayed his abandoned, rural Scotland in a number of rather sentimental pieces, and may be said to have founded the ‘kailyard school’ of Scottish writing by discovering Barrie, who initially wrote Scottish character sketches for the British WeeklyThe Bonnie Briar Bush (from 1887), and encouraging Watson to write for it in 1893. In 1891 Nicoll founded the successful literary monthly The Bookman, and in 1893 Woman at Home, an illustrated magazine intended as a Strand Magazine for women, and subtitled ‘Annie S. Swan’s Magazine’, the Scottish novelist (Anne Burnett Smith) being its chief contributor.

Nicoll and his wife were often unwell. In 1892 they moved to Bay Tree Lodge, Hampstead, with room for 24,000 books. In 1894 Isa Nicoll died, following an operation, and Nicoll was left to rear their children. If anything, he increased his literary output, with Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century (2 vols., 1894–6), edited with T. J. Wise. In 1896 he visited the USA with J. M. Barrie and on 1 May 1897 he married Catherine, daughter of Joseph Pollard, of Highdown, Hitchin, Hertfordshire; they had one daughter. Catherine Nicoll was the model for Percy Bigland’s painting A Quaker Wedding, and was herself a competent water-colourist. His second marriage rejuvenated Nicoll: the years from 1897 to 1914 were the most energetic and fruitful of his always productive career. In addition to his usual journalism, he began again to preach and lecture widely. He played a prominent role in the ‘passive resistance’ movement against the 1902 Education Act, and campaigned for a fair settlement between the United Free Church of Scotland and the ‘Wee Frees’, which was achieved in 1905. Nicoll supported the Lloyd George group in the Liberal governments of 1905–16, though he was lukewarm about home rule. His knighthood in 1909 recognized his position as ‘the intellectual leader of nonconformity—the chief exponent of its thought, and the most effective advocate of its cause in the press’ (Daily Chronicle, cited in Darlow, 210). He was a strong supporter of war with Germany and his ‘War notes’ in the British Weekly often reflected Lloyd George’s thinking and supported him as he rose to the premiership.

Nicoll’s health began to fail in 1920, though he wrote until his death. He was made CH in 1921. He died, from an abscess, on 4 May 1923 at his home in Hampstead, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. He was a tubby man, with a scrappy moustache, who smoked heavily. He disliked fresh air, and always had a fire blazing in his study. Much of his literary output was dictated from his bed. He was fascinated by palmistry and was notorious for absent-mindedness, often returning from house parties with other men’s clothes. H. A. Vachell recalled:‘he had a dry, pawky wit. He was well-named “Sense and Sensibility”’ (Darlow, 415). Nicoll was among the most prolific of British journalists and succeeded in being both popular and erudite; it was said of him that he had ‘the keenest nose for a book that will sell of any man in the book business’ (Clement Shorter, in Price, 73). His nonconformist readership declined after the war and from that point of view his death was well timed.

Literary Output:

  1. Calls to Christ, (1877) Morgan & Scott: London.
  2. The Yale Lectures on Preaching: (1878) Reprinted from the British and Foreign Evangelical Review.
  3. Songs of Rest [First Series], (1879) Macniven & Wallace, Edinburgh: combined with Second Series (1893), Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  4. The Incarnate Saviour, (1881) T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh.
  5. The Lamb of God, (1883) Macniven & Wallace: Edinburgh.
  6. ‘John Bunyan’ (1884) in The Evangelical Succession, Macniven & Wallace: Edinburgh.
  7. James Macdonell, Journalist, (1890) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  8. Professor W.G. Elmslie, D.D., (1890) (with Macnicoll, A.N.) Hodder & Stoughton: London: revised and enlarged as Professor Elmslie: A Memoir (1911) by W Robertson Nicoll [but minus sermons].
  9. The Key of the Grave, (1894) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  10. Ten Minute Sermons, (1894) Isbister & Co: reprinted 1910, Hodder & Stoughton.
  11. The Seven Words from the Cross, (1895) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  12. When the Worst comes to the Worst, (1896) Isbister & Co.
  13. ‘Henry Drummond: A Memorial Sketch’, (1897) prefixed to Drummond’s posthumous volume, The Ideal Life, Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  14. The Return to the Cross, (1897) reprint 1910, Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  15. Letters to Ministers on the Clerical Life, (1898) (with others) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  16. The Ascent of the Soul, (1899) Isbister & Co.
  17. Letters on Life: by Claudius Clear, (1901) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  18. The Church’s One Foundation, (1901) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  19. A Memorial Article, Hugh Price Hughes as we knew him, (1902) H Marshall & Son.
  20. Robert Louis Stevenson, in the Bookman Booklet Series, (1902/6) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  21. The Garden of Nuts, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  22. The Day Book of Claudius Clear, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  23. The Scottish Free Church Trust and it’s Donors, (1905) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  24. Thomas A History of English Literature [3 Volumes, originally published as The Bookman Illustrated History of English Literature] (1906) (with Seccombe) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  25. The Lamp of Sacrifice, (1906) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  26. ‘Introduction and Appreciation, Memoirs of the Late Dr Barnardo, Mrs Barnardo & James Marchant, (1907) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  27. My Father. An Aberdeenshire Minister, (1908) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  28. Ian Maclaren, The Life of the Rev. John Watson D.D., (1908) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  29. ‘Introduction’ to Jane Stoddart’s Against the Referendum, (1910) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  30. The Round of the Clock: The Story of Our Lives from Year to Year [Claudius Clear], (1910) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  31. Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, (N/D: but after 1910) Nelson & Sons: London.
  32. The Christian Attitude Towards Democracy [reprinted from the British Weekly], (1912) Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  33. The Problem of ‘Edwin Drood’ (A study in the Methods of Dickens), (1912) Hodder & Stoughton. London.
  34. A Bookman’s Letters, (1913) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  35. The Difference Christ is Making [reprinted from the British Weekly], (1914) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  36. Prayer in War Time, (1916) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  37. Reunion in Eternity, (1918) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  38. Edited with ‘Appreciation’, Letters of Principal James Denney to W. Robertson Nicoll, (1920) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  39. Princes of the Church, (1921) Hodder & Stoughton: London.
  40. Dickens’s Own Story: Sidelights on his Life and personality, (1923) [reprints from ‘Claudius Clear’ in the British Weekly], Prefatory Note by St John Adcock, Chapman & Hall Ltd, London.
  41. Memories of Mark Rutherford (William Hale White), (1924) [reprints from ‘Claudius Clear’ in the British Weekly], T Fisher Unwin, London.

A list of his publications up to 1902 is included in a monograph on Nicoll by Jane T. Stoddart (New Century Leaders, 1903). The official biography was written by Nicoll’s friend T H Darlow and published in 1925 as a more complete list.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

T. H. Darlow, William Robertson Nicoll (1925)

A. Whigham Price, ‘W. Robertson Nicoll and the genesis of the Kailyard school’, Durham Journal, 86 (Jan 1994), 73–82


U. Aberdeen L., corresp., news-cuttings, incl. letters of sympathy to Lady Robertson Nicoll · U. Edin. L., corresp. with Charles Sarolea

National Archives of Scotland

Note: Additional dictionary content from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be obtained free in the UK from public libraries thanks to a national deal with the MLA.

See here for more biographies in the Introducing Series.