Monday, January 21, 2008
Canny Carnoustie and Delightful Durham
Behold the clubhouse at Carnoustie in Dundee, Scotland. The day was 1 /16/ o8, and the weather was bonny. The next picture is of me with my doctoral student at St. Andrews Aaron Kuecker. This word just in-- he beat me by 9 strokes, but then again, he is half my age and taller. We both scored under triple digits on this most difficult of all British Open courses on a truly bonny day in Scotland. The sun however, when it does shine, only does so from about 8:30 to 4ish in northern Scotland in January. We were truly blessed to have such a day to play.
Behold a little further down the obstacles in our way-- heather, still blooming, and gorse-- faith and begorry. Its enough to make a man want to hurl his haggis. And then there are the undulated greens and pot bunkers. You will also find here a picture of the hole called Spectacles due to its two massive man eating pot bunkers. Whilst my golf balls managed to avoid a watery grave throughout the round, as I baptized none, I did manage to find 3 pot bunkers and some rough rough along the way. If only, after parring the first hole I could have kept going that way throughout the round. But it was not to be. You'll find as well a further picture of Aaron and myself at the end of the round as well, near the clubhouse.
The remainder of the pictures in this blog are from my spiritual home, Durham, where I did my PhD between 1977-80. The first picture is of one of the stained glass windows in the Galilee Chapel of that great Norman Cathedral, Durham Cathedral. It is certainly the greatest Norman structure of any kind in Europe, dating to the late 11th century A.D. The second picture shows the Cathedral as it appeared last week from the Wear river. The Cathedral sits on a peninsula as the river winds in a remarkable U shape around this bit of land, turning it nearly into an island. The second cathedral picture looks from the opposite direction on Framelgate Bridge, the main bridge into the old city across the Wear. I also took a picture from within the cathedral cloister on Saturday morning when it was a bit more sunny.
Below these pictures we have a shot of a house on the Bailey at dawn in the shadow of the cathedral (note the three bottles of milk-- yes they still deliver them that way. It beats wasting carton after carton). The next picture looks out the window from my room at St. John's college where I lectured on Friday. What you see is the Norman chapel across the road, which also lies in the shadow of the cathedral, and the last picture is of the same little chapel. Sir Walter Scott was to say of Durham Cathedral and Castle that it was half castle against the Scot, have cathedral to God's glory. Here the bishops who were also princes resided. Originally on Palace Green there was not a proper University, but rather Bishop Cousins library, a hospital or infirmary and the usual ecclesiastical buildings that would surround a cathedral, such as the chorister's residences and school. Today, all the buildings on the top of the peninsula belong to Durham University save for the cathedral, the cathedral close, and its buildings.
There is however still the finest Theology department in the land to be found here, perched next to the Cathedral in Abbey House on Palace Green. It is still one of the finest places in the English speaking world to take a theology degree, whether at the Undergraduate, Graduate, or Post-Graduate level. I remember all too well my first class I sat in on as a doctoral student at Durham. It was John Rogerson's class on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the class consisted of 3 under-graduates and me. Imagine my further surprise when these three under-graduates could all rattle off the proper translation from the unpointed Hebrew photocopies without batting an eye. If this was what under-graduates could do , I could only imagine what it took to do doctoral work in such a subject.
Then there was Barrett's famous NT seminar which I attended weekly during term. I was seated beside Lord Michael Ramsay, the former archbishop, whose eyebrows were so grand and bushy, I could barely see Barrett at the end of the the table through them. Cranfield was there, Rogerson was there, guests like Metzger and Davies were there, and of course Barrett's petrified doctoral students. We all sat there awaiting our turn to translate from the Didache, after which we would be asked questions. It was rather random, so one never knew when you might be called upon. I was asked early on to translate from the Lord's Supper bit of the Didache. I did so mustering up my courage and then gave a rather timid explanation for the text's meaning. Barrett, peering around Ramsay's eyebrows asked me-- "And what precisely do you mean by that?" I was sorely tempted to respond "Honestly, I didn't mean anything by that." But I gave some sort of feeble reply, and the conversation moved on. These were deep waters, and there was no chance of faking it when it came to the reading of the primary sources-- you would be quickly exposed if you tried to bluff your way through it. After many more courses (which were all voluntary so far as the degree was concerned, but ever so necessary if one wanted to become a real scholar), courses like Theology and Ethics of the NT (Barrett), Romans (Cranfield), Calvin and Luther (T.H.L. Parker), and various others, I managed to write and finish my doctoral work, and went home with our new daughter (Christy, born in Durham), and the prospect of pastoring four churches-- I figured it couldn't be more daunting that Barrett's seminar--- I was right, if the issue was the intellectual challenge, but wrong, when considering the personal and spiritual challenges of pastoring four churches.
Hope you enjoy the shots and the reverie.
Posted by Ben Witherington at 10:22 AM
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Did you get to visit with the current Bishop?
Well the current Bishop and I discussed reconnoitering but he was at a conference outside of Durham and could not get away. Besides, he and Maggie had just visited us in Lexington in November.
Wow, thanks for sharing your amazing postgrad experiences at Durham! There is a part of me that cannot help but hope against hope that it somehow manages to work out for me to study in England (and Durham is at the top of the list). I am curious to hear, though, the reasoning for your claim that Durham is still one of the best theology departments. It seems to me like you might be basing this judgment on something beyond the scholars that make up the department (though, no doubt, that is also very important), and if you are, I would be very interested to hear about the other factors that you have found to be particularly excellent about it.
There are numerous factors that put a school like Durham or St. Andrews at the top of the list: 1) there is the spiritual ethos. You are mostly dealing with devout Christian scholars who genuinely care about you and your work, and your relationship with God; 2) Durham and St. Andrews both have some fine Christian Churches, and a good group of evangelical students to make up a support network; 3) Durham in particular has ministerial training in John's College, including Methodist training as well as Anglican. Living in Johns is like living in a Christian college. It's great and supplements what the larger University and the theology department can offer; 4) both Durham and St. Andrews are nicely remote from the distractions of London, Oxford, or Cambridge (both of the latter are too close to London). Doctoral work is easier without the distractions and tourist stuff as well. 5) Durham not only has a great legacy, it now has on staff John Barclay, Francis, Watson, Walter Moberley, Loren Stuckenbroeck, plus Dunn and Barrett are still around as well, as is Tom Wright. It's hard to do better than that anywhere. 6) Oxford and Cambridge are more expensive, and the cost of living in those places more expensive than in Durham. St. Andrews is also better than Oxford and Cambridge on cost. I could go on, but you catch my drift,
Oh my word, I cannot even believe that Francis Watson moved from Aberdeen to Durham! Now it is DEF. on the top of the UK list (and so long to Aberdeen, it would seem, haha)! (I absolutely love Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, as well as Text and Truth.) Thank you for the head's up, and for your thoughts on the matter. I agree with you that all of those factors are of the utmost importance. Have a nice week!
I'm currently considering a theology degree, but don't know where to do it (I live in the UK). Would you recommed Durham University? Do they do a decent Philosophy with Theology degree?
Very much appreciate your excellent blog.
(I'm a conservative (not strict inerranist) Christian who would appreciate somewhere without Hector Avalovians) God bless :)
Ah, Durham! I'm currently serving as a Methodist 'missionary' in West Yorkshire, but I grew up on Tyneside, and Durham is one of our favourite places. You'll probably know the story of how the site of the cathedral was chosen: the monks wandering with Cuthbert's bones on their long flight from the Vikings followed a cow, and decided that where the cow lay down they would rebury the saint and build a cathedral. The cow just happened to lie down in the most fortifiable spot in the north of England...
I met Kingsley Barrett a few times when I served in a circuit in Northumberland; he came every year to speak to a fellowship group. He was always a delight - warm, erudite, learned, humble, eminently approachable. I couldn't get away from the fact that this delightful man was one of the best and most famous NT scholars in the world. I remembered an interview with him in the 'Epworth Review' in which it was said he loved going out to preach in the little mining villages of County Durham. In one conversation he described himself as "historian by nature, theologian by grace." Lovely. Glad you had the chance to be there, Ben. Thanks for giving me another taste of home...
I do indeed recommend Durham for you, and for you to contact my friend David Wilkinson, the principal at St. John's college. Yes indeed they have the degree you speak of, and the atmosphere at John's college is both ecumenical and decidedly evangelical in the best sense of the word. Anglicans and Methodists get on well there, and benefit from the cross fertilization.
In my feed-reader, this comment shows up just above the news from Logos that a number of your works will be available in Logos format soon.
Great news - I am using your volume on Corinthians for an essay at the moment! Unfortunately, the essay will be due in before the books are released in electronic format...
Glad you are enjoying yourself over here in England.
Thank you Dr Witherington. Sounds great as a Anglo-wannabe-Methodist. I actually remember reading one of David Wilkinson's books. God bless
Durham is absolutely lovely.
I took an MA in Theology & Religion there last year, and moved down to Cambridge this fall to start my PhD studies. Not a day passes without our wishing we were back in Durham; the air and spirit of this gorgeous town is simply unbeatable.
How nice to read all these good comments about Durham. I am undoubtedly biased, but I think that the northern counties of England contain some of the lovliest places in the world. That being said, they also contain my hometown, Sunderland, which is far from lovely.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Ben.
What would you supposed to be the best course to plot in trying a degree at a place like Durham (or any of the various schools mentioned)? For instance, an MA or MDiv here (U.S.)...then another MA of special interest and language studies...and then apply to Durham? I've heard that you need a lot more language proficiency and knowledge to jump into doctoral work on the other side of the pond. Can you add you two cents for me?
Of course the answer to your question depends on what you've already got under your belt and on your CV. I don't think you need multiple masters, one is enough, but if the goal is just academic teaching, then an M.A. in Biblical studies with a good concentration on the languages and exegesis and theology should do the job on either side of the water. You will need to know German and French as well-- reading knowledge of theological sources in those languages.
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