OXFORD, is it real?
In April John and I moved to Oxford, UK. Yes, it’s a fairy tale place. Surreal enough to make-believe you might run into Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, or Lewis Carrol at any moment. We worship in centuries old chapels and cathedrals, listening to “classic old hymns” sung by angelic choirs. Maybe we died in a car crash in LA and don’t know it. This is definitely a version of heaven.
What Has John been doing?
We came here with 26 boxes of books and a few suitcases full of clothes. So, shopping for household fittings and furnishings was the first order of business. But as soon as John got his new desk (made from a single piece of bent tempered glass- not a fuddy-duddy 75 year old!) he was back at it.
Even in his jubilee year, he loves to answer your queries about the Old Testament (or First Testament as we refer to it around here). Here are some of his recent musings:
Forward to Dan Hawk’s forthcoming book on Violence in the OT – watch for the book from Eerdmans – post is also under “Other Papers”
A review of Christopher R. J. Holmes’s book The Lord Is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (InterVarsity). Also posted under “Other Papers.”
We also continue to watch movies! Here are John’s comments on Churchill:
Winston, Ike, Abraham, Sarah, Rebekah, Isaac
The movie we watched last night, Churchill, is about the days just before the D-Day landings by British and American troops in Normandy in northern France in June 1944, a couple of weeks before my second birthday. Winston Churchill was against the invasion plan. It reminded him too much of the similar invasion in the First World War, when countless thousands of young men were killed, and Churchill had felt responsible for that slaughter. Further, American soldiers were steadily advancing on Hitler’s territory from the south, through Italy, and Churchill thought that a less dangerous approach. The movie focuses on the tormented alcoholic Churchill’s failed attempts to stop what he saw as the doomed venture of Eisenhower (very neatly played by John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery.
I often look at the reviews after we watch a movie, and in this case I was amazed at the critical vitriol aimed at this film that held Kathleen and me gripped for its two hours. Some of the critique was just stupid—such as the reviewer who said there should have been some battle scenes (Saving Private Ryan, anyone)? It was a revisionist account of the event, and for many reviewers it focused too much on the weaknesses of the man who has been called the greatest Briton ever. We like our heroes. The revisionist account relied heavily on the imagination of the scriptwriter (an Oxford history-graduate with other historical studies to her credit). But the standard account of Churchill is also a product of the imagination working on some facts. Someone propounded the thesis that Churchill was right that going for the Normandy approach rather than proceeding from the south colluded with Stalin’s objectives for the future position of Russia in Europe after the war. The movie emphasized (maybe overemphasized) Churchill’s compassionate concern for the young men who might die, and I wondered whether it was inviting us to be more compassionate about the young men we send to Iraq and Afghanistan.
(The movie mentioned the possibility that Churchill’s party might not get re-elected after the war. This fear was realized, a Socialist government was elected, the National Health Service was created, and some reforms took place in British education which meant that just before my eleventh birthday I was granted a place at the kind of high-flying British school that a boy from my ordinary background would never have got near, and without that I would not be in the position I am today.)
I’m writing a commentary on Genesis. I have concluded that Genesis 17 and 18 are two alternative accounts of the way God announced to Abraham and Sarah that Sarah really was going to have a baby of her own. And I have concluded that Genesis 27—28:9 provide two alternative accounts of the process whereby Rebekah came to send Jacob off to Harran. Both these understandings parallel the way Genesis 1 and 2 comprise alternative accounts of the creation. In each case, if you look at them literalistically they clash, but really they are complementary stories told from different angles (one more traditional, one more revisionist). Each version brings home a message for the era in which it is told. Like the two perspectives on Churchill, they are selective and different, emphasizing one angle rather than another, each of them offering the truth though not the whole truth (for which there would not be room, as John notes at the end of his Gospel), and not necessarily contradictory unless you try to make them something that they are not.