Conversations: E-Journal, Volume 3, no.3 now online

And now for the contents of the November 2009 issue of Conversations, which includes papers from the recent Calvin 500 Anniversary conference held here as well as the Wisdom's Feast conference and Cato Lecture by Daniel Smith Christopher:

This issue of Conversations brings together papers and talks from
three events: Wisdom’s Feast 2009, a day long conference to celebrate
the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, and the Cato Lecture from
the recent Assembly meeting.

Cato Lecture

This was the CATO Lecture for July, 2009, given
at the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia, University of
NSW, Sydney, Australia. We are grateful to the Cato Trust for kind
permission to publish this lecture.

Daniel Smith-Christopher begins with a question: how is the Old
Testament a source of guidance for Christian faith and practice? He is
convinced that we must continue to engage the Hebrew tradition as
modern Christians, but he has not been happy with many of the
traditional and recent approaches to doing this. He notes that in its
fullness the Hebrew Bible does not leave us either in the Promised Land
or in the United Monarchy of David or Solomon. Rather, the Biblical
narrative leaves the Hebrews in exile. He describes how one might
engage in a Biblical Theology of the Old Testament for modern
Christians that is a theology of exile and diaspora, more engaged with
movement, journey, identity, and witness to an often hostile
surrounding culture than with power. He concludes by looking at Jonah
and Ezra as symbols of critical issues for modern Christians in Exile.

Wisdom’s Feast

Two papers from the conference ‘Wisdom’s Feast’ held at the Centre for Theology and Ministry, June 19-23, 2009.

Beginning with some remarks in the area of the
sociology of religion and its role in providing comfort, Rachael Kohn,
builds on the idea that religious life does not only hinge on the
perpetuation of beliefs, but on the maintenance of community. She
explores the struggle of Jews through history for comfort and justice
which is not just about equality of opportunity and resources in a
material culture, but about recognising hatred and stopping it from
spreading, wherever it is found. She argues that the God of the
prophetic scriptures, which is one of the Jewish gifts to the world,
works his purposes in history, only when we let him; that is, only when
we let him work through us.  

500th Anniversary of the Birth of John Calvin

A day-long conference was held on August 29 to celebrate the
anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Also attached is a sermon
preached on John Calvin on Reformation Sunday.

notes that when Calvin emerged on the scene in Geneva, the Reformation
was already well under way and, indeed, Protestants themselves were
already divided. Calvin was not a pioneering innovator like Luther, but
his gifts for organisation, thought and writing, ensured that his place
in Reformation history. McKee explores how Calvin was not only a very
Biblical theologian, but also a very pastoral and practical one.  He is
best understood as a man of the 16th century, ‘who addressed the people
and context of his own day with all the intensity of the conviction
that God had redeemed him and called him to be an instrument of
proclaiming that redemption by teaching, preaching, correcting, even as
an exile, a foreigner, though still a part of a Christian world.’ She
argues that we honour Calvin best and gain the most from ‘by
understanding him in his own context and ministry’.

lived in a time of great spiritual vitality and renewal. While many
spiritualities of the time, even those of noted reformers, were shaped
by monastic piety and its priorities, Calvin had a different
experience. He had never been part of a monastic community. ‘For
Calvin, spirituality grew out of a lived encounter with God, who had
graciously revealed forgiveness through Jesus’ work on the Cross,
justifying and regenerating us.’ His spirituality, with its framework
founded on the Scriptures, was both Catholic and contextual, providing
people with practical suggestions about how to grow into Christ and His
community. The corporate aspect of his spirituality was further
demonstrated by his conviction that Christian citizens were committed
to the creation of a more Christian society, in which Church and
Magistrate were vocational partners on the pilgrimage to eternal life.

Goswell explores Calvin’s debt to preceding Jewish exegetes on the
Psalter and seeks to determine how explicitly Christian his
interpretation of the Psalms was. Use is made of the medieval Jewish
commentator Rashi as a conversation partner. When it came to Jewish
exegesis of the Psalms, Calvin was neither uncritical nor
hypercritical. He was neither a prisoner to Jewish or earlier Christian
opinion. Calvin’s focus on the historical context of psalms was not
derived from Jewish exegetes but from his humanist training and
inclination. He related a psalm to its historical setting but then saw
no difficulty in a psalm referring to David and at the same time being
a prediction of Christ.

loved and lived the psalms. A lifetime of reflection and praying them
stands behind his commentary on the Psalter. The Preface to the
commentary, in which Calvin tells much of his own story, is revealing
of his hermeneutic when dealing with the psalms. Parallels between his
own life and that of David as psalmist functions as a major key for
interpretation. This article explores Calvin’s hermeneutic when dealing
with the psalms and notes ways in which it correlates with principles
of composition of the Psalter itself.

focuses on how the reformers Luther, Zwingli, Bucer and Calvin
approached the question, ‘What is a Sacrament?’ The sacramental
controversies of the 16th century were concerned with understandings of
earth and heaven, the eternal and the temporal, and gave rise, not only
to the question of their relationship, but also to where ‘God chooses
to make himself known in the commonest elements of his creation’.

Book launches and reviews:

  • Psalms, Readings; Sheffield Phoenix, 2009, by Howard N. Wallace. Remarks at the launch of the book by Mark G. Brett, Sept. 18, 2009.