Peter Gentry on the Biblical Languages

Peter Gentry on the importance of the biblical languages, even for those who have to work really hard to learn languages.

LXX Studies

PGentryThe following article is reproduced from The Gospel Witness 65.6 (1986): 22 (102) with permission. The Gospel Witness is a publication of Jarvis St. Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario that would devote one issue per year to Toronto Baptist Seminary. Dr. Peter Gentry taught the biblical languages faithfully at Toronto Baptist Seminary from 1984–1999 and 2008–2017, and he still teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Enjoy!

GREEK AND HEBREW—WHY BOTHER?

By Professor Peter Gentry

During the past fifteen to twenty years many Bible colleges and seminaries have reshaped their curricula and programmes, cutting content-oriented requirements like Biblical languages, church history, exegesis of the original text and systematic theology in favour of method-oriented requirements such as Christian education, counselling skills and psychology. Certainly a balance between content and method must be maintained, but the present trend tends toward highly skilled communicators and counsellors with nothing to say.

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Kwame Bediako on the impact of the Enlightenment on theology

Walls Understanding World ChristianityDiscussing the impact of the Enlightenment on ‘Western theology’, Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako writes,

‘By its exaltation of reason over against revelation, of the autonomous individual self over against community and collective consciousness, of the present and so-called modernity over against the past and tradition, the Enlightenment turned much of European traditional thought, informed by Christian teaching and practice, upside down. The Western Christian theology that emerged from the bruising struggle was Enlightenment theology shaved down to fit the Enlightenment world-view.

But it is with the southward shift in Christianity’s center of gravity that the profound undermining of the Christian faith by the Enlightenment can now be seen, and perhaps one should agree with Andrew Walls that “part of the strength of Christianity in the South today is the fact that it is independent of the Enlightenment.” There is so much that happens in Christian life and thought, particularly where the Transcendent impinges upon everyday human existence, that the Enlightenment maginalized, discounted, or simply ignored in earlier Western Christian experience. We can understand how Andrew Walls, writing about Africa, comes to suggest that, as a consequence, “Western theology is not big enough for Africa.” It may not be big enough for the church in the North either.’

Kwame Bediako, ‘The Emergence of World Christianity and the Remaking of Theology’, in William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. MacLean (eds), Understanding World Christianity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009), 253-54.

Bediako’s words offer a provocative challenge to every reader: To what extent has my theology been shaped by Enlightenment thinking? Is my theology ‘big enough’?

Logos Free Book of the Month, October 2017

If you use Logos software, you should consider getting the Free Book of the Month for October. This month, Logos are offering Joseph Fitzmyer’s commentary on Romans in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary free of charge. If you wish to pay a few dollars more, you can have volumes on Habakkuk and Galatians from the same series too. These are detailed technical commentaries written from a variety of theological perspectives. If you don’t already have the Logos Basic software so that you can read these books, you can download it completely free here.

Worshipping with African Christians 

Andrew Walls describes his experience of participating in Christian worship with African Christians:

It is one of the most extraordinary things–you don’t know the language, and yet you know you are in a Christian congregation, and gradually you find your place in this form of worship. And gradually you learn to pray and sing. You are reading the Scriptures together, as human beings together, looking to one Christ for salvation…. I don’t think anyone brought up in the thin-blooded North can go to Africa and attend African churches without something happening to give them new insights into Christian worship–that expression of joy, that enormous vitality that comes through the African setting, with all the poverty, all the distress that people have…. When people pray with you, you realize why the New Testament talks about praying with the bowels! I would hope other Christians would be similarly enriched. We are one body.

James A. Ault, An interview with Andrew F. Walls  (Yale, 2001)

Quoted in Gillian Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Andrew F. Walls in Africa, Africa in Andrew F. Walls’, in Understanding World Christianity, edited by William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. MacLean (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009), 217.

Andrew Walls, Mission and World Christianity

Walls missionary-movementI still broadly remember the lectures on ‘primal religions’ that Andrew Walls gave to my class of Religious Studies students in David Hume Tower in Edinburgh University in either 1988 or 1989. During these two years, I regularly had to rush, between lectures, from New College on the Mound, where most of my classes took place, to David Hume Tower and then climb apparently endless stairs to the classroom where the lectures on various religious traditions were given. I don’t recall much of the detail, but I remember these lectures because (1) I had never heard the term ‘primal religions’ and the unfamiliar phrase caught my attention; (2) as an evangelical student, I knew that Professor Walls was an evangelical scholar with expertise in Christianity in the non-Western world; and (3) while I was glad to hear lectures from an evangelical lecturer, I could not imagine how I would ever need to know about religious beliefs that were found in far-off parts of the world (particularly Africa) I never expected to visit. Almost thirty years later, and after spending more than nine years in missionary service in South Africa, I was Walls Cross Cultural Processgrateful for the opportunity to meet Professor Walls in Aberdeen and to tell him how his lectures had helped prepare me to understand better a worldview that was pervasive in Southern Africa (in African Traditional Religion). Even at the time of our meeting, less than two years ago, I had no idea that my academic teaching would shortly move in a new direction to focus on the field of mission studies in which he had made such a remarkable contribution.

In the years since I was a novice student in the University of Edinburgh, I have come to realise how significant Andrew Walls has been to the fields of missiology and ‘World Christianity’. These days, I make it my business to read as much of his work as I possibly can. Most of Walls’s written work has been in the form of essays. Many of these have been collected in two volumes published by Orbis Books, The Missionary Movement in Christian History, and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History.

Walls Understanding World ChristianityDuring the past few days, I have been reading another Orbis volume, Understanding World Christianity, which is a kind of Festschrift for Walls. It was edited by William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. MacLean, and published in 2009. A distinctive feature of this collection of essays, however, is that they all directly address aspects of Walls’s life and thought. The contributors are largely well-known scholars of missiology who have been friends, colleagues and students of Walls, including Kwame Bediako, Wilbert Shenk, Brian Stanley, Jonathan Bonk, and Lamin Sanneh.

The book is composed of five parts. The first part includes three personal tributes. Together these contributions reveal a humble Christian man who combines great ability with a warm Christian piety and commitment to the life of the church. For example, Howard Marshall illustrates Walls’s regular service as a preacher in the northeast of Scotland and his ability as a hymn writer, while Allison Howell and Maureen Iheanacho describe Walls’s teaching in Africa where he was as likely to pray with a student in need as to offer to read Greek with those who wished to develop their skills.

The second part considers ways in which Walls transformed the academic discipline of mission studies, not least by founding an academic centre and by supervising and mentoring new scholars in the field.

In the third part of the book, several themes relating to the ‘transmission of Christianity’ are addressed in conversation with Walls’s work. His distinctive emphases of ‘translation’ and ‘conversion’ receive particular attention.

Part four considers aspects of Walls’s contribution as an historian. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the work of Kenneth Scott Latourette’s work as a forerunner of Walls by Dana Robert. Not surprisingly, the way in which Walls shaped the study of the history of World Christianity is also addressed.

The final section of the book addresses the special place that Africa has played in the life and thought of Andrew Walls and in Christian history. The subtitle of Gillian Bediako’s essay seems particularly appropriate: ‘Andrew F. Walls in Africa, Africa in Andrew F. Walls’.

The book is completed by an extensive bibliography of works by Walls. This will be very valuable as Walls’s work increasingly becomes the focus of scholarly research. Bediako writes (217-18),

If we wish to understand why Andrew Walls is so much loved and respected by African Christians, and non-Western Christians generally, part of the answer lies here–that Africa changed him, and that he has been ever ready to acknowledge it with gratitude.

I would commend this collection of essays to readers who wish both to gain a flavour of current thinking on ‘World Christianity’ and to be introduced to the work of Andrew Walls. It is a fitting tribute to both the distinguished scholar and the Christian preacher of the gospel. Of course, readers who learn about Walls from these essays should also read Walls’s own writings for themselves.

The impact of Andrew Walls on the academic study of missiology and World Christianity is immense. This can be seen in ways beyond the citations of his published works. Perhaps the most significant legacy Walls has left in addition to his writings is the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, in New College, the University of Edinburgh. Walls’s impact has also been noted by other institutions. Liverpool Hope University established the Andrew Walls Centre for the Study of Asian and African Christianity. Likewise, the Overseas Ministries Study Centre in the USA, with which Walls has had strong connections, has dedicated the ‘Andrew F. Walls Conference Room’.

Walls Crossing Cultural FrontiersSome excellent news for those who have appreciated Walls’s writings over many years is that a further collection of his writings, Crossing Cultural Frontiers, is due to appear shortly, published once again by Orbis.

You can watch a short interview with Walls on World Christianity here, and a recent lecture given by Walls (on 26 September 2017) here.

 

 

 

Related posts on this blog:

Global Theology – Lectures by Escobar, Sanneh, Walls and others

Listening to the Global Church

 

Logos Free Book of the Month, September 2017

If you use Logos software, be sure to pick up the Free Book of the Month for September. This month you can get David Garland’s excellent commentary on Mark in the NIV Application Commentary free of charge. If you wish to pay a few dollars more, you can have volumes by John Walton and Scot McKnight from the same series too. If you don’t already have the Logos Basic software so that you can read these books, you can download it completely free here.