One of the great things about my experience of Durham was learning about all the excellent scholars that had shaped the university’s past. In fact, I knew of many of the names of the scholars there, but never associated them with Durham before I arrived. Of course, one the influential NT scholars there of the past generation was Charles Cranfield, whose passing we were just notified about. I had the pleasure of having coffee with him, and following in my friend Nijay’s steps, I’m posting the summary of my time with him here.
Coffee with Charles Cranfield (23 June 2008)
At CK Barrett’s 90th birthday last year, someone mentioned that they were sad that Charles (aka C.E.B.) Cranfield wasn’t able to make it. He’s just a year or so older than Kingsley, but can’t make it around as well. John Barclay mentioned that Professor Cranfield does like to have students over, so I finally got around to asking for his info to have coffee. He was kind enough to invite me over, and we had a nice chat about my studies and his thoughts on theology, plus I asked a few questions offered up by readers here. He is quite candid about his opinions both theological and political, especially on points of disagreement.
As to his background, he mentioned that he originally studied classics and later did theology at Cambridge. (His language ability is hard to believe…from memory he quoted John Chrysostom in Greek and later Aquinas in Latin.) He spent the summer of 1939 in Basel, Switzerland but had to leave because of the beginning of WW2. He was later an army chaplain and worked with the German Confessing movement after the war as well as with the World Council of Churches. He came to Durham in 1950. He was raised Methodist but noted switching to the reformed church because, among other things, of their reading of Rom 7 as applying to a Christian, which is no surprise if you’ve read his commentary.
For being 92 (almost 93–so that puts his birthday in 1915, Mike) and failing eyesight, he’s quite sharp and still well read, for instance he mentioned going through Watson’s Hermeneutics of Faith and Jewett’s Romans commentary. Speaking of Romans commentaries, he noted several recent ones but seemed to have a critique for each one in some way or other. I think Käsemann’s came off the highest. He commented in particular that he wasn’t a fan of the New Perspective, so he thought Dunn’s commentary was off target in those areas. He didn’t go into it in any detail but it didn’t seem like he thought there was a need to find a way forward. (Regarding his own commentary, he mentioned that he would have made some changes but unfortunately didn’t elaborate further. Though, on the ‘too reformed’ aspect in the questions, he noted he’s a good Calvinist, but with the ‘necessary’ revision of election offered by Barth.) He noted particularly the commentaries of John Chrysostom and Aquinas as excellent but often overlooked, and that Pelagius’ commentary is quite helpful at times.
I asked him what 5 books or so a theologian would need to read in order to not be ‘uneducated’. He offered these: 1) Barth’s original commentary on Romans because of its historical importance, 2) Shakespeare and John Milton, and 3) Greek writers: Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Aeschylus, and Euripides, and 4) the commentaries of Calvin and Luther.