I attended a few special events this week that were very interesting.

Monday: All day “NT Seminar” at Sheffield. Every year the Durham and Sheffield NT departments visit each other for a one day mixer. After a delay at the train station because of a signal failure, we made it to Sheffield. John Barclay and Loren Stuckenbruck spoke about their experiences writing commentaries on Josephus’ Against Apion and 1 Enoch 91-108, respectively. John discussed his preference for the Post-colonial reading of Josephus. That is, he used Roman imagery, values, etc. as the basis of his work, but he often turned them on their heads in defense of Judaism. Whereas, if he were only a “colonial” writer, as many make him out to be, he would just be parrotting Roman values. After that, we heard the progress reports of a few postgrads from each school, and finally a presentation from James Crossley about his recent book, Why Christianity Happened. He essentially didn’t want to see supernatural events as driving the birth of Christianity, but he was looking for a social-scientific reason for the change from Law-observant Christianity to non-Law-observant. I think it is more both/and rather than Crossley makes it, but it was an interesting discussion. I enjoyed meeting the Sheffield crew: Loveday Alexander, Barry Matlock, and James Crossley.

Tuesday: Back at Durham I went to a lecture by Mathew Guest on the Plausibility of Creation in Modern Social Thinking (or something like that). He focused primarily on evangelicals (US and UK) and their belief in young earth creation. I got another dose of Social-scientific methodology but from a modern perspective. He noted a sociologist in the 60’s and 70’s (Berger, I think) who predicted the decline of belief because of pluralism and globalism. However, in the 80’s and 90’s evangelicals have rebounded and belief in creationism has actually increased slightly. So he passed along a more modern theory put forward by Christian Smith who posited that it was the fight for values (e.g., pro-life, creationism, etc.) that has kept evangelicals strong, but if there was no fight then they would eventually weaken. Interesting theses. One telling thing here was that when he posted the statistic that 45% or so of all Americans believe in creationism, snickers filled the room. Evolution is considered here a given fact, so it makes Americans look “ignorant”. Later a member from the audience likened the belief to other “irrational” beliefs like UFOs. I’m not a 7-day creationist, but I think it’s a valid option. But not around here.

Later Tuesday evening: Alister McGrath came up to lecture on Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. He was a very good speaker. He must have given the lecture multiple times because I think he only looked down a couple of times. Since Dawkins’ point of view is so extreme, it is easier than other positions to take apart. However, I wasn’t aware that McGrath was an avowed atheist and got a DPhil in microbiology (or something) before coming to the Lord and beginning a life in theology.

Wednesday: The head of research and statistics for the Church of England came to the weekly seminar for Theology and Practice. I only attend about once a term, but her title, Britain: Christian but Unchurched, sounded interesting. It proved to be so. Here a few facts I gleaned: 70+% of GB consider themselves to be Christian, with only 10% having another faith (Muslim, Sikh, etc.) and 20% with no religion. I was shocked by that 10% factor. But when breaking that down, the top 2/3 of GB are very Christian, but the south with the major cities (e.g., London and Birmingham) are much less. However, since the major media companies are based in these areas, they present a view that all of GB is like the south while the majority is not. People view church here more as part of the community establishment even if they don’t attend. There is a movement towards “spirituality” (~individual) versus “religiousness” (~institutional), but churches typically only cater to the “religious” side and are therefore losing members (among other reasons). Church attendance is about 10% (at least once a month). I had heard it was more like 2-5%, I was actually surprised at how high it was. So to close out this three day stint, I had another sociological viewpoint of the church.