Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Beverly Roberts Gaventa

Here is the sixth post on John Byron and Joel Lohr's, I (Still) BelievePrevious posts include:

Richard Bauckham
Walter Brueggemann
Ellen Davis
James Dunn
Gordon Fee

1. Beverly Gaventa spent much of her teaching career at Princeton, but in 2013 moved to Baylor. Much of the chapter deals with her sense of vocation, how she found herself in a course on Romans at Union Theological Seminary while studying with J. Louis Martyn. But she was always possessed of an addiction to knowledge, from her youngest days visiting the neighborhood library to days in college that made her want to find a way never to leave.

At the end of the chapter, she says that in retrospect she perceives that the presence of God was there at every turn. Some key moments stand out to her when she especially felt the presence of God. Most of all, she wants to confess her great gratitude to God for the immense privilege she has had throughout her life to enjoy a life of study and teaching (92).

2. She was raised in west Tennessee in a Christian church. It was ideologically fundamentalist but she had this interesting thing to say about it: "In that small congregation there was not a lot of the anxiety about protecting the Bible from historical inquiry" (86). That is to say, it was "gentle in its literalism."

I think this is a key point. When an intellectual emerges from a militantly fundamentalist context, the reality of biblical knowledge can have the result of smashing faith. It is not the truth's fault. It is just what happens when you drive a car at 100mph into a wall. The literalism of her childhood didn't have that effect because it was not the focus of her childhood faith.

At the same time, "there was also no sign of intellectual curiosity or discomfort at its inconsistencies." It was also intensely racist. "No black child would have been allowed to step foot in the sanctuary" (86). This is a reminder that not all churches that call themselves Christian really are, and God is as absent in just as many conservative churches as he is in liberal ones.

3. Buy the book, read the chapter to find out how much Gaventa loves the Bible. Her "sheer delight" in the Bible glides off every page. She has never had a faith crisis, although there have been times of anger at God, especially in grief. But "anger is not the same thing as disbelief. Anger comes precisely when we deal with those we trust and from whom we want more or other than what we are receiving" (88).

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