I (Still) Believe. Previous posts include:
Today is my own Doktor Vater: Jimmy Dunn.
1. The chapter is titled well: "In Quest of Truth." Dunn is a thinker. Obviously all the scholars in this book are thinkers, but he is a thinker of a different sort. He is someone for whom the quest for truth is insatiable. And by truth, I mean the cold hard truth as ascertained by the most objective seeker with the most information.
Jimmy is the kindest of dialog partners. He is committed to respect to the other person in dialog. But he is about the truth. He does not pull punches. He mentions one of my favorite stories in the chapter, where he is teaching at the Pontifical Institute in Rome on Hebrews, and he basically tells a group of priests that there is no basis in Hebrews for the role they conceive themselves to have. The lecture doesn't finish. They have an emergency meeting in the evening where all the priests present basically argue with each other.
2. Dunn told me once that he felt a certain similarity between his pilgrimage and my own. He started out rather conservative--I don't know if we can use the word fundamentalist of his Scottish context or if that is more an American term. But his early days at Glasgow were conservative ones, and he even went forward at a Billy Graham rally in 1955. He was once given a scolding after preaching a sermon in which he indicated why the RSV is more appropriate to use than the KJV.
For a while he was in training to become a minister in the Church of Scotland. He studied with William Barclay in Glasgow. Before long, he began to sense that his calling was more along educational lines, and he went to get a doctorate at Cambridge under C. F. D. Moule.
Questions began to gnaw at him there. He never lost his faith, mind you. He says at the end of the chapter, "my faith remains strong." He was a Methodist lay preacher when I was in Durham and he and his wife Meta are now attending an Anglican Church in one of the most Anglo-Catholic dioceses in Europe (although theirs is straightforwardly Anglican). He has especially been interested in ecumenical conversations since his days at Cambridge.
3. Dunn's commitment to following the evidence wherever it leads--and not to hide or soften his conclusions--has made him difficult to classify. He has spoken at the Evangelical Theological Society, for example, which is quite conservative. One of my first connections with him was when he came to speak at Asbury--these were the kinds of institutions that invited him and the kinds of PhD students he had. He wrote a quasi-apologetic work, The Evidence for Jesus, and has written books highlighting how central the Holy Spirit was for the early church, indeed for Jesus. He's also written on Scripture.
So is he a conservative? He certainly feels comfortable around conservatives.
But he resists classifications like that. He's a scholar. He's not interested in those sorts of labels at all. He's interested in the truth.
So others of his books have been as challenging for students like me as they are compelling. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament and Christology in the Making may not be correct on everything, but they will rock your world. He somehow has seemed to address the very questions just coming onto the horizon such that he slakes the thirst of the student of the Bible who reads it in its historical context, time and time again.
4. I will leave it at that. Most of the chapter explores the train of thought of ideas that he addressed in writing throughout his career as a scholar. But even at Cambridge, the many questions led him to a thought from John Wesley: If your heart beats with mine in affirming 'Jesus is Lord,' give me your hand.