Tuesday, September 08, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Walter Moberly

Here's another chapter from John Byron and Joel Lohr's new book, I (Still) Believe! It's a book about world class Bible scholars who have faith. Today I want to look at the chapter by Walter Moberly.

Previous posts include:

Richard Bauckham
Walter Brueggemann
Ellen Davis
James Dunn
Gordon Fee
Beverly Roberts Gaventa
John Goldingay
Scot McKnight

1. I am constantly thankful to God for the privileged life I have led. I am not a naturally happy person. It's just not my nature. :-) But I hope that I am never ungrateful for the blessed life God has given me.

One of those blessings was being able to sit for three years in the Durham New Testament Research Seminar, with a number of world class scholars and emerging scholars always present. One faithful face in that seminar was Dr. Walter Moberly. Dr. Moberly is an Old Testament scholar. But as a Christian of deep faith, the whole Bible is of great interest to him. He is also a "theological interpreter," who is interested in the canon as a whole read from a Christian perspective.

2. As with some other scholars in this book, there is a thread of suffering in Dr. Moberly's story. For one, he struggles with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. This is one reason why he ended up teaching theology rather than pastoring. He pastored for some time and hoped to do some pastoring along with his teaching, but his physical condition will not allow it.

I was at Durham when Dr. Moberly's first wife died of cancer less than four months after giving birth. It was not even known that she had cancer when she went in to give birth. The night of his son's birth was a night he likens to Jacob wrestling with the angel. It was filled with images of Abraham offering up his son Isaac and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. He emerged with a confidence that both he and his first wife were in God's hands.

He says this: "My night as wrestling Jacob finally persuaded me that most kinds of theodicy, attempts to rationalize and/or justify the ways of God, are futile; the bottom line is that either you trust, or you don't" (205).

I'll let you read for yourself his other notes on his personal story, including his remarriage, which also happened while I was at Durham. It is no surprise that Genesis 22 has featured in his scholarship.

3. I have been particularly interested in Dr. Moberly's wrestling to fit his scholarship with his faith and especially his faith in Scripture. He clearly has a twin commitment. His first love is faith, but he is also committed to critical scholarship. The ongoing tension between the two was palpable to me in this chapter. It was a tension that emerged when he was training to be a minister and wrestled with the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy.

He invokes an image that I also use in my own pilgrimage, namely, the idea of a second naivete. For myself--and my pilgrimage is not exactly the same as his--most Christians function to one degree or another with what you might call a pre-historical sense of the biblical text. This way of reading the Bible can be incredibly powerful and sacramental.

But there is also no legitimate way of denying history and context, which can be introduced in either positive or negative ways. All too often, history is introduced in a confrontative, faith-undermining way. Moberly is an example of someone who has been able to continue to experience God in the biblical texts without denying the fullness of historical study.

4. Read his chapter to hear more about his discovery of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, plus more!

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