Monday, August 17, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Ellen Davis

We continue our taste of John Byron and Joel Lohr's, I (Still) Believe with Ellen Davis, Old Testament professor at Duke Divinity School. Previous posts looked at chapters on Richard Bauckham and Walter Brueggemann.

1. What a pleasant read Ellen Davis' testimony is! What a peace seems to radiate from every page. There was a calm and a confidence in faith throughout the whole chapter. I don't know Ellen, but I get the sense that she is the kind of person who brings the blood pressure of a room down.

Fret not thy soul over evil doers. The Lord is in his holy temple. That's what this chapter feels like.

2. Davis grew up Episcopal, and she seems quite contemplative in terms of her personality. Her call to teaching seems to have come in an instant, after spending months in Oxford under the spiritual guidance of a woman named Sister Mary Kathleen. There is a real sense in her testimony that she never really struggled about what God might next have in store for her. At the right time, God revealed each next step.

I thought this paragraph was worth quoting: "A realized vocation is something like a tapestry. No one looking at the yet-to-be-assembled threads might have predicted the pattern into which they would eventually fit, but they are all important or necessary for the pattern to take shape" (45).

3. A number of experiences shaped her experience of Scripture. Growing up Episcopal, the Bible provided the "meaningful language" of her faith. She did not view it so much as a source of theology or an account of history. When she reads the text, her default question is not, "Did this really happen?" but "Why does it say this?"

She studied with Brevard Childs, of whom she says he "might well have been the only distinguished Old Testament scholar in the country who would have understood and accepted the fact that my primary motivation and guide for study was not the agenda of the academic guild, but rather the practical needs of the church" (48).

Another important experience has been her work with the church in Sudan. Not only has this pushed the "so what" question, but there are strong points of resemblance to Israelite culture. "Many Sudanese belong to a culture that is still primarily oral, and so they have a deep intuitive understanding of the kind of literature that emerges from such a culture. The common notion that African traditional readers of the Bible are instinctively 'fundamentalist' in the Western sense is completely false; they have no difficulty, for instance, with the notion that different Israelite 'sources' would tell the creation story in somewhat different ways, as is the case with their own various tribal traditions" (50).

There is some critique of some Western missionary approaches in the past here, but I'll let you buy the book to read them.

4. Davis ends the chapter by valuing the fact that Duke Divinity School is located within a context that is not always friendly to Christian faith. "The fact that our Christian beliefs are not widely shared among university colleagues keeps us at the Divinity School from taking the truth of the gospel as self-evident" (53).

If you want to read more, her most intriguing work is Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. For a text that is hermeneutically insightful, see this work co-edited by Ellen and Richard Hays: The Art of Reading Scripture.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I pre-ordered the book over the weekend based on this series you are doing.