The Results of Praying for Evangelical Scholarship
by Gordon Kuhrt
Co-published with the Church of England Newspaper, with permission 19th August 2011
In the 1940s and '50s, some thoughtful Evangelical leaders encouraged prayer for a renewal of Evangelical scholarship, especially in the areas of biblical studies and biblical theology. Liberal theology seemed to reign unchallenged. Most Evangelicals gave themselves in Christian service to their parishes, to Evangelical agencies (eg Scripture Union, Evangelical Alliance, Church Pastoral-Aid Society) or to overseas missions. As well as prayer, some of these visionary leaders took action in the establishing of the Tyndale House Library and Research Centre in Cambridge, and the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research. The early fruits of emerging scholarship were often published by the Inter-Varsity Press or Tyndale Press.
When I started studying for a university theology degree in 1960, the publications of really high-class biblical and theological scholarship by Evangelical scholars were still very few - scarcely taking up twelve inches of a bookshelf. Some looked back to PT Forsyth, James Orr and James Denney of an earlier generation. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner were regarded with considerable suspicion. The Brethren biblical scholar, Professor FF Bruce was just establishing a reputation. The London Bible College staff (and some of us students) were battling with a significant anti-intellectual spirit. I well remember the anxiety with which the three of us were regarded who were embarking on an Honours (rather than Pass) degree. The fear was that we were "soft" on the urgency of evangelism. The pursuit by several of the staff of university doctorates was often regarded with ambivalence.
In the late 1960s, however, I was invited as a young curate by Dr James (Jim) Packer to join one of the research groups of Latimer House, Oxford (an Evangelical research centre for the Church of England). Evangelical Theological College staff with a doctorate were a rare phenomenon at the time, as was the existence of Evangelical staff in university theology or biblical studies departments. In the following years, I played various roles in commissioning (for publishers), editing, contributing to, and writing books. I remember with particular pleasure the IVP Reference and Theology Committee, and the inauguration of the Grove Biblical series.
We are sometimes better at intercessory prayer than thanksgiving (eucharistic) prayer. But the last fifty years has seen a remarkable flowering of Evangelical scholarship - notably in biblical studies and theology, but also in church history, ethics, liturgy and mission. In this article, I concentrate on the UK, but others might add examples from the US, Europe and Australia, and, more recently, Africa, Asia and South America.
Developments in the UK have been quite extraordinary. Choosing examples is a dangerous business (akin to choosing world-class cricketers or soccer players), but I'm taking the risk. Some major scholar-writers combine both the highest quality and a considerable quantity of output. God has blessed UK Evangelicalism with at least six in recent decades: -
John Stott & Tom Wright New Testament, theology and mission
Alister McGrath doctrine and apologetics
Anthony Thiselton hermeneutics and New Testament
John Goldingay Old Testament and hermeneutics
Colin Buchanan liturgy and ecclesiology
The achievements of these scholars in both quality and quantity is breathtaking - and they were not reclusive academics. They were/are bishops, theological college principals and professors with busy departments. Both John Stott and Colin Buchanan have been remarkable entrepreneurs and editors who have commissioned and encouraged countless others.
Then, there is a tremendous "supporting cast". It is outrageous of me to use this term about some world-class scholars who have written books which have brought about paradigm-shifts in their areas of work. Some scholars in the following list have made highly significant contributions in more than one area, but, greatly daring, I select:-
Old Testament Donald Wiseman, Alec Motyer, Derek Kidner, Joyce Baldwin, Gordon Wenham
New Testament Howard Marshall, James Dunn, Richard Bauckham, Dick France, Richard Burridge, Donald Guthrie, Ralph Martin, David Wenham, Paula Gooder, Stephen Smalley
Doctrine & Spirituality James Packer, Tom Smail, David Ford, Jane Williams
Church History James Atkinson, David Wright, David Bebbington, Ian Randall
Ethics Oliver O'Donovan, Nigel Biggar, David Atkinson
Apologetics, Mission & Evangelism Elaine Storkey, Lesslie Newbigin, Chris Wright, Michael Green, Colin Chapman, John Drane
When you consider the IVP Reference books, the Lion Handbooks, the various series of Bible commentaries, and the various series of Grove Booklets ("not the last word ... but often the first"), we have riches indeed. Did anyone (even the visionary John Wenham) imagine this fifty years ago?
We salute the roles of various publishing houses and their editors - IVP, Tyndale, Hodder, Paternoster, Lion, Grove and SPCK.
Those of us who can remember back to the '50s and '60s may stand amazed. We encourage younger people to take note of this period of church history - and to join in thanking God for the prayers, the disciplined studies, the tenacity and the sheer fruitfulness of several decades of Evangelical scholars. It may be difficult today to realise how exciting and mind-stretching some of these developments were at the time.
God answered our prayers in an extraordinary way, beyond anything of which we dreamed. At the moment there are a number of Evangelicals presenting a rather negative perspective on the current state of Evangelical Anglicanism. I do not read the present situation as God giving up on this country, or on the Church of England, where most of these scholars have been nurtured and have exercised their spiritual gifts and ministries. I want to praise his holy Name!
The Venerable Dr Gordon W Kuhrt was Archdeacon of Lewisham before 10 years as Director of Ministry for the Church of England
Ven Dr Gordon W Kuhrt formerly Archdeacon of Lewisham, and then Director of Ministry for the Archbishops’ Council 1996-2006