Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hallowed Ground

Last week, I went on a wonderful and much-needed vacation with my wife and dogs. We spent the week on Tybee Island, GA, right outside of Savannah. Half of our rationale for planning this particular trip was relaxation, but the other half was to make a Methodist pilgrimage.

Back in 1736, our Methodist theological godfather, John Wesley, sailed to Savannah in order to assume a position as a missionary of the Church of England there, with support from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Wesley had very little success in Savannah- he was compelled to leave after barring a former love interest and her new husband from communion (for which the bailiff was ready to bring charges against him), most of the Methodist societies he started fizzled out, and he found the natives very unresponsive to his preaching. At best, it seems that the fruits of Wesley's journey were his conversations with the Moravians and reflections of his faith in the face of death on the passages over and back (which many have credited as contributing to his experience at Aldersgate Street), as well as his encounters with African slaves (for whom he had great sympathy).

Nonetheless, this was hallowed ground for me. I do not consider myself much of a history buff, with the exception of Methodist history. So this was a chance for me to walk around Savannah and let my mind imagine how that little, wiry, red-headed theologian genius lived when he was there and what his impressions of this strange land might have been. I visited the Anglican church, Christ Church (pictured above), that claims him as its rector from 1736-1737 (although the cornerstone for this church was not laid until the 1790s). I walked to Reynolds Square, where Wesley's statue stands. I walked along the riverfront and tried to picture it in a much cruder form as it would have been in 1736. And I held back my barbs as I thought about correcting my tour guide after he made several erroneous statements about Wesley (note: JW was not your grandfather's "hellfire and brimstone" preacher, because he primarily preached a theology of grace; and he did not start his own church, because he remained an Anglican until he died). In short, I was like a nerdy kid in a comic book store.

Oddly enough, I just finished reading a book about medieval English Catholicism, in which one of the primary emphases was the now-lost notion of the religious pilgrimage. I suppose that American Christians still dish out several thousands of dollars to visit the holy land, but I think we have lost our appreciation for visiting and paying homage to those places and people who have made our faith what it is today. Savannah is just one of these places. There is Charleston, SC, Jamestown, VA, the Delmarva Peninsula (OK, more Methodist sentiment), and just about anywhere in New England. The list goes on. But as I walked around Savannah, I certainly felt a profound sense of wonderment thinking about what would have happened had people like Wesley, Barbara Heck, and Francis Asbury never crossed over the Atlantic. What would I do? Where would I be? Would I still be a Christian? Would all Southerners be Baptists?

OK, denominational kidding aside, as I reflected on my own theological heritage, I thought about the importance of tradition. The truth is, there is no unmediated Jesus. Jesus never wrote anything himself. We have four gospels in our Christian cannon from four different perspectives. And beyond that, none of us reads that Scripture in a vacuum. We all have a tradition of some sort that informs our interpretation of Scripture and our lives of faith. After feeling my "heart strangely warmed" by this experience in Savannah, I encourage all Christians to dig a little bit into their traditions and to give thanks to God for those who have taught us about faith in Christ.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Origins of the KJV

Though not the first English translation of the Bible, the King James Version has been for hundreds of years the most well-known. Here is an interesting (and short) article about its history of composition, written by a leading scholar of the Reformation (and one of my professors at Duke!), David C. Steinmetz.