The Rev Professor Gerald Bray of the Latimer Trust tackled the issue of the authority of Scripture when he delivered the Inaugural Theology Lecture at the University of Ulster, Belfast.
In a day when it is common for even church people to adopt a consumer mindset towards the Bible much as they would to anything else, it would be hard to think of anything more timely or relevant to the Anglican Communion (or any denomination, for that matter) than the topic of the authority of Scripture.
Professor Bray addressed the lectures in Belfast at the invitation of the Rev Trevor Johnston, Church of Ireland chaplain to the University of Ulster, on the evenings of November 5 and 6.
The audience of around 100 people over the two evenings was drawn from across the denominational spectrum and included professional theologians and clergy, students and interested laypeople.
The first lecture was entitled ‘Scripture – mere text?’ and in it, Professor Bray tackled head on the question of whether and to what extent the Bible is be regarded as just like any other book. Engaging with a recent allegation of evangelical ‘bibliolatry’ from no less a quarter than the Archbishop of Armagh, he offered a compelling corrective to the notion that evangelicals are “mistaking the Word of God for a mere text”.
The second lecture, entitled ‘Scripture – clearly obscure’ and subtitled, ‘The challenge and promise of Biblical interpretation today’ followed on from this foundation. In a scholarly yet heart-warming way, Professor Bray challenged the church to stay true to the fundamentals of the faith. It must systematically expound this text within the context of the new challenges in our time and then, through its preaching, apply those timeless principles to its modern audiences. Only by doing this will the church ever experience deep and long-lasting renewal, he stated.
Professor Bray is not one to shirk difficult issues and he spelled out and commented upon what he sees as the crucial issues faced by the church today that require an explicitly theological solution – the relationship between the Bible and science, history, social and political theories, our moral and spiritual lives and other religions. His call for the church to think theologically and stay true to the Scriptures could hardly be more apposite.
It is planned that these lectures will be an annual event in and around November. The transcripts of the University of Ulster lectures are available to download free of charge at www.latimertrust.org (under 'Jordanstown lectures').
Report by Kathy Cowan (interested layperson)