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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Support Lloyd Pietersen and the future of the discipline

I will simply cut and paste Mark Goodacre's post which I fully endorse:

Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire: Action needed

...now another British university department is similarly under threat from the university's own administration, and one of our good friends has heard today that his post has been terminated.

Lloyd Pietersen is Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator in New Testament Studies in the Department of Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire. For those who do don't know him, Lloyd is a first class scholar, a fine teacher, and a delightful person, a massive asset to the university. It is unthinkable that they would let someone like Lloyd go.

So what can we do? To begin with, we can pull out all the stops and inundate both Paul Bowler (pbowler@glos.ac.uk) and Patricia Broadfoot (vc@glos.ac.uk) with notice of the damage to research and the university's reputation.
I should add that the Facebook group has a lot of helpful detail for when you compose your letters.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Yet more from BW3!

Some more bizarre comments from BW3 on Sheffield in response to Steph Fisher:
The issue isn't hiring someone on the basis of their faith especially if they do not have the credentials and the critical training for the job. The issue is deliberately avoiding hiring people of faith, and further the issue is deliberately trying to deconstruct someone else's faith.

You have misperceived the issue, and I am sure Fred Bruce, whom I knew, would entirely disagree with you. My suggestion to you is to have a talk with Ralph Martin, long connected with Sheffield. You will get a different perspective on the history of the department.

Wow! How about 'The issue is deliberately avoiding hiring people of faith'! I just don't know what to say but if it is true the Dept has done a pretty poor job (see previous posts). This is stunningly insulting now.

BUT...but...maybe Bw3 was talking about the past because he does bring up Ralph Martin being 'long connected with Sheffield'. As it happens, at least as far as I am aware, I have never met Ralph Martin and I have never had any contact with him. He doesn't seem to have been be a figure present at the British NT Conference either so it would seem I have never had the chance to meet him. I have no idea if other present full-time members of staff have met him: I'd be surprised but you never know. The point being that BW3 is not producing the strongest evidence for some supposed policy of, or direction taken by, Sheffield, at least in the past decade, because Ralph Martin retired from the Department in...1996.

BUT...but...what if this supposed anti-religious hiring mentality happened, let's say, in a time some 15 years ago and beyond...? Aside from being a little out-of-date for the contemporary debates about Sheffield (let's not forget that!), this has interesting implications because one previous Head of Dept was John Rogerson, an ordained Anglican minister. Before him, so was James Atkinson. I have taken the historical detail of the Dept from David Clines' essay on the history of the Dept upto 1997. Clines was also a former Head. Here are his thoughts on the issue:
The Department’s two staff appointments made by Bruce, Aileen Guilding, his eventual successor to the chair, and David Payne, who had been the first student of the Department, were also not ordained. Neither, as it happens, are any of the present full-time teaching staff of the Department. But, whatever the unofficial views of the University authorities may have been, there has never been any animus within the Department against the Church and ordained ministers. Two of its Heads, James Atkinson and John Rogerson, were Anglican clergymen, and the Department has numbered among its staff several Anglican priests, ministers of the Presbyterian Church of England (now part of the United Reformed Church), of the Church of Scotland,and of the Methodist Church. Nevertheless, the Department has been perhaps somewhat unusual among departments in the field of theology in having as tenuous a connection with the institutional Church as it does. That does not mean that there is still ‘no theology’. The name of the Department was changed in 1968 to Biblical Studies precisely to reflect the fact that the ideas of the Bible—in addition to its history and its literature—are part of the central concern of the Department, even if these days the theology of the Bible is increasingly referred to as its ideology.
On hiring full time, permanent posts, I should also add that people from outside the Dept must be brought in, not least to make sure the process is fair. If BW3 is right (and this is only for the sake of argument), then this means that the corruption goes wider and higher in the University and I can't imagine such people would be overly happy if they knew about such allegations. The interviewing/hiring panels have also included biblical scholars of faith so I don't know what they would make of BW3's allegations.

And, look, the BW3 repeats this allegation: 'further the issue is deliberately trying to deconstruct someone else's faith'. I would like to know who is deliberately trying deconstruct someone else's faith and I would like to know what he means by 'deconstruct' (as others have pointed out, he seems to mean something like 'destroy' because it doesn't make sense much sense in the context of academic usage).

As BW3 likes suggestions, let me give him one suggestion of my own: give serious evidence (not gossip, not hear say, not idle speculation) before making such insultingly inaccurate slurs.

UPDATE: the comments have now been removed from the linked page

More of the same from BW3

Well it seems that BW3 did say those weird and inaccurate things about Sheffield. It's got a little weirder and we get more too. He's now added this (notice the lack of engagement with the questions raised) in his attempt to answer Steph Fisher's comments:
I doubt there will be a public apology. There are too many wounded in action to account for. Honestly Stephanie, Sheffield did not act wisely in not hiring folks like Loveday Alexander or Andrew Lincoln once they were gone, as they at least nurtured people in their Christian faith.

Then this:
You shouldn't be shocked. Do a little historical research. Start with F.F. Bruce and the original purpose and focus of the Biblical Studies Faculty at Sheffield. Then compare that to where we are now.

Well let's turn the BW3 methodology on himself and ask for some historical research. As it happens, and contrary to BW3, it would have been deeply unwise to hire on the basis of religious affiliation because hiring on the basis of religious affliation aint, erm, allowed. Like most places in the UK, and being a university and not a seminary/theological college, we have to hire on the basis of the best quaified person for the job in hand, irrespective of religious affiliation. But, as it also happens, the last hire was trained at the London School of Theology but, oddly enough, he was partly chosen because he was very strong on understanding the cultural context of the NT and a very good teacher of Greek. If fact, though I don't know the precise personal details of faith, I am the only remaining full time member of staff with no religious affiliation. I would also like to know how BW3 knows people were not nurturing people in their Christian faith (not that anyone emplyed by the University should be obliged to do so, of course) because I'm not seeing a lot of evidence here (yes, that is British understatement).

UPDATE: the comments have now been removed from the linked page

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sheffield and some odd comments attributed to BW3

Many things have been said about the situation at Sheffield and many, many nice things. Predictably enough, let's focus on the negative... In a recent Christianity Today article there were a couple of strange comments but none more annoying than the following attributed to Ben Witherington III.

Other faculty [at Sheffield] were "bent on the deconstruction of the Bible, and indeed of their students' faith," according to Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar at Asbury Theological Seminary.

I do not know if Witherington said these things but this is a direct quotation and I don't know if it is one of those Dever-style attempts at being 'provocative'. If Witherington did not say such things or if he was ripped out of context then presumably he has cause for some complaint against the way he was portrayed because this reads like a pretty nasty dig. Whatever, whoever is responsible for such a weird slur is deeply inaccurate. I have been in Sheffield for five years and I have never come across anything that might reasonably be called ‘deconstructing’ our students’ faith, never mind the idea of being ‘bent on' the deconstruction of 'their students’ faith’. I know retired members of the Department who have been at Sheffield for many, many years and I would be amazed if they were ‘bent on' the deconstruction of 'their students’ faith’. In fact, members of staff at Sheffield, past and present, believing and non-believing, have a well-known and excellent relationship with former students, many of whom are evangelical and many of whom profess some kind of faith.

Students raise such questions of faith regularly and good for them – they discuss and debate these issues openly with one another. One of the striking things about the recent student reaction was that there was unity, from atheists and agnostics to conservative evangelicals and charismatics, united in defence of the academic study of the Bible. When I put the Witherington quotation to a group of students the reaction was one of incredulity and it was laughed off. I have many evangelical students and the issue of faith rarely comes up. Their work is judged on whether it is well-argued or not. It is not nice to see such an obvious inaccuracy/slur in print and I hope a fellow New Testament scholar is not responsible for such insultingly inaccurate sentiments. If Witherington did say such a thing then he clearly knows nothing about the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield.


Obviously things have been incredibly busy but it seems as if Geoff Hudson filled the vacuum...