Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The year that has recently ended (2009) was the 500th anniversary of the accession to the English throne of King Henry VIII, he of the six wives, neatly tabulated in the schoolchild rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. I recommend to anyone Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall for her humanly observant account of Henry’s foibles. But for most of us, 2009 primarily celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, the Frenchman from Noyon who, especially through his ministry in Geneva, focused and articulated what became known as the Reformed tradition.
Our distinguished faculty member Elsie McKee is our resident Calvin expert. In celebration of the Calvin anniversary she translated the 1541 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This was a mammoth undertaking (735 pages), and it has been much praised for its accurate and felicitous translation. As part of the celebration of Calvin, during last summer Elsie McKee lectured in Beirut, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, as you will see in her article. With more than twenty-five speaking engagements, she both kindled new interest in Calvin and was herself encouraged by finding enthusiasm in unexpected places.
Cleo LaRue is one of the finest preachers I have ever heard. Last summer he returned to India to teach homiletics. Preaching, especially good preaching, is so tied to the nuances of a local culture and the moods of a congregation that it takes particular skill to teach it in a cross-cultural context. I truly admire that kind of endeavor, and I asked him what most excited him about his visit. He replied, “What most excited me about helping Indian students learn the basics of effective preaching was their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and their commitment to ministry under very difficult circumstance.”
Last October Dennis Olson, another of our most gifted and imaginative teachers, visited Beijing for the first time to speak at a conference on Sino-Christian studies. He told me that he spoke about the biblical grounds for cross-cultural engagement and for the translation of the Christian biblical tradition—the Tower of Babel, the Israelites plundering the Egyptians in Exodus—and the use of this tradition in the history of biblical interpretation as a warrant to adapt biblical themes and concepts in light of Greek philosophy and culture. He then brought this into conversation with Andrew Walls’s notion of the “translation principle” in Christianity and concluded with a few brief implications for the intercultural engagement of the deep and rich Chinese culture with a complex variety of forms of Christianity through a long history in China stretching back to the seventh century.
I am lifting up these three cases (and they are not atypical) because they show the creativity and imagination among our faculty as they translate our tradition into new contexts. Such translation is always two-way: they bring gifts and they in turn are enriched by the experience of those whom they teach. This effort of imagination is part of the energy behind our new library project, which is not at all passive (not just a new building), but active, because it is all about dynamic kinds of access and beginning new conversations. These are harsh times in the economy, yet I see energy and creativity all around me. As I write Ellen Charry is leading a large group of students studying in Jerusalem, we have a January short-term course on Islam taught by Dr. Amjad-Ali, and Kenda Creasy Dean is in New Orleans speaking at the Congress on Evangelism alongside William Paul Young, author of The Shack.
Lest anyone think that our interest is only overseas, please may I draw your attention to the article on the transformation and revitalization of continuing education, which is so committed to serving pastors and congregations in America. Under the leadership of Charles Kalmbach and guided by an advisory group of faculty, pastors, and laypeople, continuing education—still housed in the Erdman Center—will mark its new identity with a new name: the School of Christian Vocation and Mission. In response to research and conversations with alumni/ae, pastors, and laypeople, including many of you, Princeton Seminary is expanding its resources in supporting those in ministry as they take on new and changing roles as pastors and church leaders. Our goal is to support the many transitions and tasks in ministry with theological depth and accessible delivery systems that fit a changing church and world. Please read the article!
And of course we are all thinking of Haiti, and the many there who lost life and shelter and a sense of well-being in the devastating earthquake. Members of our own staff and community from Haiti were touched by the tragedy. We in the Seminary community join all of you in prayer for our neighbors there, and in offering them our tangible support and resources. Please read the moving essay in this issue by our alumnus Kent Annan, who has worked in Haiti for seven years.
Iain R. Torrance