Monday, September 25, 2006

Keller Belle and Sebastian

Thanks to lifetowardsgod I came across this blog and this post. The blog is written by the sons of Tim Keller, and the post is a short sermon he gave on 9/11, with some rather important people at the gathering.

Last night I was at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. TK was the preacher. I might post on the experience as a whole, but I'm not sure. Redeemer is something of a mega church, it is a city church, and one of its meeting places is an auditorium at Hunter College, NYC. What, with the Jazz style, the huge crowd, and the non-churchy location, this probably was church (singing, praying, preaching, offering), but not as I know it. It just felt different - more later, perhaps.

One thing struck me as I observed and pondered - this church is younger than I am, and it was born round about the time that I became a Christian. And many of the people at Redeemer last night probably knew nothing other than Redeemer Presbyterian Church as their model church. There's a thought - how culturally conditioned we are, even when it comes to the most important things in life.

Back at the Keller blog I noticed Belle and Sebastian on the music list. These guys are no strangers to itothehills. Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I flew to London on the same plane as B&S in June. It was funny because they were so un-rock and roll. I expected cigarettes and alcohol, but all I saw was tuna salad and mineral water. Each member of the band sat at a window seat, I hope they are still on speaking terms. Life on the road in the air must be tough at times.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Spot the Scot.

(Spotting three different Scottish individuals will get you full marks. If you look closely, you might also spot the Ruffled Dean.)

Young cool and sorted

Went to church this morning with my new sandals on, and no socks. The service was a joint celebration to mark the end of a year of events based on 250 years of 'Presbyterian Presence in Princeton'.

This afternoon, I'm off to New York again to visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Not sure about the sandals for this trip. Reading material on the train will be either Stout's book on the Civil War, or Ishiguro's latest novel, Never Let Me Go.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

International relations

A Scotsman and two men from Myanmar (M1 and M2) are walking home from a night out downtown Princeton.

The Scotsman asks M1, 'What hall are you in?'

M1 replies, 'I'm old, 37, 38.'

'No,' says the Scotsman, 'what hall are you in?'

'Ah,' says M1, 'Brown Hall.'

M2 joins the conversation: 'Are you hot or cold?'

M1 says, "What?'

M2 says again, 'Are you hot or cold? D asked if you were hot.'

These guys are not daft - they're just in a very different country, speaking a second or third language.

When in Myanmar one of them translates the Bible into one or two languages. He can tell you about the etymology of the word 'christ', and many other standard points of information that few Christians here really know or care about.

The other became the only Christian in his village when he decided to follow Jesus Christ. He had to leave the village. He'd never seen a wine bottle with a cork until this week.

And tonight both these men taught me some more about the meaning of life. Can any Christian really doubt that God works for good in all things?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ruff day

Yesterday I saw a man wearing a ruff - and, I don't think he was having a laugh. No, he was in earnest. It was the Opening Convocation for the 195th Academic Year at Princeton Theological Seminary...

All incoming students enjoyed a reception at the house of President Iain Torrance. We then tottered over to the steps of Miller Chapel for the Class photograph. Then it was dinner with the President and Faculty. Then the convocation service, where Professor Gordon Graham gave his inaugural lecture as the new Professor of Philosophy. Then a few of us went downtown to unwind.

It was a great day. The more people I meet here, the more I feel pretty out of my depth. You bump into former moderators of the Church of Scotland - but they are the least impressive of an illustrious community of Christian people. Numerous international students on my Th.M. course who are pastors, and who teach at seminaries. American nationals who are top notch scholars and professionals (e.g. one individual who received a distinction working at Cambridge with John Polkinghorne).

Daft thing is, I keep forgetting to carry my camera - so, sorry, but you'll have to make do with the animated ruff. (Seriously, one of the Deans was wearing a ruff round his neck...)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mostly coffee and donuts...

I've been in Princeton 12 days now. It doesn't feel as if I've really done very much at all. I've completed an orientation program, I've visited Witherspoon Presbyterian Church twice, I've played basketball, I've had lots and lots to eat and drink, I've wandered around downtown Princeton, I've read three and a half books, I've met more people than I can remember, and I'm about to start my first week proper. To be honest, I'm looking forward to the normality of a routine. Sometimes being new in a place can get tiresome.

But there is lots to look forward to, and lots to think about. Today, I attended a lecture about Princeton and the civil rights movement. Apparently the town is something of an enigma in this history. On the one hand, up until the mid-20th century it was regarded as a northern town with southern attitudes, or a southern town in the north. But it was one of the first towns to desegregate schools. Of course, revision of all this history is now questioning just how effective this desegregation has been - according to one woman in Witherspoon Church, a black woman who experienced this change, black children only became aware of segregation and racial inequality when they started attending mixed schools.

This week all Princeton students have the opportunity of unlimited free rail travel to New York. I'm planning 3 trips - one on Thursday, one on Saturday, and one on Sunday. The Sunday trip will be a visit to Redeemer Presbyterian Church - I'm choosing the early evening service - jazz style - nicee!

Tomorrow, I meet my advisor of studies - Dr James Moorhead - he's a specialist in 19thC American Church History - my kind of guy - grreat!

Princeton People

Samuel Miller lived here:

Charles Hodge built this house, and lived in it for over 50 years. I've read that Benjamin B Warfield lived in it too during his Professor years.

Einstein lived here:

Shedden lived here:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Barth for breakfast

Church Dogmatics IV.1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation - my major reading for a class on the doctrine of atonement with Bruce McCormack. T.F. Torrance wrote that CD IV 'surely constitutes the most powerful work on the doctrine of atoning reconcilation ever written.'

I'm really looking forward to it, and I'll try to relate this reading to current debates among evangelicals about the doctrine. I'll probably have to write a class paper, perhaps I'll post it some time next semester.

This post is dedicated to my friend, my student minister colleague and my mentor in all things Barthian - all one and the same person, Keith Edwin Graham.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The beginning

Took my first book from the library today. Shedd's Lectures upon the Philosophy of History, first published in 1856 I think, and based on lectures given by Shedd in winter 1853-4, as he taught church history at Andover Theological Seminary. The edition I'm about to read is dated 1861 - more interestingly, the volume was donated to the library by someone called President Paton... I'm guessing that this was Francis Patton, PTS president from 1902-1913.

I'll post a review and thoughts on this book at my Shed on Shedd blog in due course. It will be the foundation for my proposed dissertation on Shedd - I've ordered his Dogmatic Theology from - and I'll try and read most of his other major published writings, as well as lesser but no less interesting work, such as his contributions to the Confession debate in late 19thC Presbyterianism, and his Literary Essays. (Shedd taught literature before becoming a theologian - he edited an edition of the works of Coleridge.)

You can find my wish list here.

On the steps of Miller Chapel


One week can be a long time in politics. So far Shed in Princeton hasn't been the catalyst for any revolutions - apart from the revolution in his own life, perhaps.

I'm writing this from my top floor dorm room in Alexander Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary, on my brand new Toshiba Satellite Notebook. Ten days ago I was working on an old IBM desktop pc (Windows 98). I was in my little flat in Glasgow. Here I am today in the US, and finally in the 21st century with my laptop an' all. Part of me feels I've arrived - maybe it's just the jetlag still affecting my emotions.

It's going to be a great year. I've already started to make some good and interesting friends. I'm already fascinated by all things American. The huge 'Welcome to the United States of America' in the lobby at Newark Airport was matched by a huge advert for Accenture that used Tiger as an all American hero. Newark is the first airport I've been in where I had to pay for the use of a luggage trolley... but, New Jersey is the first place where I've seen baby changing facilities in male restrooms. One of those things must be progressive I guess.

For the last week I've been settling into Seminary life at PTS. About 25 international students are being oriented in all things necessary to survive 9 months here. I've been impressed by the care and thought that has gone into the program. We have been well looked after. For example, the canteen was closed over the weekend, so we each got $70 petty cash to spend on food (effectively, to cover only two meals, because we got breakfast boxes both days, and we were at two bbqs too.)

The seminary is pretty cool. The campus is smaller than I thought it would be. Opposite is me standing in the heart of it all, with Alexander Hall in the background. At the moment the place is pretty quiet, but it will get busier next week when all the normal students return to read Barth and stuff. I've already met some returning students, including my dorm deacons (Hudson and Jeff). These folks all seem fairly cool, young and sorted. I'm going to have to work real hard to fit in - but I'll try, even if I stop short of smoking a pipe. (Yes, that seems to be the cool seminarian thing to do!)

The place is just full of history. Perhaps I'm just too familiar with some of the figures of that history. But I get tingles when I read plaques with names like Hodge, Warfield, Green, Alexander, and Miller on them. I'm just not sure how many people here really understand or appreciate that legacy. Early days so far, but I've yet to meet anyone who really knows the work of these guys well.

Today is 9/11. In the last two days I've started to really notice stuff about the US. I had hoped to write about that in this first post, but I'll have to leave it until later. I'll leave you with my experience of church on Sunday morning. I heard a stirring sermon, critical of the powers that be, making mention of Iraq, Katrina, 9/11, lies, slavery. It was the first 'liberation' sermon I've heard where a really important question was asked, even if it was only in a passing comment: 'Who might God be against in our time?'

I think liberal and conservative preachers alike need to preach on this theme to recapture a prophetic spirit. 'Justice and peace' Christianity doesn't preach God's judgement on oppressive powerful people in our world. It tends to be hopelessly weak because it is tied to a universalism that guts its message of any relevance. All is ultimately pie in the sky for everyone, so why bother about today.

On the other side, conservatives are too concerned with saving a lost cause (the church in the West) to really speak the gospel message to a desperately needy world. If they gave up that cause they might find that people started to listen. After all, conservatives and liberals love to use the same prophetic texts - texts that speak of judgement, justice, hope, peace, and love. These texts speak about God too - I think most people have forgotten about him though - they certainly don't like to refer to 'him' - God is slowly becoming a concept rather than a named, personal being who feels, thinks, responds and acts because he cares. I will probably have to think again about the inclusive language debate, the gender question, and all those tiresome issues that strangle the spiritual life out of most of us in theological studies.

One conversation illustrated all this for me. After the service on Sunday morning, a man turned round to greet me. He asked if I knew anyone in Scotland with a peculiarly Scottish name (McEwan). This man himself was a McEwan. His family had come from a plantation in Tennessee, and the owner had been a McEwan, from Glasgow... The Scottish influence here Stateside is mixed, and it is still fermenting. I think I'm going to learn loads of stuff over the next 9 months, about history and theology, about the US and about other countries too, but mostly about myself. You have all been warned!

Friday, September 01, 2006


On September 6th I fly to Newark, NJ, to begin life as an international student at Princeton Theological Seminary. I am getting picked up at the airport by seminary people.

For the next few days I'll be preparing for this trip, packing stuff to take, and taking care of things that need to be sorted before I go.

My next blog post will be written in the USA! I expect the first week or so I'll be dizzy with excitement. You can look forward to some sensible posts from the middle of September onwards.