Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Mosquitoes coughing" and why Krister Stendahl loves the Bible

What is this about mosquitoes coughing? Krister Stendahl says that's what apologetics is.

I love that.

I'm going to make some enemies by saying this, or at least some will disagree with me (my old classmate Fred, for one) or think I am a theological lightweight, but let me tell you, I have never liked apologetics as a theological discipline or as a task and I'm not going to start now, and I am tickled that the least lightweight of them all, my beloved mentor, has given me something to quote, and with help from a Swedish saying, no less.

Apologetics, defending the Bible—defending God, for that matter—is a rather arrogant activity. Who is defending whom? I love to use the old Swedish expression, "It is pathetic to hear mosquitoes cough." I don't know why that is funny, but in Swedish it is funny. And apologetics is mosquitoes coughing. It kills so much of the joy in reading and practicing the love of the scriptures.

The quote is from an essay by Krister Stendahl I found on Deirdre Good's blog, which I recently discovered. (D. Good, for those of you who don't know, is a New Testament scholar who teaches at the General Theological Seminary in NYC. Old acquaintance from years ago.)

You have to remember, when you are reading this, that Stendahl is in his eighties, looking at the end of his life, an eminent scholar of the New Testament, an early supporter of the ordination of women (including through his 1958 The Bible and the Role of Women), former dean of Harvard Divinity School, Emeritus Bishop of Stockholm (Church of Sweden), leader in Jewish-Christian relations,* ecumenical and interreligious pioneer, theorist, and practitioner, and husband of scholar and writer Brita Stendahl.

* which makes his use of the expression "Pharisaism" in the essay a bit odd, but if you know him you know there is probably some irony in his use of it. The published text of the essay is very close to the spoken delivery -- this was a talk he gave several years before the publication.

Krister Stendahl is also one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

His essay on his relationship to the Bible is well worth reading -- slowly and carefully.

You Anglicans out there may also be interested in the fact that he was a co-consecrator of Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson. (The Church of Sweden is in full communion with the Episcopal Church.)


Deirdre said...

How wonderful to find you blogging :)
Happy Easter to you,

Jane R said...

And to you! And thanks for your fine blog -- great new resource for me (and for many others I'm sure).