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'Places of greater understanding': Theology professor's prestigious grant will lead to ecumenical scriptural study

Rev. H. Ashley Hall, PhDA prestigious international grant will allow a Creighton University theologian to continue research on Lutheran and ecumenical approaches to scripture.

Last month, the Rev. H. Ashley Hall, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences was named the recipient of a DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst/German Academic Exchange Service) grant, affording him the opportunity to travel to the cradle of the Reformation in Wittenberg, Germany, to further a project he began on Scripture and tradition while a visiting fellow of the Divinity Faculty at Cambridge University in England last summer.

“It’s a great honor,” said Hall, who, in earning the grant, joins such past DAAD recipients as novelists Jeffrey Eugenides and Margaret Atwood, film director Jim Jarmusch, and physicist and Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle. “There are many talented people who have applied and studied with this grant. It’s a signal that the potential for this work extends beyond just how excited I am about it. There’s an affirmation there that someone else is looking at the work you’re doing and thinking it’s worthwhile.”

The question Hall is examining through his research is on the authority of scripture from the 16th century Reformation to the 18th century Enlightenment. Reformer Martin Luther’s statement on “scripture alone” as a governing principle in faith, Hall said, is often misunderstood by both Protestants and Roman Catholics.

“It really is a pressing ecumenical concern,” said Hall, who is also an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “As academic theologians, we can have the kinds of conversations about taking the Bible seriously and not adopting those parts of the Bible that are out-of-date. We, the Church, have to talk about how we preach the gospel and how we rid ourselves of that divide between faith and fact. There’s a kind of fear among many people who read the Bible that, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t study those things because what might it make me think?’”

Hall will ultimately write a book on scripture, but he also hopes to widen and deepen a conversation, especially between the branches of the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches in Germany, the U.S., and further afield.

Forming a panel of academic theologians to discuss the issue is high on Hall’s list, and he’s already identified several candidates who would bring crucial perspectives to the fore.

“We have a number of ecumenical statements on a number of subjects,” Hall said. “But there is no ecumenical conversation on the centrality of scripture. We obviously understand it in different ways, but we haven’t dug into those difference or those similarities. To put together some historians and systematic theologians — working on this for a couple of years — that could lead us to some places of greater understanding. We would at least start a conversation.”

While Lutherans and Roman Catholics have made joint statements on doctrine before, Hall said this initial conversation would not result in anything official. “At least not for 20, maybe 30 years,” he said. “But that’s what the dream would be.”

During the grant period, Hall will be housed in the ELCA Wittenberg Center in Wittenberg, Germany, and will make trips to mine the archives and meet with theology faculty at some of Germany’s most notable universities, including those at Heidelberg, Tubingen and Leipzig.

“It’s not that we have all the answers,” Hall said. “We certainly don’t. But as academics and also as people of faith, we want to ask how we can help the Church to talk about these things and find the commonality and the differences while looking at the historical, biblical core of our faith.”


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