JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 31, 2005 – During his first couple of weeks on sabbatical in Great Britain, George Guthrie didn’t particularly care for one component of British culture.
Guthrie was researching at the Tyndale House library in Cambridge. Everyday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., the research would stop and everyone in the library would gather – for coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.
“It bugged me, because I was just getting moving and we had to stop and be relational,” Guthrie said. “But then, that became so valuable. You found that it was also very productive time from the standpoint of what you learned from other people.”
Guthrie, the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University, returns to campus this semester after his sabbatical last spring. He said the experience refreshed him and gave him a renewed appreciation for research and ministry.
“It gave me an opportunity to get out of my cultural context and out of my normal patterns of responsibility and to think very clearly about where I am in my life and ministry,” Guthrie said. “Part of what came out of that was a clarity for me that I don’t need to keep being sucked further and further into administration. In fact, what I need to do is go the other direction.”
That’s why Guthrie decided to step down as chairman of Union’s Christian Studies department beginning this year so he could focus more intently on teaching and research.
Guthrie spent four months in Great Britain, mainly researching 2 Corinthians for an upcoming commentary he will write. The Tyndale House research library is affiliated with St. Edmund’s College of Cambridge University, and regularly hosts scholars from all over the world working on various research projects.
One time, Guthrie needed a 1973 dissertation from the University of Belfast. It was on the shelf right behind him. Later, he needed an obscure journal that he located only two aisles down from his station.
“It’s a unique place because it combines very high level biblical studies research with community,” Guthrie said.
Normally about 50-60 researchers were at the library during Guthrie’s stay – some seasoned scholars, others doctoral students in Great Britain.
“I got to be good friends with a number of Ph.D. students there,” he said. “So that was very, very fulfilling.”
The cultural experience alone made the visit worthwhile for the Guthrie family. Guthrie said his family had the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with people largely because of a slower pace of life.
“You pick up things in the British culture that are values,” he said. “The value of slowing down. The value of relationships. I guess tea time would be an example of that. You stop.”
Few people in Cambridge drive cars, so walking and bicycling are the primary means of transportation.
“We loved the walking and bicycle culture, because it slowed you down,” Guthrie said. “It made you take time to be with people.”
He also noticed the de-emphasis on personal appearance, unlike the culture in the United States. That was especially important to the Guthrie family, who could wear the same clothes over and over again.
“Because we were traveling, we had a very small wardrobe, and it just didn’t matter,” he said.
After spending his week poring over books in the library, Guthrie usually spent weekends with his family. They traveled around the country, visiting museums and other historical sites.
During one trip to Scotland, the family visited the town of Guthrie and Guthrie castle, which is where the Guthrie family started.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, they visited the site where James Guthrie was killed. James Guthrie was one of the Covenanters who, in the 1600s, signed Scotland’s national covenant protesting the king of England’s rule over the church. He became one of the first martyrs for the cause. He was hanged on the Cross of Edinburgh and was beheaded, with his head hung from the Netherbow Gate in the city.
“I was able, with my children, to go stand in the street where the Netherbow Gate was, and say, one person who we were related to distantly gave his life for the cause of Christ,” Guthrie said. “That was very, very cool.”
Overall, the trip was a life changing one for the Guthrie family. Although they were happy to return home, at the same time it was difficult for them to leave Cambridge. They plan to return during the summer months in 2008.
“I feel like I got a lot done, and yet it was a life experience that was so rich,” Guthrie said. “I think it was because it was the combination of the rigorous research, the community and the broader culture -- those three things.”