Wednesday, January 24, 2007
  (Ana)Baptist Hermeneutics
I've just finished marking a research essay concerned with "Anabaptist Hermeneutics", with Elaine I'm busy putting the finishing touches to the course outline for "Biblical texts and contexts", tomorrow we have another supervision meeting with an excellent PhD candidate (Nasili Vakauta, whose theme is "Reading the Bible Tu'a-wise: Oceanic Hermeneutics and Biblical Interpretation" - tu'a are Tongan commoners) and I am about to start reading semi-final drafts of Karen's master's thesis (her topic is the usefulness of various recent synchronic approaches to biblical studies for creating Church curriculum). So, hermeneutics is in the air round here...

My context, teaching in both Carey (a Baptist theological college) and the University of Auckland (in a School of Theology very committed to various forms of contextual reading - not least forms of liberational readings that of use varieties of hermeneutic suspicion), leaves me pondering two issues:
  1. Can Evangelical biblical scholarship and what (to distinguish it, yet not use evaluative language) I'll call Western Academic biblical scholarship talk to each other?
  2. Can a Baptist hermeneutic survive in the academy?
The first question arises, for me, from the increasing lack of significant overlap between the books and articles on my Carey and University bibliographies. The books tend in both places to come from a limited and select range of publishers. Despite some publishers, like Eerdmans, appearing strongly on both lists the Carey lists tend towards Baker Academic, IVP and Zondervan, while the University lists tend more to Fortress Press, Liturgical Press, OUP and the like. Journals obscure this gulf, but it is noticeable that I tend to choose different articles in the two contexts.

Both lists reflect my interests, combined they would reflect the much of the breadth of contemporary biblical studies. Separated they each represent communities that are unwilling, or unable, to converse. Something like this experience is reflected (unless I have badly misunderstood) in posts in the biblioblogsphere often responding to Jacques Berlinerblau's Chronicle of Higher Education piece "What's Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature?" (subscription required). These included:

Wow, something touched a nerve!

So, how does Baptist Hermeneutics, assuming there might actually be such an animal (you know the joke "four Baptists = seven opinions"), relate to all this?

There are some common threads and tendencies that run through recognisably "Baptist" interpretation of the Bible. (By 'recognisably "Baptist"' I mean acts of interpretation not merely by Baptist interpreters, but that have some character or style that makes them seem more "Baptist" than others - I know a vague, arbitrary and subjective criterion, but you do better!) Something like Stuart Murray's (from Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition 206 or see the summary by Stuart Murray-Williams) list seems about right:
Taken together these items produce a hermeneutic which privileges the gospels, reads the Old Testament in the light of its "fulfillment" in Christ (which to me means the way Jesus fills out or completes) and understands any part of the Bible in the light of the whole. Such reading is constrained also in two ways that academic reading is not.
Such reading is therefore deeply at odds with the Western Academic tradition, which is individualistic and "proud". (By "proud" I mean the opposite of "humble", a humble reading respects the text, seeks to follow and to learn from the text, but will not judge or evaluate. Western Academic reading is most un-proud in the sense that it expects robust peer review and argument, but it is often proud with respect to the biblical text.)

Does this mean that such an (Ana)Baptist reading cannot survive in the academy, but only in the church? (Wait for the next installment of these musings...)

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