Saturday, January 10, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah - Introduction to the series
Yesterday I began posting thoughts on Stephen Cook's book Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah today I'll look at the part Stephen did NOT write ;)

In the "Introduction to the series" Frederick W. Schmidt seeks to unpack what a "distinctively Anglican approach to Scripture looks like.

First he seeks to understand how Scripture is Authoritative. Claiming that for Anglicans it is more like a city we inhabit, and within whose bounds we enjoy our creative space. That image is exciting, but probably (Anglican friends may correct me) not distinctively Anglican, though it may find expression better in Episcopalian tradition than in other less "broad" communities. He also tells of his reply to an Evangelical Free Church friend who wondered "why someone with such obvious interest in the Bible would be Anglican". The reply is a fine and rousing slogan, that presents a sharp critique to many Baptist churches (a friend and I were bemoaning last night how little of the Bible is read in most NZ Baptist churches of a Sunday). But: "Because we read the whole of Scripture and not just the parts that suit us." cannot be left unchallenged by this Baptist. It is true that the Anglican (Catholic, Methodist... name any church that uses a lectionary including many Baptist churches) habit of reading all (or at least to be more honest, 'most of' since certain "difficult" texts are censored from all lectionaries I have seen!) of the Bible from time to time. It is also true that the (ana)Baptist habit of favouring certain parts of the Bible - like the gospel accounts of Jesus teaching - also has strengths, and it is essential to recognise that all of the canon is not at the same level of "authority".

Schmidt's second category of an "Anglican" approach to Scripture, that it is illuminative is simply something that most Christians would agree on, and indeed insofar as "illuminative" means that Scripture demands a change in the life of the reader is one that early Baptists fought with Anglicans over. In my post (Ana)Baptist Hermeneutics I even claimed as a distinctively (ana)Baptist form of hermeneutics - under the title "Hermeneutics of Obedience", that I borrowed from Stuart Murray (from Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition 206 or see the summary by Stuart Murray-Williams).

His third, critical engagement also begs several questions, British Baptists are not without their own roll call of distinguished 19th and 20th century biblical scholars...

So, this "Introduction to the Series" is something of a curate's egg, the discussion of authority is stimulating, but some of claims seem unnecessarily chauvinistic. Perhaps rather than the parts, it is the whole that matters, it may be that it is the selection of just these characteristics that distinguishes Anglican approaches to Scripture... certainly I did not find equivalents for all of Murray's list:
  • The Bible as Self-interpreting
  • Christocentrism
  • The Two Testaments
  • Spirit and Word
  • Congregational Hermeneutics
  • Hermeneutics of Obedience
And equally neither Murray, nor I, placed "critical engagement" in the list at all, though I think "diversity" does appear as an inference from our "Congregational Hermeneutics" - which implies that different locations produce different local readings.

[The next post, which won't appear on Sunday - since I am preaching, will begin at last to read Stephen's own work, after all this preparation!]

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Monday, December 08, 2008
  East of West, and a Kitten not a Kerr
David's been taking lessons from Jim, his mega post The toppled ivory tower of Biblical studies and the rabble’s tower of babble that has risen in its place is full of Westian exaggeration and vituperation. "Rave on in the ruins of your ivory tower!" is about as gentle as it gets ;)
Dog and kitten by chadmiller
In the post he skewers the pretensions of the scholarly and calls for an engagement with the real world of Wikipedia and Study Bibles. The trouble is that the post nicely and neatly expands a false dichotomy. One must in Kerr's vision be either an ivory tower academic, or a Wikipedian Mega-pastor. West is little better, only the minimalist are blessed with all truth (however small that "all" may be) and anyone who lacks a fluent understanding of six ancient languages ought not dare discuss the Bible.

I am a kitten, not a Kerr. Without scholarship, where the careful and systematic study is lacking, all sorts of weird and wild ideas flourish (just look at the average American "Evangelical" website - or see the summaries offered by John Hobbins in The Poisoning of the Evangelical Mind: Antidotes or follow his links to the series of fundagelical posts by Michael Pahl). It may look as if we kittens are merely tangling balls of wool, but the tangling and untangling helps those who pay attention to avoid a worse tangling of the very ideas by which they live!
East - West by mollyali
I am east of West. For all his warmth, and erudition, Uncle Jim does exhibit a strangely un-Baptist elitism. If Zwingli stands with the proud, educated, rich and powerful, then I'll read my Bible in Babel with Thomas Muntzer and with that young cobbler the institution at which I teach is named after. As the Reformers pretty much all affirmed the Bible is "perspicuous" you do not need even a diploma, let alone a PhD toy understand what you need to know!

So - to David, I'll sound like Jim (scholarship is the governor which holds back our faith from the worst extremes of which it is capable) and to Jim, I'll sound like David (any biblical study which does not begin and end in the community of believers is vanity).

[Actually, I suspect that both my distant friends will agree with everything I've said above, except the bits that are rude about the other ;) But I do think it is really important, if dangerous and uncomfortable to stand firmly in the middle of this road!]
Photo by dlemieux

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008
  Baptists [caught in a] on the web
The redoubtable Jim West has linked in "Baptists on the Web" to an article on Ethics Daily "Oh What a Baptist Web We Weave". It is an interesting article, focusing on the American Southern US Baptist History and Heritage Society which might seem to suggest that across the globe Baptists only exist in the USA. I point him to the Baptist World Alliance where hundreds of non-US (and some American ;) Baptists communities celebrate their common alliegance to the historic denomination. Jim is usually (for an American) an internationalist, so I post this gentle reminder to keep him honest ;)


Monday, November 26, 2007
  Reading the Bible as a Baptist (I)
We debate at length when human life begins, key ethical decisions are impacted by our "take" on the question. The conflict over abortion in most Western societies is just one example. Yet in many ways the major milestone in the development of the humanity of a child is when we develop the ability to recognise the “other”. In a sense it is only to the extent that we can respond to others as "other", that we can be said to be behaving as human. As we begin our lives we learn to master our bodies, and we learn to relate to others. However, if and when we master the other we (as well as they) are diminished.

John in posts like "Emmanuel Lévinas: A Brief Introduction" and "Lévinas: A Mentor for the 21st Century" gave me the idea which is developing into my paper for this year's ANZABS (Aotearoa NZ Association for Biblical Studies) conference (3-4 Dec).

Lithuanian/French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas made "alterity" the core of his philosophy, the notion that we live, move and exist in relationship with another like me, as Gen 2 puts it "flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone", like me yet different. Of all our interactions those with “the other” have the most profound impact on us. For, "others" call on us in ways that things do not.

It struck me that otherness ("alterity") might make a useful organizing concept "towards reading the Bible as a Baptist in the 21st century" which is now, therefore, the sub-title of my paper. For Baptist approaches to reading the Bible, if they are to be distinctively "Baptist" need to take seriously the fact that reading is always a situated reading with, or against, "others".

So, my title is: "Alterity and biblical hermeneutics", and I plan to post some summaries of some of the ideas in the paper to this blog as I begin to work them out this week!

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Friday, May 18, 2007
  Why be "Baptist"?
Rhett (of the Rhetspect) has a post (Feeling Strangely Warmed) in which he comments:
People, I think usually just end up in denominations, and then often work backwards and try to justify (to themselves as much as anyone else) why they belong there.

Baptists, endearingly, seem to be quite honest about this. There is no major over-arching vision statement or document of beliefs. On most theological issues they give a pretty wide berth. As I have said before, it's a great ecumenical approach.

Having said that, I find the whole congregational governance thing a bit hard to stomach. It's just a bit reactionary for my tastes. But perhaps that's because I was once involved in a Baptist church where we voted on everything down to the copy machine budget.
So first, as a Baptist (not quite, but nearly, life-long) I'll be - I hope - endearingly honest about this, I am (still) a Baptist precisely because of the congregational and Christ-centeredness of Baptist life. The picture of "voting on everything" simply misunderstands. In an ideal church meeting (which does not exist, see Genesis 3) we would vote on nothing. The Church (the local gathered community of Jesus followers) would pray, discuss, argue, debate, and finally recognise, which way the Spirit is blowing and follow.

In the real world, we often often end up voting. That's because of contagious heteropraxis [If you don't understand see Rhett's Feeling Strangely Warned and substitute "praxis" (doing) for "doxy" believing.] what I mean is that we hear of congregations voting, and our society votes, we're democratic, so the church copies the world. When we do, we think of Church as "democratic" what a heresy! We should be pneumocratic, governed by the Spirit of Christ. And that's why Baptists should be Bible centered, because we know the mind of Christ through the Scriptures that witness to him.

So, Rhett (and anyone else ;-) if that's "reactionary" then I'm an old reactionary - boots and all!


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