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- Page 5

  • Balancing Acts

    I have just had the luxury of almost two days self indulgent study time, and am anticipating a weekend 'almost off' with great delight.  It has been - is being - good, I needed it.  Hopefully I'll be less grumpy and more positive as a result; hopefully I'll have enough energy to last in the whirlwind of events between now and 27th December when I next get a break.

    At the same time, I have been following the adventures of folk at BU Council as they wrestle with tough questions around a Baptist apology for our participation in the slave trade.  It has (thankfully) been agreed, and the tarted up version will be published shortly.  One of those who was involved in the meetings rightly commented on the difference between formulating some words and living differently, between reacting to expressed pain and being proactive in addressing injustice.

    So here's the balancing act - between the seemingly self-indulgent and the blatantly obvious self-giving.  I think my justification - to myself, cos no one else is going to ask for it this side of eternity - is that actually my research is ultimately linked to this kind of balancing act.  What is it that we can learn from reflecting on Baptist involvement in slavery that can inform our practice now and secure a more hopeful, more Gospel, future for others?  How can we employ the lessons from our past?  How can we read or write the story so that it is useful?  What can we learn for today and tomorrow from yesterday and today?

    I'm glad that the people entrusted with the work of BU Council worked so diligently on this issue, and I hope that they get some R&R after their labours.  I certainly hope that we in local churches can find ways of making it meaningful at grass roots level.  I am glad, too, that I have had some space for refreshment.

    It is easy, too easy, to feel bad about the things we don't do, the causes that we fail to get behind - and even the research work that never quite happens - but for now I'm going to stop stressing and enjoy the relative calm of this week!

  • 'Seeing the Word' Markus Bockmeuhl - Reflections

    Here is someone whose name is less spellable/pronounceable than mine.  Having read this book in just over a day (and having already posted a few thoughts) it seemed good to wrap up with an overview of this book.

    It is a good read - the style is accessible, in places laugh out loud funny (or I've got a warped sense of humour, or both) and ideas adequately provocative and inspiring.  For anyone who is interested in Biblical studies, and especially the more literary approaches, it is probably a must.  For those of us who preach it is well worth reading.

    I found myself postulating who the implied reader of this book might be - and/or who is the target audience - and for that matter, how these two correlate...

    It seems to me that the five theses he derived for the New Testament probably also hold - at least to an extent - here

    • A stakeholder - someone who is involved in Biblical studies, or maybe in preaching, someone for whom this whole field is important and who may well be employed within it.
    • A convert to the gospel - I am taking this as he uses, i.e. what most commonly is termed a Christian.  Whilst Bockmuehl acknowledges and affirms other faith and non-faith insights, a committment to the Bible (and specifically the NT) within a thoroughgoing Christain faith shines through.  Whilst people of other stances will undoubtedly read this book, there is an implication that the Christian story will make spiritual sense to the reader.  Alternatively, and less faith-specific, the person will be committed to the worth of Biblical studies as an academic field within theology.
    • A person who sees the NT as authoritative - yes, see above; even if they don't share an overtly Christian faith, they clearly see that this book is at least worth studying and probably has some 'timeless ethical truths' within it. 
    • Someone in a faith community, reading within that community.  Less easy to support, except by the previous two answers.  How about 'someone in a Biblical studies research community, reading and working within that'?  The yes, definitely - as seen from some of the references to scholars and the smattering of NT Greek.
    • Someone inspired by the Holy Spirit who expects the NT to speak - I think that comes through loud and clear in the essays that form the second part of the book.  More generally, in academic/professional circles, someone who will expect to gain from reading this book.

    I think that the ease with which I can find evidence to support these theses is where I see both their strengths and weaknesses.  As he expresses them - explicitly in a faith context - they apply to the Bible or NT.  A little bit of stretching is needed to apply them to his book, yet with a small amount of redefinition, an equivalent set can be identified applicable to academic texts, as hinted both above and yesterday in relation to Baptiast history.  There is something quite ingenious in identfiying something that when you read it seems suddenly absolutely obvious!

    The book would be useful for preachers, partly because the author offers some skillful and fascinating examples of careful reading of well known texts, but also because he offers ways of approaching the Bible which combine academic rigour with honest spiritual seeking - in my limited experiecce a lot of stuff is 'either/or.'

    Reading this book has been helpful for my research, but has spoken beyond it - and that I think is the wonder of good practical theology.  God can speak through theology text books as well as through beautiful scenery or profoud liturgy; theory and practice feed each other and boundaries can become helpfully blurred at times.  I'm sure that there is plenty in this book that could be challenged or critiqued, but in my view it was money well spent.

  • Hmm!

    An email from one of my deacons asking if I thought it would be a good idea if he started a workplace fellowship group led me to check out the website for Christians at Work, to which the fellowships at my various former employers were affiliated.  What struck me scanning through the list of affiliated groups was how many of them are in 'controversial' industiries - defence, pharamceutical, chemical, nuclear, and coffee...  I wondered (a) why and (b) how this should affect our thinking and praying about these complex issues...  Hmm...

  • Five Theses on Implied Readers

    *** warning - research post - normal readers beware ***

    Markus Bockmuehl in Seeing the Word (see earlier post for details) offer fives theses on the implied reader of the New Testament, which I have reduced down to a few phrases (so there's a level of interpretation here)

    The implied reader is:

    1. a stakeholder
    2. a convert to the gospel
    3. a person who sees NT as authoritative
    4. a person who is part of a faith community and reads within that community
    5. a person inpsired by the Holy Spirit who expects the NT to speak

    From this I have postulated an equivalent five that might perhaps apply to the reading of Baptist history

    The implied reader is

    1. a stakeholder
    2. a committed Baptist - or at least committed to understanding Baptist ways
    3. a person who is looking for some sort of authoritative information
    4. a person who will probably be part of a Baptist community, but who will probably read in splendid isolation
    5. a person for whom this information is somehow relevant

    I'm not entirely sure that the 'essence' of these are necessarily all that helpful - though I need to think about it more.  Anyone reading any non-fiction or text book presumably hopes it will give reliable information and be relevant insome way.  The reader will in some sense have a committment to the ideas or ideals contained.

    This is not do belittle or diminish what I've read, on the contrary, it is only in seeing it written down that I became aware of these factors - yet another 'duh, I'm so fikk' moment (or an 'aha! now I get it moment', to be more positive).  I think these five themes can be useful questions as I seek to 'paint' my implied reader - how is this person a stakeholder?  what kind of authority might this person assign this information?  And so on.

    Alas, when I think of real readers of much Baptist history - and even of the Bible - the gap between implication and actualisation can seem enormous.

  • Rootlessness and Amnesia

    Today I am luxuriating in reading.  It is a quiet week so far in Dibley, which is as well as the last one was utterly crazy.

    In Markus Bockmuehl's Seeing the Word: Refocussing New Testament Study, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic 2006 I found this great quotation on page 37:

    It is consdiered an embarrassment if a dissertation fails to engage with a relevant work published eighteen moths ago.  The entire nineteenth century, however, can be disregarded with impunity.  Scholars merrily copy from each other's cliched prejudices... It is still a distressingly small number... who bother to crack open the apposite volumes... or indeed who show any first-hand awareness of the two thousand years of Christian biblical interpretation.  By the late twentieth century, the Neutestamentler's cappucino has too frequently become all forth and no coffee.  What further encourages this trend is that the road to primary socurces has become so thoroughly covered with slippery hypotheses that few aspriring PhD students any longer fell safe to walk on it.


    This made me smile and nod.  One of my ongoing fears is that I'll miss something published recently that does what I am trying to do.  More positively, I now find someone saying what I've felt for ages, that an awful lot of stuff is built on secondary (tertiary and beyond) sources.  Be it Spurgeon, Aquinas, Tillich, Tertullian, Wesley or whoever, most of what we think we know is often someones' interpretation of someone's quotation taken out of context.  As for 'old is irrelevent' well that;s exactly what I'm trying to counter...  And of course, as a latte drinker, I make sure that the coffee get well mixed with the milk!

    I am enjoying this book - it is written in an engaging conversational style yet with great academic rigour (envy, spit), it is challenging yet not, at least so far, aggressive.  I guess it is really a book for people who have some clue about Biblical studies but the opening chapter, a reflection on Simon Marmion's Saint Luke Painting the Virgin Mary is worth reading inits own right - and may form a starter for ten for an act of worship at some point.