Coming Your Way Soon: Essays on Baptist Hermeneutics

Today I receieved the proofs of my contribution to a volume of essays entitled The 'Plainly Revealed' Word of God: Baptist Hermeneutics in Theory and Practice. The link to Amazon for those who want to preorder is here. The blurb for the book is as follows:

From their earliest decades, Baptists have been proud to declare their reliance on scripture. The 1644 Particular Baptist London Confession affirmed that ‘[i]n this written Word God hath plainly revealed whatsoever he hath thought needful for us to know, beleeve and acknowledge, touching the Nature and Office of Christ.’  This commitment to ‘plain reading’ of scripture became the dominant characteristic of Baptist hermeneutics in the centuries that followed, with successive generations seeking to appropriate the ‘plain’ meaning of the text for their own context. Baptists have therefore found themselves drawn back to scriptural texts rather than ecclesiastical interpretative traditions in order to adjudicate their hermeneutical debates. However, they have resisted the adoption of systematic statements which would control the outworking of this hermeneutical approach. This absence of normative Baptist hermeneutical statements has created a vacuum which might otherwise be occupied by overt discussion on the theory and practice of Baptist hermeneutics.

With this in mind, in January 2009, a international group of Baptist theologians met in Cardiff, UK, for a colloquium to explore the theory and practice of Baptist hermeneutics. Drawing primarily from the British Baptist community, the group’s work was enhanced by insights from participants from the USA and Eastern Europe. Participants brought a diversity of scholarly and pastoral interests to the colloquium, and through presentation and discussion explored together the nature of Baptist hermeneutics. The resulting volume addresses five core thematic areas. The first section surveys the way in which Baptists have engaged with the Bible both in their early history and more recent past. Section two analyses some specific examples of Baptist hermeneutics in practice, while the third section turns attention to an exploration of theoretical approaches to the hermeneutical task in Baptist contexts. The problem of how to negotiate interpretative difference within Baptist reading communities is addressed in the fourth section. Finally, concluding responses to the project from two non-Baptist theologians challenge both contributors and readers to consider the wider implications of the volume for contemporary Baptist life.

My own chapter is entitled 'Persuading Friends: Friendship and Testimony in Baptist Interpretative Communities'. Here is the conclusion:

In sum, the church’s existence depends on the covenantal action of God who calls this  community into existence and whose love sustains the covenantal relationships within the community. To speak this way of the church is to speak of it as a community of friends and thus as a place where diversity, disagreement, and even conflict are inevitable, but not ultimately destructive. Scripture’s authority within this community is established by virtue of its role within God’s covenant-making relationship with us. Thus, our diversity, disagreement, and even conflict over the meaning of scripture are inevitable, but not ultimately destructive. Although the church is often tempted to seek definitive adjudication of competing interpretations, this is a temptation that ought to be resisted. Although the conflict of interpretations can be avoided by an appeal to the all-pervading importance of good relationships, the inevitable downplaying of the need for the church to search the scriptures is too high a price to pay.

When we read, interpret, talk, and argue about what the Bible means, we are actually engaging in the process of conversation and argument that should, when rightly understood, hold the church together. For as long as we are responding to these texts, we are responding to the God who speaks through them. There is always the need for vigilance, lest scripture is elevated or demoted to a place that distorts its overall role within the divine economy. But as we read in the community of friends, we do well to heed the imperatives to “be attentive, be intelligent, be responsible, be loving, and, if necessary, change."