Final preparations are under way for the forthcoming colloquium on Baptist hermeneutics, which Helen Dare and I are organising for mid-January. There are some exciting abstracts coming in, which are being posted on the colloquium website here.
My own abstract is:
The Dissenting Voice: Journeying together towards a Baptist hermeneutic
On the subject of scriptural interpretation, the Baptist Union of Great Britain Declaration of Principle states ‘that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret…’ However, when the (Baptist) Dissenting community read scripture, the question inevitably arises of what to do with the dissenting voice? Or, to put it another way, how are interpretative differences to be handled? The community-based model of interpretative authority developed by Stanley Fish finds many resonances with the Baptist approach to scriptural interpretation, and this paper explores ways in which Fish’s approach can inform the development of a Baptist hermeneutic. Central to this task is the mechanism by which ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ readings are evaluated, and the role which communication plays in the emergence of an authoritative voice.
However, Fish’s approach poses a fundamental theological question regarding the authority of scripture: If the responsibility for interpretation rests solely with the reader and the reading community, in what sense is the ‘word of God’ to be considered authoritative? In answer, Karl Barth’s understanding of ‘the witness of the Holy Spirit’ in the community of readers is explored. By this account, the practice of community interpretation becomes, not an interpretative free-for-all, but an exercise in holy listening, with the possibility emerging of the voice of dissension being heard as the voice of the Spirit, speaking to the community from beyond its boundary. In this way the Baptist Dissenting voice is one which is inevitably and gloriously defined by interpretative diversity, as the Word of God speaks afresh to each new situation.
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