The History and Ethos of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar

A Brief History

The first of The Scripture and Hermeneutics consultations took place in Cheltenham in April 1998. The theme for this meeting was the crisis in biblical interpretation and the sort of answers to it being proposed by advocates of speech act theory such as Anthony Thiselton, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Kevin Vanhoozer, all of whom were present. We were not agreed at this consultation whether speech act theory has the resources to take biblical interpretation forward, but it became clear that any attempt to renew biblical interpretation in the academy would require a process with multiple consultations to address the key areas we thought required attention.

Thus was born The Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, a project based in Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Gloucestershire, where it was headed up by Craig Bartholomew. Our second consultation was held in September 1999 at Selwyn College, Cambridge, at which we were privileged to have Prof. Brevard Childs and Prof. Walter Brueggemann present. The theme of that consultation was the crisis in biblical interpretation. Not all of us were agreed that there was a crisis but we all agreed that a renewal of biblical interpretation was urgent, hence the title of the first volume, Renewing Biblical Interpretation.

From 1998 – 2008 the Seminar was a partnership project between British and Foreign Bible Society and The University of Gloucestershire. Later in the process Baylor University and Redeemer University College joined in the venture as partners. In its first phase the Seminar identified eight topics that required attention and each year for eight years it organized an international, interdisciplinary seminar somewhere in the world to address one of these key issues. A volume in the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series (Paternoster and Zondervan) emerging from each consultation was published each year (volumes). The final volume in the Series, The Bible and the University, was published in 2007.

The Seminar has now entered a new phase in its life, with a new committee chaired by Dr. Ryan O’Dowd and as part of The Paideia Centre for Public Theology. It would not have been possible to develop the Seminar without the generous support of British and Foreign Bible Society and we are delighted that British and Foreign Bible Society remains a partner of the Seminar.

The Aim and Ethos of the Seminar

The ambitious aim of the Seminar remains to work with like-minded scholars to facilitate a renewal of biblical interpretation in the academy that will help reopen the Book for our cultures. To fulfill this aim the Seminar has carefully cultivated the following ethos:

1. The Seminar is unashamedly academic.

The Seminar recognizes the fundamental importance of opening the Book at all levels in our cultures but the Seminar itself is an academic initiative, aimed firstly at biblical interpretation in the academy.

2. The Seminar is secondly, interdisciplinary.

Meir Sternberg rightly notes that biblical studies is at the intersection of the humanities, and the Seminar is based on the understanding that at this intersection interdisciplinary insight is required if biblical studies is to be saved from some of its isolation and fragmentation, and for new ways forward to be forged. It has been a delight at our consultations to find philosophers rubbing shoulders with educationalists and theologians, and missiologists working with literary scholars to renew biblical interpretation.

3. The Seminar is thirdly, Christian.

Modernity has marginalized faith in the great public areas of culture but this is a travesty of a Christian perspective in which faith relates to the whole of life. The one rule of the Seminar has been that we are not free to keep our faith out of our reflections; on the contrary we want out faith to be at the heart of our work as biblical scholars.

4. The Seminar is fourthly, ecumenical.

A wide range of Christian perspectives are represented within the Seminar. As the Seminar has developed the growing Catholic participation, for example, has been deeply enriching.

5. The Seminar is communal.

The modern academy is deeply individualistic. But we recognise that a renewal of biblical interpretation will require communal work. And a great aspect of the Seminar is the emerging sense of community amongst Christian scholars of diverse disciplines.