2011 The NT and Contemporary Society

Session 1

Dorothee Bertschmann (Durham University)

What is the role of the New Testament in the world of politics?

In recent decades various Pauline scholars have proposed fresh readings of Paul, usually labelled “anti-imperial” that are anxious to point out the critical potential of Pauline theology over against a problematic history of the use of Pauline texts such as Romans 13:1-7 to support unjust political rulers.

Between a strictly historical approach to texts with a problematic history and hermeneutical approaches that are driven too much by contemporary anxieties, I propose a third way of reading Paul’s texts in the broader horizon of two proposals of contemporary political theologians. Conversing with the works of John Howard Yoder and Oliver O’Donovan has helped me to sharpen up the concepts of what is the political, what we mean by portraying the church as a political community and what might be variations of re-configuring political authority in the light of Christ’s Lordship.

My provisional conclusions are that Paul translates the Lordship of Christ primarily into ecclesiological categories. The church, the community under ultimate and final authority nevertheless affirms and needs worldly political authority. The link between the Lordship of Christ and the rulers of this world is at best implicit in the texts I observe (Romans 13:1-7 and Philippians 2 and 3) and at its worst non-existent. There is no free standing political Christology apart from ecclesiological reflections. Paul’s way of linking things leaves some awkward gaps for us but could also help us to unlearn familiar categories and explore new ones.

Session 2

Dr Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield)

Sporting Messiah: Christ Imagery in Male-targeted Sports Advertising

Christ-imagery is now ubiquitous in male-targeted advertising, from Wayne Rooney’s infamous Nike ad and David Beckham’s notorious front cover for GQ magazine, to Sony’s ‘CHRIST’ PlayStation ad depicting a dead Jesus with stigmata in the shape of the console’s controls. While scholars of popular culture have touched on the study of celebrities using messianic imagery as part of their promotional arsenal (for example Carlton Brick’s 2006 conference paper on the ‘meaning’ of David Beckham in popular culture, ‘Father, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me? Postmodernism, Desire and Dissatisfaction. A Case Study of David Beckham’s ‘meaning’’), analysis of Christ-imagery in advertising remains an almost entirely neglected area of research. This paper will read a number of advertising samples, focusing mainly on sports advertisements, to investigate the popularity of Christ-imagery in male-targeted advertisements: what messages about masculinity, race, nationalism and patriotism are encoded in these images?

Session 3

Reverend Dr Alan Le Grys (University of Kent)

The New Testament in Popular Culture

Recent empirical research confirms the general perception that awareness of the Christian scriptures is fading fast in the collective memory of secularised British society. It is true that a narrow canon of images such as the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son linger on in various forms of popular culture, but this paper will argue that one of the main reasons is that these half-remembered fragments reinforce a perception that Christianity is mostly about morality. Thus, memories of the NT survive only where they are thought to endorse values which are currently accepted on other grounds (love, freedom, acceptance, etc) whereas other parts of the canon are quietly forgotten. Paradoxically, all this is happening at a time when sociological studies increasingly point to rising levels of interest in spirituality, particularly forms of holistic bricolage which cohere with the ‘postmodern mood’ of personal autonomy and pragmatic choice. This suggests that the spirituality of the canon must be rediscovered if the NT is to continue to have any chance of being heard in public and academic discourse outside the Church. New Testament Studies must break free from the stranglehold of a limited moral paradigm to promote more creative ways of re-engaging the public imagination.