The New Testament and Christian Theology 2021 Programme

Chairs: Erin Heim and Jamie Davies

Session 1

Jonathan Rowlands, St Mellitus College, ‘Reuniting Past and Present: Coakley and Sonderegger on Prayer and Scripture’

Within biblical studies lies a concern regarding the ‘historical distance’ between its subject matter (the biblical texts and their historical context) and its participants (biblical scholars themselves). By this I mean a concern that the ontological distance between past and present results in an epistemological barrier; that the past is so other and distant from the context within which it is studied that it becomes fundamentally unknowable to scholars in the present. In this paper I claim a fuller understanding of the nature of prayer, informed by the recent works of Sarah Coakley and Katherine Sonderegger, overcomes this distance. I suggest prayer is best understood as participation in the inner life of God (so Coakley) and, therefore, as genuine communication with this self-same God (so Sonderegger). Understood as participatory communication between temporal and atemporal, between finite and infinite, prayer offers a genuine (albeit imperfect) means of bridging the distance between ourselves and the biblical texts. As such, this paper culminates in an argument for the centrality of prayer in theologically interpreting scripture.

Alison Walker, Trinity College, Bristol, ‘”All who believed were together and had all things in common”: The Use of Scripture in the Theology of Willie James Jennings’

Willie James Jennings is widely recognised as a leading scholar in theology. His first book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, published in 2010, provides a theological account of the problem of race. In 2017 Jennings’ published a commentary on Acts, and he regularly engages New Testament texts through out his publications. This can be seen in his endeavour to articulate the nature of the collective life of Christians. This is achieved through engagement with passages from the Gospel’s of Mark and Matthew. Furthermore, he continues his argument by drawing heavily on Acts 2:44 to establish “the common” as the goal of Christian life, where those who would be separated due to socio-economic divisions are bound together. This paper will analyse Jennings’ method in respect to Scripture, which I will elucidate through engagement with John Webster who employs the language of sanctification in his Doctrine of Scripture. Having established Jennings’ method, I will address his use of the aforementioned New Testament texts to articulate his hope for Christian collective life.

Justin M. Hagerman, King’s College, London, ‘Scripture and Habits of Interpretation: A Model of Practical Reasoning’

In his 1998 Engaging Scripture, Stephen Fowl brings into relief how the interpretation of Scripture may shape interpretative habits. At the same time, Fowl is attentive to the ways in which these same habits may then influence one’s interpretation of Scripture. In view of this dialectical relationship between Scripture and its interpreters, Fowl emphasises the use of practical reasoning (phronēsis), which aims to appreciate not only the content of Scripture, but also the questions that interpreters bring to a selected passage. This paper attempts to contribute to scholarly discussion concerning the doctrine of Scripture by arguing that an interpretative model of phronēsis emerges from the content of Scripture itself. We will first provide a critical definition of phronēsis in dialogue with Aristotle and Elizabeth Anscombe. Then, we will analyse how Scripture portrays knowledge and love, two habits that contribute to an effective use of phronēsis in the interpretation of Scripture.

Session 2: Inaugural Lecture of the New Testament and Christian Theology Seminar

Katherine Sonderegger, Virginia Theological Seminary, ‘The New Testament and the Doctrine of Scripture’

Abstract TBC

Grant Macaskill, University of Aberdeen, respondent

Jennifer Strawbridge, University of Oxford, respondent

Session 3

Philip Ziegler, University of Aberdeen, ‘The Doctrine of Scripture and/as Sachkritik’

The historic Protestant wager that Christian faith and theology are established and governed sola scriptura sui ipsius interpres—by ‘scripture alone as it interprets itself’—trades upon a dogmatic account of scripture that authorises and demands the practice of a specific form of Sachkritik. If what Paul called ‘the gospel of God’ (1 Thes: 2:2; Rom 1:1) is  the material centre [Sache] of the New Testament witness, then it must serve as the discrimen of a Christian construal and reading of the Scriptures as a whole. The creaturely service and disservice of biblical texts qua Scripture will then be appreciated with primary reference to their constitutive relation to this material centre. This view, I suggest, (1) makes sustained argument concerning the Sache of the biblical witness the proper and primary business of a Christian doctrine of Scripture, and (2) funds critical questions concerning approaches to the ‘theological exegesis of Scripture’ determined by more formal or ecclesiastical commitments to a ‘canonical principle’ or the valorisation of ‘pre-modern hermeneutics’.

Matthew Novenson, University of Edinburgh, ‘How to Name a Testament’

As Brevard Childs, in particular, emphasised, the existence of a two-Testament Christian Bible is prima facie obvious and simple but, upon reflection, theologically vexing. Recent discussion (especially, for the purposes of this paper: Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Notger Slenczka, Hal Taussig, Andy Stanley, and Laura Nasrallah, with some backward glances to Schleiermacher and Harnack) has seen a cluster of problems around the choice of names for the two corpora traditionally called the Old and New Testaments. This paper discusses the various arguments for and against the labels old, new, Jewish, Christian, scripture, testament, and more. It is argued that the very ancient terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” certain liabilities notwithstanding, are better than any of the recent alternatives on offer. 

Erin Heim, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, respondent