Wednesday, August 17, 2011

feeling toward a theology of senses

I’ll be in Auckland for the next few days and into the weekend. Firstly, catching up with friends – Tony, Jan, Callum, Joseph, Paul, Fred, Paul, Mark, former colleagues at Carey Baptist and Laidlaw College.

Second, doing more emerging church research (see here for more detail).

Thirdly, to present a paper as part of a Colloquium on Theological Interpretation, at Laidlaw College. It features Joel Green and Murray Rae as keynote speakers and respondents, along with other scholars from around the Pacific Rim. Together we will be exploring the theory and practice of the theological interpretation of Scripture.

I’ve been working on the paper for the last few weeks.

Feeling for a theology: an exploration of the place of “sense-gesis” in theological reading

But the more I’ve written, the more I’ve become aware I’ve actually been working on it for 4 years, if not all my ministry. More later, but for those interested, here was my initial abstract. Matthew Elliott argues that the “theologies of the New Testament … do not do a good job in incorporating emotion into their framework” (Faithful Feelings. Emotion in the New Testament, IVP, 2005, 256). Walter Wink is more abrupt, arguing that historical Biblical criticism is bankrupt, incapable of interpreting the Scriptures in ways “that the past becomes alive and illumines our present with new possibilities for personal and social transformation.” (Wink, The Bible in Human Transformation, Fortress, 2010).

This paper will respond to these challenges with reference to the task of conducting a theological reading of Scripture.

It will begin with a focus on two Biblical texts. First, Mark 14:32-42, in which Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane holds the cup of suffering. This text provides a focus on the emotions of Jesus and will be discussed in terms of the authors sensory engagement with the text in light of his feelings after the Christchurch earthquake of February, 2011.

Second, Luke 1:39-45, in which the Spirit was at work in the bodies of Mary and Elizabeth, specifically in their wombs. Thus part of the task of theologically knowing God in this text is paying attention to the senses of the human body, through which God speaks.

This raises a range of questions. What is the place of human experience in theological reading? Is there a danger of blurring the two horizons between ancient world and contemporary world, of conducting “sense-i-gesis”, in which the reader colonises a text with their sensory experiences? How to lay this type of exegesis alongside traditional notions of exegesis, in ways that might value both and privilege neither?

Two approaches to such questions will be considered. One approach is to foreground metaphorical language in the Bible. The work of Janet Martin Soskice (Metaphor and religious language, Oxford University Press, 1985) uses the approach. The argument is that sensate language works precisely because the thing likened is simultaneously being recognised as a thing not-like, suggesting a sensate approach that works without erasing a critical hermeneutical space.

A second approach is to explore “sense-xegesis” as a disruptive ploy. This approach seeks engagement with notions of inversion and reversal. It suggests that senses might be gift as they work at making us re-examine our preconceived theological readings of a text.

In sum, a reflection on the possibilities and pitfalls of “sense-xegesis” in a theological reading will be offered.

Dr Steve Taylor
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University and Director of Missiology, Uniting College

Posted by steve at 10:35 AM


  1. What a shame, I’m in Tauranga I should have been at the conference, but I still have not spotted what’s different about Theological Interpretation when it is given capital letters and becomes a movement 😉 maybe I’ll catch up next time…

    Comment by Tim Bulkeley — August 17, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

  2. Oh, I thought the capitals were simply about punctuation. Hope I’m in the right place, 🙂


    Comment by steve taylor — August 17, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

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