Thursday, June 26, 2008

baptist biblical imaginations

My particular interest is not so much in what Baptists do with the Bible, but how they do it. Modernity has deeply corroded our imaginations, reducing interpretation to the individual and the intellect. Ironically, postmodernity encourages an interpretive community (Fish et al), which has parrallels with our Baptist origins and it is reflection on the nourishment of such practices, their rigour and framing, within Baptistic congregations that I believe should be central.

Posted by steve at 09:12 AM


  1. Steve, you’re right on target. Our Baptist perspective was so much an over-reaction to Catholicism and the office of priest, that we landed heavily on the side of the individual, detouring around community in the process. Even though the Enlightenment project officially began later than Baptists, I think the seeds of Enlightenment individualism were an influence too often ignored by Baptist historians and theologians. A reimagination of priesthood of the believer would have each person acting as priest to the community, not just to themselves. Same with Biblical interpretation. So you have at least one concurring opinion here in the US!

    Comment by Chuck Warnock — June 26, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  2. Chuck, I think you’re a bit hard on baptist history. Here is John Smyth, 1554-1612, (whom Miroslav Volf calls the voice of the Free Church tradition:

    “We say the Church or two or three faithful people Separated from the world & joyned together in a true covenant, have both Christ, the covenant, & promises, & the ministerial powre of Christ given to them” John Smyth, The Works of John Smyth, Edited by W. T. Whitley. Cambridge, 403.

    That’s community, not individual,


    Comment by steve — June 26, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  3. I’d have to say that if you have a read of Lumpkin’s “Baptist Confessions” you find the centrality of community not individualism. I also think we can be a bit romantic about early Baptist visions of being community. There’s some early Baptist communities that I wouldn’t like to be part of and I don’t think their ideas on forcibly abandoning everything (including the Bible) to be free to the Spirit’s leading was one of their best ideas 🙂 Nor do I think people would like to go back to sitting through multiple 2+ hours sermons. That’s not exactly communitarian and from my reading of Baptist history was a few “talking heads” droning on for hours. Having said that I totally agree that interpreting the Baptist tradition for today would be incredibly helpful.

    Comment by Andrew — June 26, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

  4. yes, this is what i am developing Andrew – that Baptist practice historically has been different from Baptist ideals. And so we need to recover practices that get away from, even today, the tyranny of the pastor as dominant interpreter, without becoming a pooling of ignorance,

    this is what i explore both at opawa and in my contemporary preaching – practices like lectionary readings, dwelling in word, lectio divino, stoning the prophets – all are ways to give the bible back to the community.


    Comment by steve — June 26, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

  5. I love that phrase – “give the Bible back to the community” and to add from a Baptist perspective – where it belongs! We’ve borrowed the free for all idea from Ponsonby – irregularly (about every 6 weeks or so), following the sermon, we simply reflect on the scriptures together. People are told that it’s not about giving me a ranking on my sermon but that these are not my scriptures but our scriptures together – a gift of God to the church. I encourage them to reflect on life and faith in the light of the scripture. They often add new insights, see things differently, head off on tangents and sense how the scriptures speak to all of life. In it we sense the leading of the Risen Christ at work in the church he gathers together. However, a bit like the earliest Baptists, it’s not always as romantic as it can sound – it can be clunky and even boring…

    Comment by Andrew — June 26, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.