Shared Conversations and Biblical Interpretation

In November last year I went on one of the regional shared conversations about human sexuality that are part of the Church of England’s strategy for reflecting on the issues of same-sex marriage and Christian sexual ethics. It was a privilege to attend, especially to be able to hear people’s very personal stories. I came ready to think about biblical interpretation – the issue at the heart of this disagreement – and with the ambition of sharing some of my thoughts as participants were encouraged to do (within the guidelines of the Coventry Conventions we all had to consent to). As a result, I wrote an essay – ‘The Ghosts of the Past: Hermeneutical Reflections on Historical Criticism within a Shared Conversation on Human Sexuality’ – to be published in Expository Times later this year.

I came to the conversation with the knowledge that the issue of human sexuality has opened up new avenues in biblical hermeneutics that depart from the historical concerns of the biblical hermeneutics that came to dominate 20th Century interpretation of the Bible. I came expecting to see a great variety of understandings of how Scripture ‘means’ during the conversations. I was surprised that most participants actually had a very modern (historicist) view of Scripture and that the main disagreement was not what the texts mean/meant, but how they should be related to the contemporary debate – this is the hermeneutical issue know as distanciation. The shared hermeneutical assumptions of participants led me to consider whether ‘good disagreement’ jumps the gun, when actual agreement could still be possible. I’ll let you know when the article comes out.

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