by Adrian Thatcher

from Modern Believing, Vol 53:1 - Jan 2012

New Editor

I am pleased and honoured to have been invited by the Standing Committee of Modern Church to become the new Editor of Modern Believing. My first task is to convey the thanks of all readers of the Journal to my predecessor, Prof. Paul Badham. Paul has served the Journal well. His breadth of theological knowledge and interest, and his wise counsels and judgements, will be missed. He will continue to be a book reviewer and peer-reviewer for the Journal, and a member of Modern Church. I have edited books before, but never a journal. It is a daunting task. So I ask readers to be patient with their new Editor. There is also a new Editorial Assistant, Mrs. Caroline Major, and we both need to learn a lot more about our new jobs and grow into our respective roles.

Volume 53

The first two editions of the Journal will contain most of the papers, all of them exceptional, which were enthusiastically presented and received at the 2011 Modern Church Conference, Can These Bones Live? - Reading the Bible Today. The planners of the 2011 Conference rightly foresaw that 2011 would see a wide range of conferences about, and celebrations of, the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible. The Conference was deliberately planned to combine thanksgiving for the KJV with misgiving about the excess of authority which the KJV received in many parts of the Church, and about the misuse of the vernacular Scriptures in scapegoating and marginalizing minorities. All the papers addressed the question how Christians might be creative and sensitive readers of their Scriptures.

This edition begins with the address of the Conference Chair which examined the havoc caused by the application of 'the literal sense' of Scripture, and suggested that the painful arguments about inclusive ordination and the wholesomeness of people who find themselves in sexual 'minorities', are fuelled by a continuation of the insistence on 'the literal sense' which can gravely conflict with the Gospel. If Dr. Susannah Cornwall's essay on Contextual Bible Study were to be taken up and utilised in Church discussion groups it would revolutionize group Bible reading. 'CBS' allows the context of readers to be given at least equal weight to the context of the Scriptures themselves. It revels in 'knowledge-exchange' rather than 'knowledge-transmission'. While theologically trained experts need not feel their expertise is no longer required, they need to learn that the art of biblical interpretation is 'multiple', and that interpretations need to be 'tested and weighed by the reading group'.

Dr. Alison Milbank captivated the Conference for a whole morning with her presentation on 'The Bible and the Novel: Apocalyptic reading'. Exceptionally, the full text of her presentation is made available here. No reader of fiction who reads her piece, whether or not they have a faith, could fail to be drawn into her theological understanding of the novel and its history. She demonstrates 'how new Reformation ways of reading Scripture lead to the novel but then how the novel itself becomes a form of Scripture and even offers a more fruitful way than that of the early Reformers in which to interpret the Bible' - what Alison calls 'apocalyptic reading'.

Our new President, Prof. John Barton, also attended the Conference and his lecture, 'The New Atheism: Reflections of a Biblical Scholar' is reproduced here. John notes how the New Atheists seriously misconstrue the biblical God, without regard for the sophisticated understanding of God as radically transcendent and immanent. He goes on to suggest that scholars in the Humanities who work with ancient texts can find in their work an analogy which also helps to situate the knowledge of God. Their approach to a text, which they did not make, demands imagination and empathy. A second analogy is provided by inter-personal knowledge, which 'demands skills of attentiveness and understanding'. These qualities of knowing are essential to the knowledge of God, and the New Atheists don't have even a clue about the possibility of approaching God in this way.

Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou introduced one of the programmes from her BBC2 TV series, Bible's Buried Secrets. Francesca's answers to the questions which she agreed to put to the conference from the perspective of her series are published. Keen to promote on-going discussion and debate in the Journal, a response to Rabbi Dan Cohn Sherbok's essay, 'Judaism and Euthanasia', (Modern Believing 52:3) is also published.

Volume 53:2 (April 2012) is already looking full. There will be two more conference presentations, two further papers from theologians who attended the conference, and at least one other important article. 53:1 and 53:2 will provide a strong collection of articles on 'Reading the Bible Today' which can expect and deserve a wide readership, some of it online. It is not too late to offer essays for publication in editions 3 and 4. Prospective authors will find an invitation to contribute, and detailed guidance notes about the required format for contributions to be considered, on the Modern Church website.

Future Editions of Modern Believing

I would love to hear any suggestions from readers for any improvements they think might be made to their Journal, or any ideas they might have for extending the Journal's readership and influence. I would like ideas for possible themed editions of the Journal. For example, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Honest to God will fall in the Spring of 2013. How might we mark the occasion? Who might be approached to write for us if we devoted an edition to this, and what might we want them to say? Since there are many Christians who have remained in the Church because there have been books like Honest to God it might be interesting to run a collage of 'testimonies' from readers who were helped or touched in some way (assuming they have long memories!) by John Robinson's work. Please write to me about these suggestions, and any others you would like to make, and tell me what you think.

Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter and Editor of Modern Believing.