Friday 10 September 2010

Audio talk: the risen Christ and Christian scholarship

One of my recent conference papers is available in audio (27 minutes). The paper is titled "Discerning Christ in Contemporary Thought: The Christological Basis of Christian Scholarship". It was a conference on the Uniting Church's founding confession, the Basis of Union. I talked about the way Christ's resurrection shapes the way we think about the church, and about the scholarly vocation (and I tried to criticise both liberal and conservative approaches to theological scholarship). Here's an excerpt:

Scholarship is an exercise of obedience to Jesus Christ. It helps prepare the church for fresh words and deeds. Of course, we need not imagine that scholarship will always have an immediate impact on the church’s confession. But scholarship is nevertheless vital for the continuing life of the church. It is one of the places where the church exercises its muscle of discernment – a muscle that otherwise has an alarming tendency to atrophy. Or to change metaphors: when the church grows drowsy, scholarship diffuses its caffeinating influence, helping to keep us ready, watchful and alert. So when Christian scholars engage with contemporary thought, it’s not because the church needs protecting from the world, but because Christ is already in the world and he calls us to meet him there.
This is the second paper I've written this year on the Basis of Union (which I would really encourage you to read: it's a remarkable confessional text, deeply shaped by Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Barmen Declaration). It really surprises me how much I've enjoyed these first excursions into "official" denominational theology, even though I'm always anxious to avoid this sort of thing in my classroom teaching. I'm already planning to do another couple of papers on the Basis of Union, hopefully one on scripture and another on church law.


byron smith said...

So scholarship is an addiction maintained by the church in order to avoid the headaches associated with withdrawal, but which only manages to return a level of attention enjoyed prior to addiction?

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben,

Listened to the whole thing - especially liked the analogies!! And good to see the BOU getting the attention it deserves - perhaps next a reflection on the Savoy Declaration & Wesley's 44 sermons might be in order!

As for the argument, it is acutely put and fundamentally I agree with most of what you said.

A couple of things in response:

The foundational purpose and nature of scholarship, as a particular vocation within the larger one of discipleship, is always to serve Christ in obedience to his calling. Agreed. But I don't think this removes the questions/complexities of how/when scholarship adresses the church/academy/world etc as it lives out this calling quite as easily as you think. Left as bare as your declaration is there is a risk of it becoming a kind of practical idealism, a 'get out of jail free card' which might be used to justify a whole manner of bad practices within the discipline. Scholars must consider and critically reflect on the concrete implications and intentions of the practice of their vocation within the wider call to obedience which confronts us all.

I also feel your depiction of the Christ within/without the church debate posits an extreme where none need exist. This is surely a both/and situation: Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen one stands behind, within, before, and beyond the church as God's Word judges, guides, restores, renews and calls out, being then the church's living hope yesterday, today and forever.


Mike E

Unknown said...


Thanks for your paper. Awesome. Compelling. Like you gave example to in your paper, I experienced a re-engagement through your scholarship. Thanks again.

I'm curious whether you do a subject on Barth, Bonhoeffer and the Basis of Union? Or if you know of one around Aust?

Also, if you're in Brisbane anytime, would you be interested in preaching at our church? AM or PM?


Ben Myers said...

Hi Jock,

Many thanks, glad you found it helpful. I come up to Brisbane all the time, and I'm happy to preach if I've got a Sunday free — just email me.

Alas, we have no subject like this — but I've been talking about trying to introduce a subject on creeds and confessions, focusing first on the ancient ecumenical creeds, then a couple of Reformation confessions, then finally the Barmen Declaration and the Basis of Union.

As for Barth and Bonhoeffer though: all my subjects are about Barth and Bonhoeffer! ;-)

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