The Moving Text: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on David Brown and the Bible
This is a rich, varied and thought-provoking treasure trove for the academically inclined preacher: a glimpse into the rarefied world of peer-reviewed interdisciplinary academic debate. It is not an easy read, nor is it a book to be devoured at one sitting. It is almost certain to extend the reader’s knowledge, and vocabulary!
Twelve academics from a range of disciplines were invited to a colloquium in 2015 to offer a response to David Brown’s oeuvre, in particular Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change (1999, OUP). This book publishes their contributions: twelve closely-argued, well-referenced essays, each engaging with an aspect of Brown’s work intersecting with their own field of research. The topics are diverse: from mirror neurons to Frankenstein by way of more predictable fare, such as a consideration of Abraham in art and in other faith traditions. The broad palette highlights the spread of disciplines which Brown has sought to draw into dialogue with the study of the Bible.
It is not necessary to know Brown’s work before reading this book: one gains an impression through the conversations offered here by his peers. It is, however, essential to understand Brown’s premise that the Bible is a ‘moving text’: that the Bible, and the interpretative Christian tradition around it, far from being fixed and static at any point in time, is constantly evolving, always has been, and always will be, as God engages in continuing dialogue with humankind, calling forth new revelations in each generation. It is Brown’s view that ‘God is at work everywhere and we should be ready to listen even when he seems most distant’ (cited, pp.85-6). Thus, studying the Bible in the light of however alien another discipline is likely to offer new insights into the text and its meaning.
Each essay merits careful reading, and each entices the reader to explore further how a particular and specialist field of interest can shed fresh light on an aspect of biblical studies. The key is to be open-minded, inquisitive and alert to possible connections, to hearing God’s voice anew – in whatever unexpected places, such as Brown’s ‘looking to the margins and learning from pagans’ (cited, p.110).
The essays are followed by Brown’s colloquium response to his colleagues. In a final section, the editors have included four of Brown’s sermons, which show how he integrates his interdisciplinary study with his call, as an ordained priest, regularly to preach the gospel.
After digesting the introduction, a good starting point for a preacher might be Brown’s sermon on John 1:43-51 (pp.234-236), followed by a reading of Brewer’s essay (pp.107-116), which considers the role in faith of the visual arts and their communication over time of the meaning of biblical passages.
For the more conservative preacher, the challenge is to accept that ‘idolatry of the word is … no less a danger for religion than that of the visual image’ (Brown, p.215). For the liberally-minded preacher, and especially for those of a literary or artistic bent, this book will, as one contributor says, ‘introduce new and often welcome layers of complexity to the task of exegesis’ (p.123).
Reviewer: Dr Anne Davidson Lund, Reader in the Diocese of Chester
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