Becoming a Hermeneutical Community
The second of our two-part interview with Dr Stuart Murray-Williams.
Last week, Stuart, you told us some of your background, including teaching at Spurgeon’s College, London. However your experience is wider than the Baptist world. You’ve branched-out a bit over the years!
In 2000, realising I could not combine full-time teaching with proliferating invitations to provide teaching and consultancy, I became a freelance trainer/consultant. I have enjoyed engaging with churches, theological colleges and mission agencies in about 35 different denominations and 20+ nations. I also supervise and examine postgraduate research for several universities. What I enjoy most is engaging personally with pioneers and church planters.
In 2005, with colleagues, I developed the Crucible course (), designed to equip pioneers and anyone wanting to think afresh about discipleship, church and mission in post-Christendom. 750-800 people have participated in this course.
In recent years, I have done some teaching at Bristol Baptist College, and in 2016 was invited to form the Centre for Anabaptist Studies, which offers a taught MA course and postgraduate research supervision.
You also mentioned last week about the church needing to become a ‘hermeneutical community’. That’s not a term I’ve heard before. What does it mean?
A 'hermeneutical community' is a way of describing a church that recognises the gathered community as the primary locus of biblical interpretation (rather than the academy or the pulpit). The expectation is that different members of the community will share insights, including relevant expertise, and look to the Holy Spirit to bring revelation and a deeper understanding than is likely to be available to individuals reading alone. The community is also committed to testing out interpretations in practice and reflecting on the outcomes as an aid to further interpretive work.
If you could give preachers one piece of advice in the light of all this, what would it be?
My wife, Sian, and I wrote Multivoiced Church, exploring practices that might help churches embrace greater participation and develop hermeneutical communities. This will require the retraining of preachers and congregations, so we suggest this needs to be understood as a journey that will take time, patience, grace and perseverance. But we think it will be worth the effort.
You've said before that we might need to rethink traditional preaching forms in the church, even suggesting that we have a Sermon for the Month? Care to expand on that?
My concern is that we do not have enough time to respond to one sermon before the next arrives. We become hearers, not doers. We need fewer sermons and more opportunities to respond, discuss, take action, reflect and review. This will honour preaching and lead to more mature communities.
If people want to explore these issues more, where might they go?
There are resources on the Anabaptist Mennonite website [see last week’s blog], or the book Multivoiced Church might be a place to start.
Editor Note: if you would like to discuss further any of the issues Stuart raises, he is happy to hear from readers. You can email him on firstname.lastname@example.org