New study centre to explore violence and the Bible
A new study centre at Bristol Baptist College aims to shed light on some of the most confusing parts of the Bible: the texts of violence in the Old Testament
The Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence launched in November with twin aims:
to promote postgraduate research in the broad field of Bible and violence; and conversation among scholars of different faiths, nationalities and disciplines who are working in related areas. (academic arm)
to provide resources to the churches in order to equip them to offer a counter-violence, counter-extremist narrative; and to promote confidence in the value of the Old Testament and the goodness of God. (applied arm)
The Centre’s director is the Revd Dr Helen Paynter (pictured), an Old Testament tutor at the college who delivered the 2018 Whitley Lecture. The lecture was entitled Dead and Buried – Attending to the voice of the victim in the Old Testament and today. Reflecting on her Whitley year, Helen spoke of the need to ‘recover our confidence in the value of the Old Testament’.
‘In my view, the texts of violence in the Old Testament comprise one of the pressing issues facing the church today,’ she said. ‘This impression has been reinforced by the turnout and comments I have received on my lecture tour.
‘I believe it is vital that we recover our confidence in the value of the Old Testament; that we stand upon the absolute assuredness of the goodness of God; and that we learn to interpret our Old Testaments in ways that do not endorse violent action in our own time.’
For Helen, the Whitley lecture tour was part of an ongoing strand of research in the broad area of Bible and violence. It began more than a decade ago when a youth worker told her that one of their young people was in danger of losing her faith because of her reading of some of the stories in the Old Testament. The new Centre is the latest development.
The Centre is seeking to recruit postgraduate researchers (MTh or PhD), while Bristol Baptist College is in the process of setting up a Bible and Violence pathway in its existing MA programme (MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission). It is ‘very optimistic’ that it will be able to offer this MA to students from September 2019. The Centre also welcomes speaking requests and suggestions from churches.
The Centre has planned two official launch days. On 4 June it will launch its applied arm with a workshop. The event is aimed at ministers and others who are interested in practical questions relating to the Bible and violence, and will offer a combination of papers and roundtable discussion (more information here).
To launch its academic arm, it will host an inaugural symposium on 17 June mainly for scholars working in the field and students who are interested in the area. The keynote speaker is Professor James Crossley Professor of Bible, Society and Politics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. It is now inviting submissions for the symposium (more information here).
Both days see the launch of Helen’s new book, written during her Whitley year. Entitled God of violence yesterday, God of love today? - Wrestling Honestly with the Old Testament, the book aims to grapple with the violence of the Old Testament, and provide some pointers to how we might think about it.
‘It is not, of course, a final word on the subject,’ Helen said, ‘it is probably not even my final word on the subject, but it is an attempt to contribute to the conversation.’