Launch Speech – Asoc Prof Peter Bolt
A New Journal and A New Centre for Gospels and Acts Research – 28 September 2017
With all the pressing, crying needs of our sad and sorry world, so distressed by the chaos caused by human frailty and sinfulness, why form a Centre that focuses on documents from the First Century? For sure, Jesus Christ was such an impressive figure that everyone always wants him to join their team – and, true to form, I note in the current Australian politico-moral issue, he is voting for both sides! But that Jesus who endorses any and every competing cause as a mere cipher or slogan, apparently gets more unattractive to some the more they understand what he was really like, and the claims he made about himself, and about his relationship to the rest of humankind.
But it is usually out of ignorance, it seems to me, that our contemporaries ask the question why should a 21st century person look at 1st century documents? And it is a sad ignorance, because it so often misunderstands as bad news, what Christians have proclaimed for centuries as good news – and good news for all.
I like the answer of the Swiss Biblical Scholar turned Theologian, Karl Barth. In the midst of the chaos of the Second World War, and still not half way through the 20th century – that century that has been called ‘the bloodiest of all centuries’ – he wrote, A letter to Great Britain from Switzerland (1941). He opened with the words: ‘This is still the world in which a man has risen from the dead’.
Why should a 21st century person read these 1st century documents? Because although firmly anchored in the 1st century, Jesus Christ comes to the world as the key for all centuries to come. Always relevant, always contemporary, because a man has risen from the dead. And because we therefore know God has become flesh and dwelt amongst us for a little while.
The Gospels bring us to that set of events that herald that greatest of all manifestations when God became flesh.
The SCD Centre for Gospels and Acts Research, which we launch tonight, will promote research into the four Gospels and, due to the connections with Luke, the Book of Acts. With the aim of better understanding these foundational documents of historical Christianity, the Centre will encourage research from a variety of methodological perspectives, including historical, archaeological, theological, exegetical, literary, sociological, feminist, and text-critical approaches. In time, it will no doubt take on its own distinctive flavour, as it follows the interests of its members.
Although based within the SCD, membership of the Centre is open to those researching in the Gospels and Acts in the wider community. The Centre seeks to create networks amongst scholars presently working within the field and also to encourage a future generation of Gospels and Acts researchers. To coincide with the launch of the Centre and its journal, the SCD has already announced a monetary prize for an excellent essay on a subject related to the Gospels or Acts submitted by an SCD student, and plans other encouragements in the future for other students to undertake research in the field.
The activities of the Centre will include a regular seminar, as well as colloquia and conferences. To foster and disseminate Gospels research, it will also publish, through the SCD Press, as the first of its kind, a dedicated journal, the Journal of Gospels and Acts Research, as well as occasional monographs – the first being the Proceedings of this conference, The Impact of the Historical Jesus.
Despite the changes and challenges, the pains and problems, of the contemporary world, the significance of Jesus Christ has not diminished. With the rise of a noisy radical atheism in the West, along with a secularism that wants to continue to enjoy the fruits of the Christian heritage while deliberately cutting off the roots, and radical religionists wreaking havoc in so many parts of the globe, there has never been a greater need for Christianity to express itself clearly as it continues to take its part in bringing about a better future for all. Meeting this challenge will involve many different tasks but, given the importance of the Gospels and Acts as foundational documents of the Christian movement, their rigorous, patient, and long-term study must surely be one of them, and the clear communication of that research must be another.
Peter G. Bolt