Jacob Goodson
College of William and Mary

The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning published “The Roots of Scriptural Reasoning,” which gathered essays responding to a symposium called “Pragmatism and Biblical Hermeneutics: The Work of Peter Ochs” in Modern Theology (July 2008). The current volume, “The Fruits of Scriptural Reasoning,” serves as a sequel to that issue. The titles of these volumes are fitting given Peter Ochs’s work on the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, in which the maxim “by their fruits you shall know them” plays such a crucial part.

SR’s Effects Within Academic Biblical Scholarship: While each individual contributor addresses different sets of questions, Walter Brueggemann, Daniel Smith, and Rebekah Eklund each present ways in which SR speaks to current academic biblical scholarship. Borrowing themes and tropes from Exodus, Brueggemann presents a powerful picture of the practice of SR as well as the Abrahamic work of Peter Ochs. Smith suggests that current work within New Testament studies provides a way to answer questions concerning the kind of love SR nurtures and also shows how SR – in turn – provides a reparative hermeneutic for problematic tendencies toward “the stranger” within academic biblical scholarship. Eklund navigates Ochs’s work within SR as the next significant step in biblical studies following the work of Brevard Childs, Richard Hays, Krister Stendahl, and others. According to Eklund, Ochs provides needed philosophical reflections for making sense of questions about the theological interpretation of Scripture. With boldness and clarity, Eklund argues that the practice of SR nurtures the dispositions “Faith,” “Joy,” and “Patience”; furthermore, she demonstrates why theological interpretation of Scripture requires the formation of these dispositions within a “disciplined community.”

SR’s Relationship to Literary Criticism and Spiritual Disciplines: Within the practice of SR, Jim Fodor locates an interesting supplement to the literary understanding of “reading.” He also argues, however, that SR itself needs help through further engagement with the natural sciences (what Fodor calls a “creational semiotic”) and specific “Abrahamic” practices of “spiritual disciplines” found in the Desert Fathers. In Fodor’s words:

Because Scriptural Reasoning has in a relatively short span of time successfully developed a practice of taking up several “reading regimes” at once, it holds out a promising model for enabling conversations across several disciplines or traditions of inquiry. However, because Scriptural Reasoning has not yet fully thematized all the reading regimes implicit in its own purview, it too stands in need of supplementation through conversations with, among other modes of inquiry, the natural sciences. Likewise, Scriptural Reasoning stands in need of supplementation “from within,” so to speak – i.e., a retrieval internal to the Abrahamic traditions, of spiritual attitudes, virtues, dispositions and habits as exhibited, for example, in the lives of the desert fathers. This “double supplementation”-comprising both the spiritual and the scientific-holds out a promising prospect for re-conceiving and re-aligning, in complementary and beneficial ways, the relation between the academic study of scripture and Scriptural Reasoning. One possible by-product might also involve a re-thinking of the present cleavage within the university – namely the arts/sciences divide.

Fodor grounds his understanding of SR in David Ford’s work, which describes SR as a practice that develops concrete forms of wisdom. Moreover, Fodor’s turn to the Desert Fathers as a hermeneutical model provides a way to utilize – for instance – Jason Byassee’s An Introduction to the Desert Fathers for scriptural reasoning. [1] Ultimately, according to Fodor, SR’s “fruits” are found in the fact that it is a literary practice of reading together. As such, SR carries the potential for being a spiritual discipline that develops concrete forms of wisdom.

SR’s Impact Within Inter-Faith Groups and Inter-Religious Meetings in the Modern University: Sam Wells’s contribution functions as a tour-de-force introduction to the history and current practices of inter-faith/inter-religious relationships at the major American academic institution: Duke University. Wells’s position as Dean of Duke’s Chapel puts him in the interesting position of having to know “what to do” in the face of religious “pluralism” in a nominally, yet sometimes concretely, “Christian” setting. One of his answers to this is what he has titled “The Faith Council,” comprised of representatives of different religious traditions who gather to discuss religious life at Duke University. And one practice (among others) that The Faith Council finds fruitful and productive is SR. Ochs’s response to Wells’s contribution takes on a different posture than his response to the other essays, mostly because Wells’s contribution is stylistically and substantially different than all of the other essays in both “Roots” and “Fruits.” Wells neither explains nor praises SR; instead, he simply says that SR is one piece of a complex and complicated puzzle called “religious life” at Duke University. In my judgment, it is significant that the “Roots” and “Fruits” journal issues conclude with Wells’s – and, more accurately, with Ochs’s lengthy response that itself concludes by thinking with Wells’s contribution – in the sense that Wells reminds SR practitioners and scholars that multiple practices of repair are needed because there are a variety of people and problems to address. Ochs’s posture is different in relation to Wells’s essay, because Wells reminds us of the kind of work that needs to be done. Perhaps the best we can do in the face of others, in the face of our particular situations, is to remain humble and experimental. Ochs’s engagement with Wells displays this.

In conclusion, this particular issue displays a certain gravitas – in the stature of the contributors as well as the conversations that it models. While Ochs’s final response is the result of a three-year discussion, which started at the AAR in San Diego in 2007 and has continued in three separate issues of two academic journals, functionally it marks the beginning of a multitude of different conversations concerning both the limitations and promise of SR. As these essays that comprise “The Fruits of SR” exhibit, the future of SR is bright and hopeful!


[1] See Jason Byassee, An Introduction to the Desert Fathers, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007).