A Word on Wisdoms

William Wesley ElkinsĀ 
Drew University

As a general editor of this journal, as a pastor and a scholar, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the personal and intellectual impact of the work of Scriptural Reasoning. I find that as a reader of scripture and as a philosopher, I am pulled in two ways: faith and reason. They seem to conflict. But do they? When the study of scripture is at the same time a teaching that addresses the texture of our lives, reasoning becomes wisdom and scripture becomes reasoned. The Society for Scriptural Reasoning is a community of scholars who seek to share the wisdoms of reason and the reasons of scripture, not only out of one tradition, but from the three traditions of the Abrahamic faiths.

I have found that traditionally academics have sought to resolve the tension between faith and reason in one of two ways. The first has been the enlightenment model: identify some form of universal reason that eliminates the tension between faith and reason by redefining faith as a private and subjective interpretation of a single public world. The other, a romantic model, is to eliminate the tension between faith and reason by privileging the subjective, making the private and the personal the foundations of different faith cultures. In each model, however, the tension between faith and reason is resolved by simplifying reason and faith by separating them from the textures of life that give them content and form.

In the Enlightenment model, without reference to the complex textures of practice, reason becomes self-referential and self sufficient. So constructed, reason becomes unresponsive to the depths and hopes that sustain reason and call reason to responsibility. In this model “reason” simplifies the shape of our lives by excluding the richness of our participation in communal traditions of faith. Outside the context of practices that shape reason, outside the depths and hopes that guide particular resolutions of the tension between faith and reason, reason is empty. Without reference to the practices of faith, reason cannot become what it is meant to be: wisdoms that form and reform the textures of our lives.

In the Romantic model, faith becomes self-expressive but in language that is self-referential and self-sufficient. However, outside the context of public practices and discourses, faith is without sense. Outside the context of faithful practices in which reason shapes faith, faith cannot become what it is meant to be: wisdoms that form and reform the textures of our lives.

In these models the differences between faith and reason seem tragically irreconcilable. Unless there is a third alternative, it appears that we must choose one to the exclusion of the other. Scriptural Reasoning is a “third way”, a means of honoring reason while remaining loyal to faith. Over the last six years, I have discovered that the developing practice of Scriptural Reasoning seeks the wisdoms of reason and the reasons of faith so that we might be taught how to live and think faithfully.

As a society dedicated to the practice of thinking faithfully, the work of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning has developed over a numbers of years in the context of the American Academy of Religion. In this context, the society has served as a forum where different philosophers and theologians interpret scripture philosophically without excluding the Abrahamic faiths from shaping their patterns of interpretation. The practice of Scriptural Reasoning is definitely academic. It is also practical. The work of the SSR is directed toward answering significant personal and professional questions: What should be the direction and shape of the lives of scholars interested in philosophy, theology and biblical interpretation? Is it necessary to separate out and isolate academic practices and faith commitments? Is it possible to acknowledge a commitment to philosophical and scientific disciplines and affirm the relevance of the faith communities of the Abrahamic traditions to the shape and direction of academic disciplines? The claim of the society is that the “divorce” of faith and reason is a symptom of a deeper a problem that can be resolved by recovering a wider view of reason and faith. The project of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning is to clarify and justify this claim by discovering the ways the resources of faith as scriptural wisdom respond to the problems of reason and the ways resources of scripturally informed reasoning facilitate community based practices of scriptural interpretation. The hope of the Society of Scriptural Reasoning is that the practice of scriptural reasoning will represent a way relating faith and reason that will honor the deepest values of both reason and faith.

As part of the ongoing project of Scriptural Reasoning the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning continues the work of the society in a number of ways:

1. It publishes major papers of senior scholars and the commentaries of scriptural reasoners on these papers. . Each year papers are presented at the American Academy of Religion on a specifics scriptures and topic. Papers are web published before the meeting and commentaries are invited for submission and publishing on the website of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning:

2. The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning presents a record of the dialog that occurs at each annual meeting.

3. It provides a context for the presentation of continuing reflections on the topics that provide the yearly focus of the annual meeting.

4. It represents a forum for the publication of independent scholarly work and reviews of work related to the practice of scriptural reasoning.

5. It represents a record of resources supporting the ongoing work of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning.

In the final analysis, Scriptural Reasoning is a practice that is both an act of faith and a practice of reasoning; it is a faith practice and philosophical commitment. The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning hopes to record and contribute to the dialog between faith and reason that forms the teachings and wisdoms of the Abrahamic faiths.