Reception History: Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Traditions
Program Chair: Martin Mittelstadt
The recent evolution and success of reception history fits well with the current allure of postmodernity and rise of interdisciplinarity. If proponents of historical criticism strive to recreate the world behind a text and literary critics seek to encounter the Bible as story, reception historians take another step forward – or backward. Whereas the historical critic employs a formulaic “two-step” hermeneutic from “what the text meant” to “what it means,” reception historians chose a slow, scenic, and meandering path to rediscover “what the text has meant.” Reception historians return to stories of the Scriptures read, interpreted, viewed, and performed through the centuries. In a move postmodernists should celebrate, these scholars give voice to the “other” and the many. Reception histories offer a museum-like tour of the reading of Scriptures between original authors and current readers. In this conference we invite scholars to contribute further – even rescue – current readers prone to believe they should view this intervening period as an obstacle to avoid.
Though some might seek to reduce reception history to an adventure primarily for biblical scholars, the method demands interdisciplinary analysis. Hans-Georg Gadamer introduces the term Wirkungsgeschichte (literally, “history-effected consciousness”); H. R. Jauss and W. Iser describe a chain of readings on the same material as Rezeptionsgeschichte (literally, “reception history”); New Testament scholar Ulrich Luz explores the “history of influences,” specifically the “history, reception, and actualizing of text in media other than a commentary; e.g. in sermons, canonical law, hymnody, art and in the actions of sufferings of the church”; and Anthony C. Thistleton cleverly likens the discipline to the Bible’s Nachleben, literally, its “afterlife” or post-history.
As Pentecostals & Charismatics cast their theological and praxeological vision into the twenty-first century, we must take more than an occasional glance in our rearview mirror. Though we represent a comparatively young movement in the drama of Christian history, some would opine that only Catholics produced more Christian literature in the twentieth century than print-happy Pentecostals. One cannot overstate the opportunities to explore our history of exegesis on roads previously travelled. Pentecostals & Charismatics march forward not in a vacuum, but as communities made up of theologians and practitioners, both formal and informal, amateur and professional, past and present. Reception historians, akin to hunters and gathers, provide us (and others) the opportunity simply to hear what the Bible has been saying.
In this conference, we take a U-turn and revisit the Scriptures interpreted and experienced by both the giants of our Pentecostal/Charismatic story and less-celebrated, often forgotten interpreters. Join us as we read and receive afresh the biblical story shaped and performed by our Pentecostal foremothers and forefathers. We will retell our story – not only in the manner of church historians – but built upon our collective reading, application, and performance of the biblical text across the Pentecostal stage. Join us not simply to reproduce the Bible’s post-history among Pentecostals, but offer critical analysis of our received readings. We will celebrate the rich contributions of Pentecostals, take an honest look at our “warts,” share them with one another, and build a better future. Together our examination of interpreters both new and old, will help locate our role in the grand symphony of interpretations, a never-ending succession of Pentecostal performances on the biblical story.