Baptists understand themselves, as they develop their own types of practices (baptism, congregationalism, imitation of Christ), in view of a tri-optic Biblical hermeneutic of the lived faith. The ecclesial here and now is perceived in the light of texts of tradition, so that ‘this’ (here and now) becomes ‘that’ (then and there). Past and present melt together by narrative hermeneutical identification. From there, the hermeneutical circle is stretched forward to future expectations. By the same narrative identification Baptists paint their pictures of the Kingdom of God and the hopes they have in Christ. The new life of the future Kingdom ‘then’ (and there) is communicated and imparted in the church of ‘now’ (today). Hence the McClendonian dictum ‘this is that and then is now’ that portrays the naïve Biblicism of the average B/baptist churchgoer.
Already in 1985, at the graduation ceremony of the European Baptist Seminary at Rüschlikon (Switzerland), McClendon stated that Anabaptists as well as Baptists see Scripture as living texts that create identification between the story of the reader and the story of the writer. The bridging of the hermeneutical gap by hermeneutical fusion of past and present is so distinctive and central to Baptist thinking, that the (mystical) blending may even be tagged as ‘the Baptist vision’.
However, because Baptist church practices are communal anticipations of ‘the new that comes in Christ’ they can become life-changing principles. After all, the Baptist vision is fundamentally open to transformation of church life. Time and again the new wine Christ serves in the church is in need of new wineskins (Luke 5:37-39). But we often don’t know how the truly new is to be received and named. Old terms will not do, while new ones may convey nothing. As time goes by, even terms newly minted to express the new faith actually grow old. For that matter James McClendon proposes a pattern for the life of faith that opens up and unlocks communal life for renewal of practices to come, with key emphasis lying on the classical rhetorical instrument of ‘catachresis’.
‘If we should call this this radically changed state of affairs simply “the new that comes in Christ,” that choice of words would designate a gap in ordinary speech: How is this truly extraordinary even to be named? (…) New Testament language typically met with this difficulty with what rhetoricians call catachresis—the so-called “misuse” of language drawn from other spheres of life in order to indicate the new thing at which existing talk necessarily balks’
In light of the above the McClendon Chair will focus attention on the research of ecclesial ‘patterns for the life of faith’, in particular on catachrestical transformations. Some of these ‘patterns for the life of faith’ are the following research trajectories of the McClendonChair:
The McClendonChair, being rooted in the Free Church tradition, can execute and supervise historical, ecclesiological and missional investigations that are prominent on the agenda. In order to further this cause, professor Bakker created an interdenominational and interdisciplinary Research Group ‘Baptist Identity’, where academics discuss and evaluate the research conducted by the Chair. The results of the research are published (and continue to be updated) on this website.
James Wm. McClendon Chair
1061 AX Amsterdam
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam