(Prof. Jan G. van der Watt is currently Hoogleraar, Exegesis of the New Testament and Source Texts of Early Christianity, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands. He is also the General Editor of Review of Biblical Literature)
Christianity’s roots grew in eastern soil, but the majority fruits were reaped in western sun and rain. Western culture was heavily influenced by Christianity. It formed the religious and ethical basis for social and cultural expressions in the West. Although the sun is dimming and the rain is disappearing due to secularization in the West, Christianity is finding a new foothold in the East, as well as in Africa and South America. Other aspects of the message are coming into focus in these areas due to the difference in world view and background. For instance, increasing emphasis is falling on the charismatic dimensions of the presence of the Christian God in some of these areas. His visible power in everyday situations, changing the lives of people is again coming more and more into focus.
Within this frame New Testament scholarship must be practiced. Obviously, new questions will be and is indeed asked. For instance, are the accepted ‘historical’ and ‘literal’ ways the present New Testament guild is approaching the New Testament documents the only valid approaches to these documents? If not, what else would satisfy the ‘scientific appetite’ of the guild? Would the guild be willing to accept other approaches that have less to do with ‘historical’ constructions than with interpretative experience? Where would the process of enculturation lead us? Is there any place for a mixture of religious experiences that has definite hints of syncretism? If so, to what extent?
The challenges to New Testament scholarship will be significant, but exciting. Old paradigms will have to be reconsidered and points of departure will have to be discussed again. This is a challenging but rewarding road that would and could only enrich our experience of reading the text of the New Testament with new eyes.