Each term, the scholars working in the field of New Testament at Cambridge (including visiting scholars) meet every other week for the Senior New Testament Seminar. At each seminar, there is an hour-long paper presentation typically offered by a visiting professor or someone on the faculty at Cambridge. It is the primary venue where we all get together to learn and, in true British fashion, share a cup of tea afterwards. The topics are quite wide ranging, and in many cases the papers presented are previews of upcoming books that the speakers are working on.
The New Testament Seminar lineup for the spring Easter Term 2014 is as follows:
The annual Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge) conference, which features research done by graduate students at both universities (a friendly competition, if you will) is coming up at the end of May as well. I will post the schedule for that once it is finalized.
Connecting to the pew
It may seem odd to add my standard conclusion to this post, but it is important not to neglect the fact that, fundamentally, everything happening in the so-called “academic” study of the Scriptures—whether in NT, OT, theology, church history, world religions, or anything else—ultimately impacts the church. For most laypersons, the work going on in the “ivory tower” may seem completely distant, obsessively detailed, and completely irrelevant to your work week or your Sunday morning.
However, that is far from the case. Nearly all denominations require their ministers to undergo some level of formal Bible training (even independent Baptists are gravitating in this direction, especially in light of the strong growth of their Baptist seminaries in recent years). This means the preaching, teaching, church government, counseling, and everything else that your pastor does at church ultimately comes from somewhere: classes they took, things they read, classmates they had, prior church experiences, etc. For most pastors, the time of their most intense spiritual and pastoral formation occurs in seminary / Bible college. That stage of training is not something that most churchgoers ever think about.
But who is teaching them at those institutions? Trained professors who have received a doctorate in theological studies of some form, and who continue to work in the more academic areas of Christian studies. They are going to these seminars; they are reading these books; and they are passing on what they learn to their students. Those students, in turn, bring that information—consciously or subconsciously—into the pulpit, into the counseling room, into their elder meetings.
It’s worth noting that numerous recent debates in a variety of denominations ultimately had their start in the academy. (The same thing, for what it is worth, happens in other fields: an idea starts at the university but never stays there … it always has downstream effects).
So it is vitally important for men and women who are training to serve the church in some capacity to participate in what may seem like (from the outside) to be mundane academic navel-gazing. What happens in these settings ends up in commentaries, journals, or Zondervan books … from there it goes to the seminary … from there to the pulpit … and then to your Bible study leaders.