Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology
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Mark Wreford

, Faculty of Arts

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Research Summary

Recent developments in Christianity place a strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in directing the lives and ethics of believers. However, the elusive nature of 'spiritual guidance' can lead… read more

Current Research

Recent developments in Christianity place a strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in directing the lives and ethics of believers. However, the elusive nature of 'spiritual guidance' can lead to its misuse if not combined with a more 'objective' form of perceived divine revelation. The life of Jesus represents one of the most dramatic conflations of a new message with new religious experiences, but remains deeply rooted within the long established Jewish religious history between the people of Israel and their God. The result of these new experiences in the believing community was the writing of new Holy Scriptures, meant to complement and 'fulfil' the existing ones within the Hebrew Bible. My project explores how new revelatory experiences within the earliest Christian communities were articulated within the given framework of the Hebrew Bible in the creation of the New Testament. My interest in this question developed out of my BA dissertation, in which I considered John 14-16 from such a perspective. Drawing on insights from the 'Experientia Group' (a section of the International Society for Biblical Literature on Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity), I demonstrated that the author of John's gospel engaged in an inspired scripturalisation of the foundational Christian experience with the expectation that his new text would inspire related experiences among his readers. My dissertation, which won the Thiselton Dissertation Prize (awarded for the best example in my cohort), has proven the validity of this approach. My MA dissertation prepared the ground from another angle. I examined the book of Colossians to assess how Paul seeks to affect spiritual maturisation in the recipients, considering the processes by which the assumed new religious experiences of the believers (e.g. baptism) were expected to come to some kind of socio-religious maturity in their ethical conduct. Both my BA and MA dissertations are founded on close critical exegesis of New Testament texts. This required excellent linguistic ability, and my training in this area enabled me to work as a TA for introductory Biblical Greek and Hebrew modules during my MA, giving me valuable teaching experience which helped me to secure further teaching work during the first year of my PhD leading a seminar for the systematic theology module, Body and Soul under my second supervisor, Simon Oliver. It also required an awareness of Biblical Hermeneutics, demonstrated in my engagement with the recent 'Experientia Group'. I won the Professor William Frend Prize for the highest overall BA mark in my cohort, and throughout my study I supported myself by working as a journalist part-time, improving my writing ability. My research contributes to a recent trend within Biblical Studies considering the relation of Scripture to experience. The 'Experientia Group' has begun to sketch a variety of possibilities for fostering rigorous inter-disciplinary discussion of religious experience as attested by Scripture, drawing on sociological and psychological insights. This is an exciting new movement because religious experience had been deemed critically inaccessible and consequently ignored by much of modern Biblical Studies. My own approach will be critically informed by this methodology, but question whether the methodological atheism implicit in it can adequately engage with text which arose in response to what a community of believers accepted as the impact of a trans-empirical reality (A. Thiselton). For this reason, Roland Deines is an ideal supervisor, as his latest work (Acts of God in History, 2013) raises similar concerns. My research aims to demonstrate that the NT texts themselves offer a framework for their ongoing Spirit-guided re-interpretation within their related communities. Therefore, this project will contribute to a better understanding of the mechanics of religious foundationalism which can turn into fundamentalism. Such an understanding of how texts experienced as sacred can form normative religious attitudes is crucial for maintaining a truly tolerant, pluralist society. It is my hope to make a positive impact to the well-being of society with my study, and to lay the ground for a career as a Biblical Studies Lecturer. I am currently laying the methodological groundwork for this project, auditing history and classics MA modules, researching systematic approaches to the doctrine of revelation (and particularly the notion of religious experience of the divine in Christian theology) and Scripture and seeking to improve my linguistic ability in Greek, Hebrew and German

Past Research

In my MA thesis, I examined Paul's language of Spiritual maturisation in Colossians, developing a comparison with the Roman Toga Virilis ceremony which marked a young man's coming of age to claim that Paul is explaining how the congregation can move to maturity in their salvation.

In my BA thesis, I argued that the Paraclete passages in John 14-16 could profitably be read as aimed at initiating members of the believing community into an experiential relationship with the Holy Spirit, based on the author's own experience.

Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD


telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5854
email:cbet@nottingham.ac.uk