I went to the SBL session reviewing Dr. Richard B Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor Press, 2014). It was one of my favorite sessions this conference and not just for content. While it was informative and entertaining to hear the creative responses by Francis Watson, Markus Bockmuehl, and Marianne Meye Thompson, what struck me was how Hays responded to criticism. He was gracious and thankful – he admitted minor mistakes in clarity in the book, for example.
To put this in perspective, I heard a response in an earlier session that was pompous, self-serving, and just plain mean. When a respondent behaves in such a heavy-handed way, it takes the fun out of the “dialogue” (there is no dialogue, really) and lessens the impact of the criticism, even if legitimate at some level.
But with Hays, he was genuinely engaged and humbly open to helpful feedback. This was not an “I am going to tell you why I am still right about everything” review session. It was a conversation, and no doubt Hays and the other panelists knew that we (the audience) were not just spectators, but learners, so they modeled the best of academic engagement.
Personally, I really struggled with handling feedback publicly on my papers in past years, and I still struggle with it. When we are put on display and people throw tomatoes at us, it is almost irresistible the temptation to pick up something to throw back. I am not saying we shouldn’t defend our views with evidence and clarify and explain our thoughts, but Hays reminded me that we (all of us in academia) are at the conference to learn. Even the senior scholars should model the spirit of a student.
Thank you Richard Hays! I look forward to reading your new book!