Saturday, 15 September 2007

Introducing Brevard S. Childs ...

The discussion below rages on, much to my delight, with the appropriate insertion by a new contributor of Brueggemann into the debate concerning “knowledge”, “truth” and “scripture”. Given the rather all-encompassing nature of an exegetical approach which seeks to unite Tradition and Word, the divine and the human into an academically viable hermeneutic in the modern world, these rather abstract thoughts shall be indispensable for us on our journey (hence my opening “Programmatic Statements”).

But where does one start when trying to even get a grasp of such things? I should lay my cards on the table and say that I am utterly besotted with the now deceased Brevard Childs (where's the Wikipedia article?!). It is thanks to him that I am even able to imagine such a reconciliation (of sorts) in the first place. I have been avidly reading most of what he has written over the past six months, writing notes, looking for themes and trajectories, and am now near the end of a synthesis of his approach. For a scholar of such ambition, whose work is of such a comprehensive scope, this was no easy task. But I feel that I at least have a rough framework, and the purpose of these series of posts is to help work out these thoughts in dialogue. The question of church and academy is far from resolved, so I suggest that anyone interested in academic study of the bible as a means of deepening their faith should be interested by what he has to say!

WARNING: Childs tends to touch a nerve in both Liberal and Conservative camps. While Conservatives may love his focus on the final form of the text and his claim that dogmatics should be related to exegesis, they will find it hard to stomach his rejection of a correspondence theory of truth as well as his claim that the New Testament cannot be a lens through which to read the Old. Liberals are forced to accept that his position on critical issues qualifies him as a member of the academic guild. Those on the right, however, cannot stand his rejection of the Enlightenment's faith/reason dichotomy, while those on the left are unsettled by his commitment to a concrete theological referent of the text which functions as a norm for theological interpretation. When a scholar with such a long and productive career as Childs manages to change the face of biblical studies on the one hand, and yet annoy so many people on the other, then surely he has something to say that's worth listening to ...

A great resource is Daniel Driver's blog Figured Out. Daniel is doing his whole doctorate on Childs (a worthy task!) and has an online exhaustive bibliography, biographical details, links to obituaries and a personal tribute. These details are under his 'research section' here. A surprising amount of Childs' work is available for free online, all of which have been made available on the blog.


voxstefani said...

I was unaware that the esteemed Dr. Childs had departed this life. Memory eternal!

I do owe him much: I was just finishing his commentary on Exodus when the one on Isaiah came out, and so I read them back to back; and a couple months before starting on Exodus, I had read his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, which left me hungry for more. I was just then on the brink of becoming Eastern Orthodox, and his works surely influenced me in that direction. As you quite rightly suggested regarding Kevin Edgecomb's typically brilliant comments in John Hobbins' blog, the Eastern Orthodox attitude towards the Scriptures and their interpretation is profoundly relevant to Childs' program--and I believe that the reverse is also true. This is something that I'm certainly hoping to explore in my graduate work, but it is as yet unclear to me where could such a project be undertaken.

And of course, thanks for the link to Daniel Driver's research site! What a wonderful resource; I'm certain that I will refer to it constantly.

drd said...

Not that it matters, but my blog, which used to be called Figured Out, has been renamed to "Occasional Publications." Just FYI. I do still like the old name, but it wasn't quite appropriate anymore.

mike aubrey said...

Conservatives shouldn't be bothered by Child's rejection of correspondence theory. That's just silly.

Carl Henry rejected it. He's as conservative as they come (well, kind of).

Phil Sumpter said...


I'm glad to find a co-fan! I would love to know how that helped bring you to Orthodoxy (with a capital 'O'), though no doubt there were a whole host of factors and it's a long story ... I'd love to hear your point of view as the discussion unravels!


names are important (you're an OT scholar, you know that!), so I've made the requisite amendments to my blog list.


thanks for the tip. By 'correspondence theory of truth' I meant the idea that the Bible's historical statements, for example, must always literally correspond to the ways things were in reality, otherwise the Bible isn't true. I didn't mean the more philosophical notion that truth statements in general are only true if they correspond to facts (though the two ideas seem related ...). I think in this sense Henry's signing of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy means that he is committed to a literal interpreation of biblical texts that purport to make 'ostensive reference' to historical facts, i.e. Isaiah wrote the book of Isaiah; Jonah went into the alimentary canal of a great fish; hills of foreskins could be excavated and shown to line up with accounts about them; the sea parted and dry ground existed on the terms given by the words used to say this; the letters attributed to Paul were all written personally by him in the same basic way letters are written today (to use some of Seitz's examples).

Been there said...

I think you may find the downloadable lectures by Skip Moen very interesting. I think you would find them intellectually stimulating, they can be found at: