What is really needed is a realistic epistemology of how we know things from texts, a literary theory explaining how texts do things to readers, a hermeneutical explanation for how authors communicate through the signs/symbols of language, and a definition of history and historiography.Anthony Thiselton, N.T. Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Scot McKnight are recommended reading for each of these areas.
I'm all for a reappraisal of the way humans know, the nature of texts, the nature of reading and definitions of history (the last being a central concern of Childs'). However, as far as theological reading is concerned, I'm not sure whether the proposed areas of research really get to the heart of the crisis which the church is currently facing, and has been facing for quite some time now. The following thoughts on this issue are taken from C. Seitz's book, Figured Out.
Vanhoozer and Wolterstorff talk of the contemporary crisis as a hermeneutical one. In their works they attempt to address topics such as divine speech, inspiration, and authorship. This is done from the perspective of general hermeneutics (the philosophy of language; speech-act theory). Seitz wonders to what degree they focus on the long-standing problem of the relationship between the two testaments of Christian Scripture. To quote:
"Hermeneutics as a science of reading and interpretation could simply speak about matters of authorship, reader, text, inspiration, divine speech, and so forth, in the manner of Vanhoozer and Wolterstorff, and never once address the difference between Old and New Testaments on historical, theological, canonical, literary/genre, or specified audience/ecclesial grounds. The Bible would be one big book, whatever its differences, and the problems of talking about author or reader or text could go on in general terms without much regard for the divide separating two distinct literatures (Old Testament, or Tanak, and New Testament). And we could still plausibly argue that a hermeneutical crisis existed and buffeted the field and not be wrong.” (pp. 13, 14).Seitz goes on to point out how a series of crises already existed in biblical studies before the advent of post-modernism and post-critical theology. They focused not on general hermeneutics (text, reader, author, world) but on quite specific matters: the historicality of individual writings, literary methods and their compatibility, dating texts properly, social-historical reconstruction, the history of religion and so forth. Always sitting close to these questions were serious subisidiary or even more up-front concerns. Is there unity to Christian scripture? How is the Old Testament Christian scripture? In what way does the New Testament function as scripture, especially given its fourfold gospel record and what would come to be known as "quests for the historical Jesus" behind this fourfold account?
These questions persisted and were never completely banished from the field. Seitz believes it is proper to call these theological, and not just hermeneutical questions:
"They have to do with the way in which the testaments, each in its own specific historical and canonical way, bear witness to God. In the middle of the last century and for many decades into our own, these questions did not just hover near the fray but were first-order questions demanding first-order answers if the discipline was to have any integrity as a historically oriented one still tuned to the life of the church and an earlier history of interpretation." (14)Seitz concludes:
"The turn to hermeneutics as a general discipline, then, has not so much offered a resolution of older theological questions, historically considered, as it has changed the subject. We may wish to judge that a good thing, but in so doing there would have to be an admission that what has counted in the history of biblical studies for the past century and a half as central was misguided from the start. The field posed the wrong questions, it would have to be concluded, and therefore got wrong answers and ended up in its present desuetude - call it a "hermeneutical crisis" - as a consequence. A cursory comparison with Westermann's Essay on Old Testament Hermeneutics, produced at a period of general critical (methodological) consensus, shows an array of concerns untouched in recent hermeneutical discussions, and any accounting of our present crisis is obliged to say why this is so." (14, 15)I should just add that John's post on this topic has started an interesting conversation with Dave from Tolle Lege.