Saturday, 29 September 2007
Friday, 28 September 2007
This peculiar relationship between God and his people has left a mark on Scripture, a product of this relationship, such that the text has acquired its own theological dynamic. The process of collecting, interpreting and shaping the sacred traditions was primarily a theological one, in which the sacred heritage was shaped in such a way that it would be able to function as authoritative scripture for those who had not participated in the original events of revelation. It was a profoundly hermeneutic activity. An interpretive structure was given, contouring relationships between texts and setting the boundaries for later generations within which God's voice was to be heard. A “redactioned” or “ruled” reading of the texts, often characterised as “kerygmatic”, “confessional” or “canonical”, was thus required by later generations in order to hear God's word for a new day.
Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Even if he did it in the middle of a capital city before thousands of onlookers, how would they get beyond complete shock and begin to make sense of it?
One way would be to situate these events in a broader context. Instead of seeing these events as random occurrences in the midst of history, waiting for our cognitive registration, they could be interpreted as central elements in an unfolding plan. Jesus' work could be understood on a broader horizon encompassing the creation of the universe in the past and its ultimate renewal in the future.
Details could be added to this plan to fill out the picture. They could include the notion that human beings have a role to play in this unfolding drama. There could be the election of a special people, the institution of specific ordinances, the provision of particular media and mediators and so on. This comprehensive vision could encompass our own lives, so that we too are part of the drama.
When located at a specific point in this story, Jesus' achievements could take on a whole new dimension of meaning for those who choose to accept them. No longer are we just to believe in them, but we are to see that they compel us to a particular way of life, a particular sense of purpose and a particular vision for the construction of our lives.
This is indeed the traditional Christian 'metanarrative', expressed, for example, in Irenaeus' 'rule-of-faith'. Somewhere in this story the fact of 'Scripture' breaks in. The prophets had always spoken of the destiny of this chosen people as being guided in some sense by a "word of God". This word is creative, accomplishing what God purposes (Isaiah 55:11). It “overtakes” the generations it once addressed to speak an abiding word to later generations (Zech 1:6), “creating of itself new scope and range of meaning” (Seitz, 1998: 12). The function of this Word is not just to report what God has done, but to teach and guide. It has a pedagogical dimension which has continued into its inscripturated form. The text itself, as part of God's ways with his people, draws us in , challenges us to be who we should be, upturns our self-serving views of how the world should be. As M. Sternberg points out in relation to the ideological function of the biblical narrator:
he sets out not to destroy an enemy but to redeem and establish control over his own people and, what is more, to manipulate them into the reverential obedience that his lord exacts as his due (1987: 154).
As such, the Bible itself, as God's word become text, is part of his redemptive ways in the world. It's meaning is not a static deposit to be preserved in an archive; it is a gospel to be proclaimed and a text to be used. As Childs says concerning traditional Christian understandings of their Scripture:
The ability of the scriptures continually to evoke new and fresh understandings was commensurate with the promised Spirit of the resurrected Chirst to illuminate and guide the Church through the Word" (2005: 314).
Text and subject matter, event and interpretation cannot be separated. And given the urgency of the task of mission and discipleship it is incumbant upon us to attend to their subtle and complex interrelation.
Monday, 24 September 2007
Instead, a beautiful 1 minute video clip made to celebrate the Jewish New Year. I adore it!
Sunday, 23 September 2007
"Blessed is he that knoweth how good it is to love Jesus, and for His sake to despise himself. It behoveth the lover of Jesus to forsake all other love beside Him, for He will be loved only above all other. The love of creatures is deceivable and failing, but the love of Jesus is faithful and always abiding. He that cleaveth to any creature must of necessity fail, as doth the creature; but he that cleaveth abidingly to Jesus shall be made stable in Him for ever. Love Him, therefore, and hold Him thy friend; for when all others forsake thee, He will not forsake thee, nor suffer thee finally to perish.
Friday, 21 September 2007
- Childs is NOT a postmodernist
- Childs is NOT a narrative theologian
- Childs does NOT privilege the MT to the exclusion of LXX
- Childs has NO vested interested by virtue of his dogmatics to seek unity in the Bible at the level of the text
- The diachronic dimension is of EXTREME importance in Childs' canonical approach
- The world 'outside' the text is of importance to Childs' approach
- Childs does NOT read the Old through the lens of the New
I find it frustrating how often these misunderstandings are perpetuated. If you read detached extracts from Childs then it may be possible to come to these conclusions, but if you look at the big picture these myths are relatively quickly dispelled. The perpetuation of such misunderstandings are probably due to the misreadings of Barr and Barton, who are used as the lens through which to read Childs. I strongly suggest that anyone interested in criticising this figure should at least read his responses to these constant accusations, many of which he had already clarified before the criticisms were made in the first place. If people don't have the time or inclination to sit through his works, then I would strongly recommend reading the latest and most thorough defence of his position by C. Seitz in his 2006 article “The Canonical Approach and Theological Interpretation”, in which he goes point by point through each of the common critiques brought against Childs. After personally attempting to grapple with Childs on his own terms, I honestly believe that there is no one who has understood what he is actually about as well as Seitz, let alone defend or critique him (a close runner up would be Levenson in his article “Is Brueggemann really a pluralist?”). I'm almost willing to post a photocopy of his article to those who want to read it!
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
"what we ordinarily take to be "real" is in fact a distorted picture of the world, and it is only the revelatory power of God's word that casts a true light on the landscape of human experience and, at the same time, heals our capacity to see" (p.6).
This is a non-foundationalist approach in that it recognises the central role of community in forming us as interpreters and thus seeks to locate interpretation of the Bible within the broader context of church tradition. I'll limit my review to what Hays considers 12 identifying marks of "biblical interpretation oriented to the knowledge of God":
- Theological exegesis is a practice of and for the church. These texts have been passed onto us by the church's tradition as the distinctive and irreplaceable testimony to events in which God has acted for our salvation. As such the are to be regarded at the outset as Scripture, not merely as a collection of ancient writings whose content is of historical interest. These texts are to be normative for the community.
- Theological exegesis is self-involving discourse. Interpreters themselves are addressed and claimed by the word of God that is spoken in the text, and we are answerable to that word. As a result theological exegesis will frequently contain pronouns in the first and second person. Such readings are closely interwoven with worship.
- At the same time, historical study is internal to the practice of theological exegesis. The reasons for this are theological: God has created the material world, and God has acted for the redemption of that world through the incarnation of the Son in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth.
- Theological exegesis attends to the literary wholeness of the individual scriptural witnesses. The Bible must be read neither as an anthology of disconnected theological sound bites nor, on the other hand, as a single undifferentiated story. Rather, the Bible contains a chorus of different voices, and the distinctive integrity of each part in the chorus is essential to its polyphonic performance (cf. the fourfold Gospels).
- The fifth point is the dialectical converse of the previous one: theological exegesis can never be content only to describe the theological perspectives of the individual biblical authors; instead, it always presses forward to the synthetic question of canonical coherence. We must seek the big picture, asking how any particular text fits into the larger biblical story of God's gracious action.
- Theological exegesis does not focus chiefly on the hypothetical history behind the biblical texts, nor does it attend primarily to the meaning of texts as self-contained works of literature; rather, it focuses on these texts as testimony. This means we need to learn to stand where these witnesses stand and look where they point in order to learn to see as they see. In this way we will find our vision trained anew.
- The language of theological exegesis is intratextual in character, i.e we should remain close to the primary language of the witnesses rather than moving away from the particularity of the biblical testimony to a language of second-order abstraction that seeks to "translate" the biblical imagery into some other conceptual register.
- Theological exegesis, insofar as it stays close to the language and conceptions of the NT witnesses, will find itself drawn into the Bible's complex web of intertextuality. This includes citations, allusions as well as typological correspondences between the testaments.
- Theological exegesis thereby is committed to the discovery and exposition of multiple senses in biblical texts. OT texts, when read in relation to Jesus, take on new resonances.
- Learning to read the texts with the eyes of faith is a skill for which we are trained by the Christian tradition. Consequently, we can never approach the Bible as if we were the first ones to read it - or the first to read it appropriately. Theological exegesis will find hermeneutical aid, not hindrance, in the church's doctrinal traditions.
- Theological exegesis, however, goes beyond repeating traditional interpretations; rather, instructed by the example of traditional readings, theological interpreters will produce fresh readings that encounter the texts anew with eyes of faith and see the ways that the Holy Spirit continues to speak to the churches through the same ancient texts that the tradition has handed on to us.
- Finally, we must always remember that we are not speaking about our own clever readings and constructions of the text but, rather, of the way that God, working through the text, is reshaping us (cf. Hebrews 4:12). This means that theological exegesis must always be done from a posture of prayer and humility before the word.
Despite the many points of commonality with Childs' approach, there is still room for qualification (especially the overly NT emphasis of point 8!). Hays goes on to give a case study in relation to the Christology of Luke 7:18-23. I have to say, I find it hard to see the difference between his exegesis and that of a more talented historical-critic in tune of intertextual issues and the implications of the text for the bigger picture. For an example of theological exegesis which more seriously works with the two testamental nature of the Bible, I recommend Seitz's essay "Isaiah in New Testament, Lectionary, Pulpit" (1998:213-228).
Nevertheless, this is promising stuff and will definitely be a reference point for work to come.
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
The root of the word 'authority' goes back to the word 'author'. The authority of Scripture resides in its ultimate author: God. The Bible is to be believed and submitted to because it is the word of God.
As “witness” the Bible is not a closed self-referential universe but rather a vehicle pointing beyond itself to 'what it is really all about', i.e. the text's true subject matter. The witnessed-to reality can be variously labelled as Scripture's “substance” (res), “Word”, “God”, “Christ”, “the divine reality which has entered time and space”, “Gods one plan of redemption” or “Gospel”. Whatever nomenclature this ultimate subject of the Bible receives, it is the life and sustenance of the church.
Monday, 17 September 2007
On my Faith and Criticism post, I am very privileged to have Daniel Driver, an expert on Childs, contribute on the fundamental difference between Barr and Childs, namely their different responses to the challenge of the Enlightenment. He summarises:
“The follow-up point, which I have tried to sketch here, is that the motivation for Barr's criticism stems from a different understanding of the Enlightenment. Unlike Childs, he does not see that much of significance was lost in its advent.”
He goes on to talk about the issue of 'referentiality' in Childs' work, which, as we shall see in the course of this thread (when it finally gets underway), is a central component of Childs' overall approach.
In response to Stephen's rightful emphasis on the 'textual' and inherently interpretive nature of Scripture, John raises important issues on the nature of Christ's presence in the church and the implications of this for our reading of this text as a witness to this reality.
In the 'alethiology' post, John clarifies the nature of knowing by reference to the world of physics and automobiles, calling for restraint in overemphasising our inability to know something objectively:
“saying that the impossibility of a totally objective thought implies that we should not try to be objective is like saying that the impossibility of 100% frictionless automobile engine implies that we shouldn't use motor oil.”
Scott, on the other hand, is far more sceptical about the parallels between scientific and theological knowing. The metaphysics of classical physics is an insufficient base in terms of which one can conceptualize theological truth. If you modify the metaphysic (so it no longer has 'modernist' assumptions), you may be able to talk more meaningfully about a truth which shares common ground with both science and theology.
Those are my brief summaries of what has been going on. Check them for yourself and feel free to tell me I've missed the point.
Sunday, 16 September 2007
Just one quick note: the blog Old Testament Passion has a useful link to Zondervan Software which offers free downloads for up to $25 dollars the first time you download a book. Just log in a then type in the code AVZCS8 at checkout. Two books of interest are G. Fee's How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth and K. Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in this Text?
I also recommend a peek at Scott Robert's extremely helpful comments on my 'alethiology' post below, along with John Poitier's qualification of the meaning of the term.
Have a nice Sunday!
Saturday, 15 September 2007
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.
Friday, 14 September 2007
Alethiology (or Alethology) literally means 'the study of truth', but can more accurately be translated as 'the study of the nature of truth'. It could be argued that this is synonymous with epistemology, the study of knowledge, and that dividing the two is mere semantics, but there is a defintite distinction between the two. Epistemology is the study of absolute or factual truth - or to coin a phrase of 'known knowns'. Alethiology is more deeply concerned with the nature of truth rather than the facts of truth. What is truth, rather than what facts are true.
Of course, this argument is fascinating to me, as up until now I've debated with people from the secular end of the spectrum who claim that Childs is too Christian and thus imports an external ideology into ancient texts.
Seitz has commented on the wide spectrum of disagreement on Childs' approach: from both the left and the right. To quote:
Childs's Biblical Theology may prove to be a book in search of an audience, and for that reason it will be judged by the widest variety of readers as learned but unsatisfactory and by an even smaller audience as the most brilliant proposal for theological exegesis offered in recent memory, but one unlikely to gain the sort of foothold necessary to transform the church in its use of scripture. (1998: 108, 9)
Thursday, 13 September 2007
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
The result of this tension impinges upon me as an (aspiring) academic scholar, committed to the truth of the real world and thus open to criticism from evidence and logic. Yet my faith can, by definition, not be left at the door of my office, to be picked up again when I go home. How do I relate the demands of my tradition to the rigours of scientific research and the challenges of contemporary thought to the validity of my beliefs?
- The authority of Scripture
- The literal and spiritual senses of Scripture
- Scripture's two testaments
- The divine and human authorship of Scripture
- The Christological content of the Christian Bible
- The dialectical nature of history
(taken from Childs, 2004). Is this a fair summary? Are there more that have been missed out? Is it possible to affirm and operate in terms of these beliefs in the modern, critical world?
I'd love to know your thoughts. The answers are tough so I'll need help along the way!
Update: The most of the contents of this thread were published in an online edition of the Princeton Theological Review dedicated to Brevard Childs. You can read it here. Many of these posts have generated valuable threads of dialogue and thus could be read as a kind of commentary on the article. I should add that my views have matured somewhat since the publishing of the article. I hope to publish another, more mature version, soon.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
In a recent post Jim West commented on the religious rhetoric being used in the Christian Zionist magazine 'Israel Today' to protest against the destruction of important Jewish artefacts by Palestinians on the Temple Mount. The worry is that disinterested archaeology is being jeopardized by calls to 'Bible believing Christians' who should also have an ideological stake in the site. I would concur that perverting facts in the name of religion or any form of ideology is not a desideratum, and is best avoided (confusing the 'Waqf Authority' with 'Muslim' is particularly unhelpful).
On the website of One Jerusalem, a video has been produced with the same appellatory tone, though this time in reference to Orthodox Judaism (check out the vid). It seems as if both faiths, 'Bible believing Christianity' (which in the link means a certain strand of conservative evangelicalism) and 'Orthodox Judaism', feel that historical, political reality and religious belief cannot be separated.
That this is can be dangerous and perverted is exemplified in this shocking video documentation here (linked to and criticised by The Metaphysical Club: please, watch it! If you call yourself 'Christian' then surely it is your duty!).
Nevertheless, have they got it all wrong? How should a 'bible believing' Christian or Jew respond? What is the nature of the relationship between faith and the 'real world'? Is it the case that faithful Christianity is a matter of private spiritual issues that shouldn't touch on the political, social, material reality around us? Or have these so-called fundamentalists touched on something at the heart of our faith that cannot be denied - as difficult and uncomfortable as that may be?
Monday, 10 September 2007
It is thus appropriate that the words of Karl Barth's variation on Amos 5.21-23 should accompany us as we start our journey (see comments for German original):
Sunday, 9 September 2007
Considering that these will be my first few posts, it's appropriate that I write something programmatic, something to set the tone for my approach to come.
Where do I start, philosophy or theology? Derrida or Barth? This question has bugged the church since early days. Some say that they should have nothing to do with each other (à la Tertullian, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”). Others think they're either talking about different things or the same thing in different ways (e.g. Jean Paul II, “faith and reason are the two wings of a bird”). Liberal Protestants such as Kant and de Wette felt that theology was subservient to philosophy.
Perhaps that's the wrong way of framing the question ... I quote Derrida:
"In all the other disciplines you mention, there is philosophy. To say to oneself that one is going to study something that is not philosophy is to deceive oneself. It is not difficult to show that in political economy, for example, there is a philosophical discourse in operation. And the same applies to mathematics and the other sciences. Philosophy, as logocentrism, is present in every scientific discipline and the only justification for transforming philosophy into a specialized discipline is the necessity to render explicit and thematic the philosophical subtext in every discourse. The principle function which the teaching of philosophy serves is to enable people to become 'conscious', to become aware of what exactly they are saying, what kind of discourse they are engaged in when they do mathematics, physics, political economy, [biblical studies,] and so on. There is no system of teaching or transmitting knowledge which can retain its coherence without, at one moment or another, interrogating itself philosophically, that is, without acknowledging its subtextual premises; and this may even include an interrogation of unspoken political interests or traditional values.” (in Kearney, 1984: 4)
Clearly 'philosophy' of a special kind is being envisioned here. This is not an intellectual discipline to be arranged alongside others but a kind of river flowing beneath our feet, depriving us of a solid foundation to stand on. 'Philosophy' as discipline is a pragmatic decision to reveal the river which threatens to tear away all our pretensions to intellectual certainty.
So where do we begin? C. Bartholomew (2000) suggests that both theology and philosophy are academic disciplines which are traditioned. The starting point is Christ as the clue to both disciplines.
I feel like I've had one of those boundary-crossing moments. The last time I felt like this was when I got married two years ago. I somehow felt that the minute the registrar signed the document my 'being' was altered, I was no longer the Phil Sumpter I had been a split second before hand. This feeling of 'being married' was actually quite annoying as the church wedding was the next day and I had wanted to let that be the 'proper' wedding. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it, my ontology had already acquired its new structure as my 'wife' glided down the aisle.
And so it is today. I have some how 'grown up', become 'technologically literate'. What that means remains to be seen. But somehow I don't think my world will ever be the same again.