Thursday, 31 January 2008

Poetry Wilderness

“The poetic imagination is marginal within our dominant scientific culture. This tends towards a deadening literalism. In most traditional societies, poetry, myth, song and music were central to the culture. In our society these have often been reduced to entertainment. The hunger for the transcendent is still there in the human heart. As St. Augustine said, it is restless until it rests in God. But in our postmodern society it is harder for the preacher to evoke that ultimate human destiny which transcends our words. Few preachers are poets. I am not. But if the preaching of the word is to flourish, then we need poets and artists, singers and musicians who keep alive the intuition of our ultimate destiny. The Church needs these singers of the transcendent to nurture her life and her preaching.”
(Timothy Radcliffe OP, ”The Sacramentality of the Word,” in LITURGY IN A POSTMODERN WORLD, pp.133-147, here p.145)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Liturgy and Exegesis

Halden from Inhabitatio Dei has written an interesting post entitled Reclaiming Christ's Time, in which he looks at the significance of practising the church's liturgical calendar for Christian ethical living, mission, and identity-formation. He claims that

The Christian liturgical year embodies a way of ordering time which is distinctively shaped by the Christian narrative. ... Through a narrative-Christological ordering the celebrations and festivities of its people, the church constructed a powerful mode of ecclesial formation that orients its members toward an explicitly theological and ecclesial understanding of their identity and the practice of everyday life.
This idea of situating ourselves in God's time has implications for how we should read our Bibles. I am once again brought back to that incredible theological exegete Christopher Seitz. In the preface to his book Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture, he makes the following comments:

"The loss of figural reading is not the loss of an exegetical technique. It is the loss of location in time under God. Certain forms of allegorical reading, it has been claimed, are ahistorical and must be cast out of the church's academic (or ecclesial) reading of the Bible. Ironically, however, those readings most interested in historical reference are the same ones that cannot make any accounting of the church's place in time and so resort to homiletical analogies of the most spiritualizing and moralizing sort in order to let the Bible have some sort of say after all the historical heavy lifting is over. And one might well question whether all spiritual reading was as temporally disinterested as modern historically minded folk have thought. At issue is likely a different order of temporality, not a spiritual-versus-historical frame of reference. ...
... My only prayer is that Christ's body will be "figured in" to his glorious body and that the scriptures would illumine him in his threefold mystery and give the church a place in time again."
(2001: viii)

Monday, 28 January 2008

Ghandi's Grandson Quits Peace Centre

This is the title of an interesting article in the Guardian, which you can read here. On the basis of intemperate remarks made about Jews and Israelis in the Washington Post, Ghandi has had to resign from the peace institute which he himself founded.

Here's what he wrote:

Gandhi wrote that Jewish identity ``has been locked into the holocaust experience - a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of (how) a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends.
``The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. ... The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger.''
Describing Israel as ``a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs,'' Gandhi asked whether it would ``not be better to befriend those who hate you?''
``Apparently, in the modern world so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept,'' he wrote. ``You don't befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.''
Gandhi later apologized ``for my poorly worded post,'' saying he shouldn't have implied that Israeli government policies reflected the views of all Jewish people.
For an expert, I don't just find these words poorly chosen, I find the analysis behind them naive in the extreme.

What do you think?

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Am I weird?

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me his philosophical/psychological interpretation of the following two biblical verses:

"If a grain of corn falls to the ground and does not die, it stays one/alone [monos]. But if it dies, it bears much [polun] fruit."
"The one who loves his life shall lose it, but the one who hates his life in this world shall keep it to eternal life.”
If I can summarize his thoughts in a brief paragraph, he basically finds the idea of "dying in order to live" to be incredibly life-affirming. The revitalizing energy of the divine reality exceeds our ability to comprehend or exhaust it, so that as long as we humans continue to insist on doing things "our way," accepting God only on "our terms," we cut ourselves of from this external source and end up cooking ourselves in our own soup. Hence, one must die in order to truely live (this is a heavy paraphrase).

I responded to this with my own understanding of these two verses. His response to my response was as follows:

What do I say to THAT!?
Phil I'm somehwat removed from the everyday western reality - as far as my aesthetic convictions go - but you live in THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY world I think I've ever been exposed to. To be honest I've always been a hint afraid of ventruing too near you as (as I remember you) you struck me as a little dogmatic. But now when you articulate your beliefs in the way you just have - it's utterly astonishing.
Well, here's what I wrote - I'd love to know what others think:

In its biblical context (as I understand it) the passage has an eschatological dimension that is totally life-affirming, though in a slightly more paradoxical and radical way then simply creating the psychological conditions for receptivity to “the Divinity.” It's predicated on the idea that the life of the created world has gone awry and is in need of rectification. We humans are part of the problem, given our hearts of stone, and so God has intervened from the outside, stepping into history to save the world. Because this world cannot help itself, it is dependent on this help from the outside. Death, then, both negates this life and reaffirms it in that it creates space for something new, and that which is new (the “new creation”) is a perfection of what was originally there but had become perverted (a return to Eden?). So dying in order to live is both an affirmation of the world and a judgement of it. On the lips of Jesus it's an echo of his crucifixion and bodily resurrection, the supreme moment in which God himself takes the evil of the world onto his shoulder and in death “exhausts” its power. With the resurrection of Jesus we have the first instance of new creation, the true life which is what creation was all about in the first place, a life which is both continuous and discontinuous with the imperfect life we know now. That's why the agricultural metaphor gets used further as Jesus is described as the “first fruits of the new creation.” Paul develops this further in Corinthians, where he applies the idea to all believers. I'd read what he has to say. The seed metaphor gets developed further and we see its true biblical meaning as referring to God's eschatological renewal of the cosmos. The implication is that we who accept Jesus into our lives, who are enabled to participate in his cross-and-resurrection-work, are also born anew with birthrights to this new creation, which is still only anticipated in the present and waiting for consummation. Hence the missiological dimension of Christianity: we need to proclaim this good news to the world that Jesus has conquered death and sin so that we too, sinners once contributing to the corruption of this life, can be redeemed and participate in God's work of salvation.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Figural Interpretation and Temporal Succession

Following on from my Barth quote concerning the "unity of the manifold," another beautiful quote on the complex yet powerfully relevant question of figurative reading, biblical referentiality and the theological unity of the Christian scriptures, this time by E. Auerbach. This is an area that fascinates me most at the moment. For those interested in this topic, I highly recommend Hans Frei's brilliant opening chapter from his Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.

"Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality. They are both contained in the flowing stream which is historical life, and only the comprehension, the intellectus spiritualis, of the interdependence is a spiritual act.

In this conception, an occurrence on earth signifies not only itself but at the same time another, which it predicts or confirms, without prejudice to the power of its concrete reality here and now. The connection between occurrences is not regarded as primarily a chronological or causal development but as a oneness within the divine plan, of which all occurrences are parts and reflections. Their direct earthly connection is of secondary imortance, and often their interpretation can altogether dispense with any knowledge of it."

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1968), 73, 555. Cited in Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (London: Yale Univ. Press, 1974), 28, 29.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

'Eyewitness' vs 'Written' Testimony: Some Thoughts from Seitz

Daniel Driver links to an article by Chris Seitz in the Daily Star, in which he pontificates on the significance of both eyewitness testimony and written testimony as they relate to the significance of the historical Jesus. I find Seitz to be a most profound thinker and recommend reading the short piece here.

I love his opening recollections on Childs, who died last year. They were good personal friends and he used to visit Seitz in Aberdeen on a regular basis. Seitz remembers what an enormous impact Childs' visit had on the students, who were able to actually meet and talk with the scholar in person. Seitz goes on:

"To be an 'eyewitness' can have a huge and memorable affect. But of course without the books and the great ideas to go ahead of him, this effect would have been nothing. Text and man required one another for the effect to be registered."
I adore Seitz.

Cf. my post on Augustine on this issue here.

Monday, 21 January 2008

The Relationship between Exegesis and Dogma: Childs' View

There's a bit of discussion going on at the moment in the blogosphere concerning the relationship between exegesis and dogma. I've already mentioned Christ Tilling's posts here. Mike Bird has made an independent contribution to the discussion here which is rightly corrected by Ben Myer's brilliant post here (though Mike responds in the long comment thread) with Doug's spot on reflections here. My tiny contribution to this discussion shall consist in quoting from that master of theological interpretation, who spent his career wrestling with the relationship between dogmatics and exegesis, Brevard Childs. This comes from his article, "Does the Old Testament Witness to Jesus Christ," in Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche (1997), 60:

"... it is an important caricature of the relationship between exegesis and theological reflection to suggest that the former is an independent historical and philological exercise which seeks objectively to discover what the text actually says, whereas the latter is a subsequent and subjectively reflective activity, largely of a speculative nature. This misleading mischief goes back at least to the time of Gabler. ... Rather, I would argue that the relationship between exegesis and theology is a far more complex and subtle one which is basically dialectical in nature. One comes to exegesis already with certain theological assumptions and the task of good exegesis is to penetrate so deeply into the biblical text that even these assumptions are called into question, are tested and revised by the subject matter itself. The implication is also that proper exegesis does not confine itself to registering only the verbal sense of the text, but presses forward through the text to the subject matter (res) to which it points. Thus erklären and verstehen belong integrally together in the one activity and cannot be long separated. ... In itself the presence of a dogmatic decision accompanying the exegetical task is of little consequence; rather, the crucial issue turns on the quality of both the exegetical analysis and the theological reflection in relation both to the text and the subject matter. Recent critical work[*] on the problem of determining a text's sensus literalis has made it abundantly clear that the literal sense was never confined to a verbal, philological exercise alone, but functioned for both Jews and Christians as a "ruled reading" in which a balance was obtained between a grammatical reading and the structure of communal practice or a rule-of-faith (regula fidei)."
[*] R. Lowe, "The Plain Meaning of Scripture in Ealry Jewish Exegesis" (1964); B.S. Childs, "The Sensus Literalis of Scripture: An Ancient and Modern Problem" (1976); K. Greene-McCreight, Ad Litteram: Understanding the Plain Sense of Scripture in the Exegesis of Augustine, Calvin and Barth of Genesis 1 - 3 (1994, Yale University dissertation).

Articulating "the unity of the manifold"

“The object of theological science in all its disciplines is the work and word of God in all their fullness, but in their fullness they are also the one work and word of God. This work and word are Jesus Christ, the one who was crowned as king of the Jews and Saviour of the world, who represents the one God among men and and man before the one God. He is the one servant and Lord who was expected, who arrived, and is now truly expected. Oriented to him who is its starting point and its goal, theological knowledge becomes a knowledge that articulates the unity of the manifold.”

As such,

“The intellectus fidei is engaged in gathering, although it abstains from equalizing, stereotyping, or identifying. While it gives every point of the circumference its special due, it brings together all parts from their own individual centers to their common center. ... In the theological act of knowledge, seeing is doubtless an attentive and exact gaze toward one or another special form of the object; as such, it is also sight that views one form together with the others. What is decisive is that it is an insight into the one object which presents itself now in this, now in that, form, or an insight into one particular form which has become a form of the one object. In the act of theological knowledge, every view, insight, and vision is attentively and accurately concentrated on this or that form. But also a syn-opsis, a seeing together of different forms, takes place. And finally, above all, each form is discovered to be a form of the one object. This is the sense of biblical exegesis, as well as the stocktaking and analysis known as Church history, or the history of dogmatics or theology.”

Barth, Evangelical Theology, 88—89; orig. 98—99.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Expository Preaching

Judy Redman posted a few days on the pros and cons of expository preaching. Though she affirms the value of preaching from the text, she rightly comments that

we need to look at the big picture - the themes that are consistent throughout scripture - not the fine detail, for our understanding about authentic Christian lifestyles.
Given my recent post on the necessity of 'tradition' in reading the Bible theologically, it's fitting that I reproduce my extensive comment on her blog here:

I should first make a confession: I’m a Quereinsteiger into theology, so my knowledge is limited to what I’ve read, which is for now mainly Childs and Barth. From what they say, a focus on the “big picture” would seem to be the best way to preach. Your average congregation member is going to be looking for ways to live their life in the fullness of what Christ has done, as well as to understand this fullness. Given that this reality is not available in any one text, it is the totality of Scripture that provides the most adequate context for accessing and proclaiming this truth. As Barth says, a theology which is orientated to him who is its starting point and goal must thus become “a knowledge that articulates the unity of the manifold.” Whatever text constitutes the reading for the day, in the act of preaching the logic of the Gospel requires that it be taken up into the whole and be seen in relation to this whole. A syn-opsis, a seeing-together, needs to take place.
I should add that this happens anyway. No one reads a text in isolation from the multitude of intertexts that are already present in his or her head. As such, a preacher should not only be theologically trained in learning how to relate the parts to the whole (Childs’ canonical approach?), he should be a faithful disciple, steeped in his tradition, so that, whether consciously or not, he becomes an adequate “intertextual hub,” presenting the Gospel as fully as possible.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

What do we do with tradition?

Chris Tilling posted recently on the relation of tradition to scritpture within the Church. He made the following quote from Perriman's book Otherways:

'Scripture is like a forest. As people explore the forest, they tend after a while to follow the paths that others have taken, simply because it's easier. So the paths get well-worn and eventually become the definitive and orthodox way of getting around the forest. In fact the paths have become so well established that people have produced maps, which has led to the phenomenon of people staying at home with their maps and never feeling the need to venture into the forest at all ... It would be nice, in a way, if we could leave the forest alone for a while, let the undergrowth regrow, let the old paths disappear, and then start again, so that we come to know the forest for the first time' (9)
I note in hindsight that in the highlighted text Perriman says "in a way", qualified with "for a while." Considering that I haven't read the book, my extended response may have been an over-reaction. But seeing as it took me a while, I thought I'd post it here (you can read the ensuing dialogue here).

. . .

I appreciate where Perriman is coming from - trying to stay awake to the particularity of the text and the implications of this particularity for our faith - but I think he needs to get clear on the nature of Christian faith itself first, before priviliging the Bible over tradition (how pretentious do I feel when I say that! Oh well). Here are my responses to comments:

From the previous post, Chris said:

But this makes me feel like Perriman's project runs the risk of neglecting the interpretive tradition of the church, and its central creedal statements

I think the risk is greater, it concerns the nature of Christian faith itself. Christian faith is not, in the first instance, about reading the Bible faithfully. It's a response to the Gospel, the God's work and word in Christ to which the four canonical Gospels only witness. They are not the Gospel themselves, they are signposts to the reality that preceded them, encompasses them and grasps us to make us want to read them in the first place.

This distinction between Gospel and text means that theological exegesis requires the paths in the forest, it requires tradition, for without the creedal summaries of the Church (which I define broadly, including Billy Graham's little pamphlets) we wouldn't know why we are reading and what we are reading for. The problem with the Pharisees was not that they were somehow lacking in a pre-traditional, un-mediated reading of the text but that they hadn't grasped the true substance of the text. Neither did the disciples, despite the fact that they knew the text's Substance personally on a daily basis. It took the post resurrection encounter with the extra-textual living Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit to open their eyes and to see what had been in the text all along. This extra-textual event "opened up" the text's true meaning (it's "spiritual" rather than "literal" meaning, to use patristic categories). It was because of this vision that the church was capable of reading the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament in the first place. Paul's hermeneutic, so scandalous to the historical-critical mind, was informed by this understanding of what had really been going on all the time (in seiner Exegese, er hat den Text verstanden, wenn nich erklärt, to use Dilthey's categories). It didn't matter how well or sensitively he read his Bible, without meeting Jesus he wouldn't have grasped the Bibles true meaning.

Thus, if "tradition" is understood to be a systematic formulation of the essence of Christian faith, then tradition is not only helpful to exegesis, it is necessary. I don't know how we'd read the Old Testament otherwise.

Which is why I disagree with Perriman's statement that

[Tradition] may arise out of our reading of scripture, but all sorts of problems arise, it seems to me, if we then reverse the process and allow our reading of scripture to be shaped by our later theological formulations

If Scripture is understood not to be the reality itself, but just a signpost to the reality (i.e. a "witness"), then a true theological grasp of individual texts requires that we to our reading in the light of broader formulations of what this single reality is. The two-testamental canon of scripture is a multifaceted witness to a single reality and its in our apprehension of the whole that we understand what is "really going on." The apostles experience of Jesus recalibrated their interpretation of the Old Testament. Our understanding of the Gospel should recalibrate our understanding of both testaments. We should never be content to remain of the surface, but, as Childs puts it, we need to pierce through to the true subject matter.

Which is why I find the following statement one-sided:

For there to be a genuine dialogue between scripture and tradition scripture must be seen for what it really is, independent of tradition as far as possible - otherwise it's a dialogue heavily weighted in favour of tradition.

Apart from struggling to understand in what sense Scripture "is independent of tradition", the true relationship is dialectic. Each area of discourse needs to be seen in the light of the other. It won't do to have a one way street going from Scripture to Tradition. This is an impossibility, both theologically and epistemologically.

I hope this makes some kind of sense ... I highly recommend Barth, Childs and Seitz on this topic. Frei wrote some great stuff on the need for typology in order to grasp the essential unity of the biblical message.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Barth on Word and Witness: A Three Sentence Summary

I have a confession to make: I've only read one book by Barth and I read it in German, which means that not only have I pulled out a single thread from what looks to be a complex tapestry, I've read it in a language which even Germans find hard to understand.

This circumstance notwithstanding, I offer my attempt at a summary of Barth's understanding of the role of Gospel and Witness in theological study. Please, do tell me how shallow and wrong this is and tell me where to look for a better summary of these issues.

So, here it is:
The goal of theological inquiry is the Gospel of God, a reality distinguishable from yet mediated through the canonical scriptures, understood to be the deposit of the historical witnesses of the prophets and the apostles to this reality in their own time. This reality is one, yet the witnesses are many. As such, the theologian, who can only stand in humble obedience to the superior testimony of the prophets and apostles, must constantly analyse and compare these manifold testimonies in relationship to their common referent, the object of theological science, the Gospel.

Implementing Barth's Programme Exegetically

The nature of Childs' concept of 'canonical context' as a theological and not just literary context has become clearer to me as I've been reading Karl Barth. It also seems to me that his development of this concept grew out of a concern to impliment Barth's project exegetically.

My logic runs like this:
  1. The appropriate (sachgemäß) focus of theology (whether dogmatic or exegetical) is the Gospel, the “work and word of God in the Immanuel-Story”, which is a narrative.

  2. This story is unitary, it is the single story of God's redemption.

  3. The witnesses to this story, however, are manifold.

  4. Therefore, the task of theology is a matter of gathering and syn-opsis, "seeing together" (Zusammensehen), with the goal of discerning the one story.

  5. Given that the witnesses were elected historical individuals ("the prophets and apostles"), Barth affirms that it is what they said that should form the raw material for this synthesising, i.e. the sources, redactors etc.

  6. Childs agrees with Barth on everything.

  7. There is one problem: how do we relate the parts?

  8. Here the canon steps in: it provides the structure for relating the parts to each other, some being subordinated, some being highlighted, some having their semantic content shifted. The canon was actually designed to do this, as it both creates and maintains the unity of the Bible (1970: 39).

  9. The final form thus becomes valid because it is the form which provides the co-ordinates in which the Gospel in its fullness can be perceived. This rational for focus on the final form is different to contemporary literary approaches, postmodern approaches, and other attempts to find ways to bridge the gap between past and present (symbolic, psychological, existential). It thus provides, I think, a fitting context for Seitz's claims that the real issue at stake in contemporary theological interpretation is not an adequate hermeneutics but an adequate theological appreciation of the nature of the Gospel and its God (which would seem to find its Brennpunkt in the question of the nature of the relation of the two testaments).

Does this follow? Are the assumptions correct? Is not the work of Seitz the way forward for the Church?

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Covenant as the Object of Theological Perception

In my last post I was trying to understand what it means for Jesus to be the 'centre' of the Scriputre, and I pointed out that Barth seemed to understand this in a covenental sense. 'Jesus' receives his meaning within the concept of covenant, it is the context into which he is fitted. This is what gives such a depth dimension to theology's object of inquiry: the “work and word of God in the Immanuel-Story" (and hence Seitz's comments on the fourfold nature of the gospel witness in my last post).

Well, this was confirmed for me today on p. 220 of Barth's Einführung. Unfortunately, I can't access the page on Amazon to translate it, so here's the German for those who are interested:

Der Gegenstand des theologischen Erkennens ist dieses Bundesgeschehen und in ihm die den Menschen mit Gott und Gott mit dem Menschen vereinigende vollkommene Liebe, in der darum keine Furcht ist, die darum all Furcht austreibt, weil Gott in ihr den Menschen um seiner selbst willen und so auch der Mensch Gott um seiner selbst willen geliebt hat, weil da auf beiden Seiten kein Bedürfen, Wünschen und Begehren, sondern nur eben die Freiheit gratis für einander da zu sein, am Werk war: Gottes ihm ursprünglich eigene Freiheit für den Menschen und zugleich die dem Menschen geschenkte Freiheit für Gott - Agape, die zugleich von oben herab und in der Macht dieses Herabsteigens von unten hinauf steigt - Beides, nein dieses Eine in der gleichen Souveränität.
(You can actually listen to Barth cite part of this here)

This reminds me of Benjamin Myer's one sentence summary of Barth's Church Dogmatics:

God speaks a free and loving “Yes” to Jesus Christ; the event of this “Yes” is God’s trinitarian life, and its corresponding echo is a creative and redemptive “Yes” to humanity, so that God’s relationship to humanity is an echo and an analogy of God’s relationship to Jesus Christ.
(Ben Myer's blog Faith and Theology, by the way, is an excellent resource for all things Barthian).

Excellent Online Audio Introduction to the Tanakh

A while back I linked to the website of Yale Divinity School, where you can download both audio and video recordings of a brilliant introductory course to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (hat tip to Deane). I've pretty much made my way through the 24 hours of material and I have to say that I find it very well done. Christine Hayes is extremely articulate and engaging; at the end of each lecture I find myself itching to hear more. It's worth noting the very Jewish tone of the presentation: Hayes is herself from the field of Talmudic studies, the translation and study Bible she uses are Jewish, and the majority of the scholars she calls on are Jewish (Kaufmann, Levenson, Greenberg, Weinfeld).

I found the opening lectures on the Pentateuch the most rewarding. The sections on the histories was pretty much standard historical critical fare, along with her treatment of the prophets. I am disappointed by the underlying aggression to the apparent "distortions" of later Christian tradition (e.g. she's happy to point out the mistranslation of parthenos in Isaiah, but then, a few minutes later, fails to point out how Isaiah' wrestling with the problem of sin and forgiveness are taken up in the New Testament. References to the New Testament are consistently negative). I'm also disappointed by the way that Childs does not even get a mention, despite the fact that his entire career was spent at Yale and that she mentions in the course outline that she's interested in "canonical approaches." It only gets a first mention in lecture 21, and there it seems to be using the term in the way that Sanders used it. This is fair enough, but given Yale's post-liberal heritage I'd have thought that she would have at least pointed out the interpretative options.

All in all it's well worth a listen. For those on a time budget, two lectures are particularly worth listening to:

  1. The Priestly Legacy: Cult and Sacrifice, Purity and Holiness in Leviticus and Numbers (no#9; I was surprised to hear that she distinguishes between moral and cultic purity)

  2. Biblical Law: The Three Legal Corpora of JE (Exodus), P (Leviticus and Numbers) and D (Deuteronomy) (no#10; beautiful outline of main emphases and its ancient context).

Monday, 14 January 2008

What is the Centre of Scripture: Jesus or the Covenant?

What is the centre of the Bible according to Barth? I would have thought it would be Jesus, but as I read his Introduction it would seem to be the covenant. He talks of how God is revealed in the history of his deeds, and that the most significant of these is the "establishing, maintaining, accomplishing and fulfilling of a covenant" first with Israel, later with humanity. This covenant was imperfect due to the imperfection of the human covenant partner. It found its consummation, therefore, in the perfect covenant parter, Jesus the true Israelite. Yet the perfection of Jesus exceeded the expectations of the Old covenant, in that God himself indwelled Jesus.

Barth does indeed say that the object of theology is "the Word of God in Christ", but on closer analysis this Word is a far broader concept than the person of Jesus. It would seem to be Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenant. On p. 23 Barth defines the phrase "the Word of God in Christ" as “God's Word spoken both in the relation of the history of Israel to the history of Jesus Christ and the relation of the history of Jesus Christ to the history of Israel". The Jesus of the gospels would seem to be one instantiation of this Word in Christ, which can only be fully comprehended in the context of a two-testamental witness, neither of which is subordinated to the other.

Am I reading Barth right here? Is God's covenant with humanity the heart of the Gospel and Scripture?

. . .

Regardless of whether 'covenant' is the correct term to describe the Gospel's centre, the idea that "the Word of God in Christ" is the object of theological study, rather than the concrete Jesus as presented in the gospels narratives, finds an echo in something Seitz wrote in his article "In Accordance with the Scriptures" (1996). The context of discussion is the theological significance of the fourfold gospel witness:

"It is not that Jesus is hidden behind the words about him, which must be sifted and probed to get at "historical Jesus". it is rather, that the words that tell about him simultaneously convey their inadequacy, in formal terms, because of the subject matter that they are trying to reach. The very fourfoldness of the gospel record is a witness to the majestic difficulty of the endeavor of presenting jesus as a character of time and space, fully man, fully God. But this is not an inadequacy that can be remedied through historical-critical heavy lifting, because it inheres with the subject matter itself, which is God in Christ - who exposes our inadequacy in trying to speak of him, and yet simultaneously remedies this through the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, allowing the frail testimony of human minds to be the lens on the glory of God, a touching of the ark of the covenant." (p. 58).

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Were Later Redactors also Inspired?

A question often asked of Childs is whether the later redactors were 'inspired'. This is a question I used to ask, primarily because I was working with a conception of lone prophets (Isaiah, Hosea) sent to a people with a specific message. Since then, my understanding of 'prophet' has broadened. A prophet doesn't have to be named, a prophet doesn't have to write something himself, a prophet can simply be a history teller (the 'deuteronomist'?). In fact, the more I think of it, prophetic activity can be attached to all kinds of activities and not only those of the fiery-eyed finger-pointing type. The single uniting factor is the God who called this prophetic activity into being, the Word to which all these activities witness.

Given the closeness of Childs to Barth, the following words from Barth's Introduction should help fill out the picture:

"The Prophetic men of the Old Testament witnessed Yahweh's action in the history of Israel, his action as father, king, lawgiver and judge. They saw his free and constructive love, which nevertheless was a consuming love; in Israel's election and calling they beheld Yahweh's grace, and his kind but also severe and wrathful direction and rule over his people they saw his untiring protest and opposition to the conduct of Israel, the incorrigible contender with God. Israel's history spoke to the prophets. In the manifold forms of this history they heard Yahweh's commands, judgements and threats as well as his promises - not confirmations of their own religious, moral, or political preferences, or their optimistic or pessimistic views, opinions and postulates! What they heard was, instead, the sovereign voice of the God of the covenant: "Thus says the Lord!"This is the God who is constantly faithful to his unfaithful human partner. It was his own Word which these witnesses were enabled, permitted and called to echo, either as prophets in the narrower sense of the term, or as prophetic narrators, or occasionally as lawyers, or as prophetic poets or teachers of wisdom. In giving their witness they, of course, listened to their predecessors as well, appropriating in one way or another their answers and incorporating them into their own. It was Yahweh's Word itself, as it was spoken in his history with Israel, which they brought to the hearing of their people. Naturally, each prophet also spoke within the limits and horizons of his time, its problems, culture and language. They spoke, first of all, viva voce, but they also wrote down these words or had them written down so that they should be remembered by succeeding generations. The Old Testament canon is a collection of those writings which prevailed and were acknowledged in the synagogue. Their content was so persuasive that they were recognized as authentic, trustworthy and authoritative testimonies to the Word of God" (1963: 27, 8).

The conclusion of the quote can be read here.

Friday, 11 January 2008

A Theological Cancer

Who can refute the truth of the this statement by Barth?:

“Evangelical theology hears the witness of the Old Testament with the greatest earnestness and not merely as a sort of prelude to the New Testament. The classic rule is: Novum testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet: the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed by the New. As long as theology preferred to neglect this rule, as long as it was content to exist in a vacuum by claiming exclusive orientation to the New Testament, it was continually threatened by cancer its very bones.” (1963: 28)
The German original is in the comments.

What Does Childs Mean by 'Canonical Context'?

That's the question I'm struggling to get my head around at the moment. In his Biblical Theology in Crisis (parts of which you can read here) Childs makes clear that 'canonical context' is not simply an issue of the boundaries of the Bible:

"The fundamental theological issue at stake is not the extent of the canon, which has remained in some flux within Christianity, but the claim for a normative body of tradition contained in a set of books." (1970: 99)
Here, 'the Bible' is not so much a particular text as a theological principle that can be associated with any number of ecclesially recognised canons, united by their function as Scripture within the communities where they 'belong'. An element of this principle is that this "set of books" functions as Scripture only within the context of the community that treasures them (i.e. they are normative for someone). Thus, Childs can say,

"Scripture does not exist as a book of truth in itself, yet there is no church tradition independent of the biblical text."
The function of the Bible within the community is determinative for our understanding of its theological nature. For example,

"[t]he mistake of employing ... a concept of inerrancy, ... , was in its defining of the medium [of revelation, i.e. the Bible] apart from its canonical context." (103)
Here, confusingly for me, Childs refers to the community itself as the Bible's 'canonical context'. The 'Bible'-as-canon has its being in the community which treasures it. The church as 'canonical context' is made explicitly in the following:

"The claim for the inspiration of Scripture is the claim for the uniqueness of the canonical context of the church through which the Holy Spirit works." (ibid.)
I'm struggling to understand what it means to speak of the church as a 'canonical context', and how this relates to an understanding of the biblical text as a 'canonical context'. The issue seems to be central to Childs' entire approach and pops up in other guises throughout his writings. His use of the term 'rule-of-faith', for example, sometimes refers to the Gospel as summarised in church tradition and sometimes refers to the structure of the text itself.

In sum, how do canon as text and canon as community relate to each other? Or, to put it another way, how do the Gospel as context for theological interpretation and the text as context for interpretation relate to each other? How are they, so it seems as far as Childs is concerned, two sides of the same coin?

One possible answer:
the faith of the community exists in a dialectial relation with its traditions. The shape given to these traditions, eventuating in the various canonical forms, is one particular expression of the faith of the community, in this case a literary one, and as such represents one part of the community's overall witness to the Truth (expressed in other forms, such as liturgy, creed, and certain types of action in the world). As such, 'canonical context' is primarily a theological category and not a literary one. Reading Psalm 1 in its canonical context means reading it within the context of the Psalter, Old Testament, Bible and contemporary practice etc., not because that's the way it best makes sense but because the total sum of these contexts represents arena elected by God in which to make himself known. Given the central role of text and community in Childs theology of revelation, these two realities can only be seen as two sides of the same coin: the place where God makes himself known.

I hope these ponderings aren't too abstruse ...

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Which Church Father Are You?

Over at The Way of the Fathers you can complete a little questionnaire and find out which Church Father best fits you. I found my results rather accurate ... (I'm referring to the kitchen shears, of course).

You’re Origen!

You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Swiss-tainted Voice of Karl Barth

Ever wanted to hear the delightfully Swiss-tainted voice of Karl Barth? Well, have a listen to a brief excerpt from his 1962 lecture in Princeton here.

For other excerpts, check out the German language Karl Barth archive.

Hat tip to Ben Myers for his wonderful selection of audio material.

Free Books on Amazon!

I've just discovered something quite astounding: you can read entire books for free on Amazon!

I sat down this morning to start an essay on this similarities between Barth and Childs, and realized that I had overestimated my ability to both comprehend and work directly from the German. So I had a peek to see whether there was a translation into English, which there is. Not only does Amazon stock the book here, but you can also "Search Inside." Now, I always thought this meant you could look at the contents page, index and a few random excerpts but, if you type in the page number you want into the bar-thing along the top (what's it called?), you can go straight to the page and keep on flicking through the pages to the right and the left. Once Amazon have enough of this, they stop you and say that the next page is not available. However, if you type in the next page you want back into the empty bar-space-thingumy up top you can go to the next page you want and keep on reading. Marvelous!

Is this new to people or am I just way behind the times?

UPDATE 1: My euphoria has abated. It turns out you only have a limited number of searches. However, the limit really was surprisingly high.

UPDATE 2: OK, more qualifications are necessary. It would seem that you don't have access to every part of the book. For example, in Barth's Introduction you can't read the opening and concluding chapters, where some significant information is held. Oh the Ernüchterung! Well, I'm sure the function would be great for dictionaries and reference books ...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Intentionality and the Final Form

I've been struggling to understand the relationship of authorial/editorial intentionality and theological interpretation of the final form of the text. Childs distinguishes the 'canonical approach' from Redaction Criticism by pointing out that the focus of interpretation is on the effect created by the editorial work on the final form, which is distinct from the actual intentionality of the editors themselves. Thus, he can say the following:

"Whether or not one can determine the motivation for joining Gen. 1 with Gen. 2, the present juxtaposition within a larger literary context affects the semantic level on which ch. 2 is read." (JSOT 16, 1980: 54).
Yet, at the same time, he does believe that some sort of intentionality is vital for the canonical approach, such that our interpretations should be 'coerced' by it (e.g. in this article) I've just re-read Seitz's intro to Word Without End, and I feel that I'm on the road to understanding what the nature of this 'intentionality' is.

The 'canonical intentionality' of the final form includes the discreet intentionalities of the tradents, yet is at the same time of a different order (or at a different level). It goes beyond them somehow. This, at first, seems an odd idea (Barr called the concept 'magical'). However, a truly theocentric reading (which is how Childs sells his idea) is interested not in the text itself, but in the reality (res) to which the text points. This reality is (arguably) theological and is outside the text (hence allegory over midrash for Christians). In other words, the truth to which the text witnesses is greater, richer and more complex then the individual authors could have perceived. It encompasses the text, author and reading community.

The various tradents of the traditions did their work in reponse to this one reality, such that they participated in it while never comprehending it fully. To the degree that the tradents submitted to this reality, their combined messages were consistent with it while never fully comprehending it. It would then seem logical that even traditions which were accidentally brought together (a reality Childs affirms) would speak of this truth more adequately when heard in concert. To get back to the author's conscious intention is to make an anthropocentric move, one which from the outset assumes revelation is not a case of an external reality evoking a response from a people united by covenant and faith. This qualifies Childs' use of 'reader response' theory. The reader is responding to something that was 'intended', though ultimately it God who is intending and not the individual authors.

This assumes that there is a single reality behind the diversity, thus ensuring that canonical interpretation can only really be done by those who believe it in the first place. A secular approach will struggle to comprehend a move that goes beyond concrete, historical intentionality (including the postmodern variety, which focuses on our concrete, historical intentionality).

Does that make sense? Feel free to tell me I'm missing the point ...

UPDATE: Murray Rae wrote an excellent essay on this topic in the first edition of the Journal of Theological Interpretation. It's entitled "Texts in Context: Scripture and the Divine Economy" and can be read here (after Joel Green's short intro).

Sunday, 6 January 2008

'Figuring' oneself into the History of Mankind

Christopher Seitz is interested in how the Church can recover the instincts of figural reading in our own day. He says,
"The loss of figural reading is not the loss of an exegetical technique. It is the loss of location in time under God."
His prayer is that
"Christ's body will be 'figured in' to his glorious body and that the scriptures would illumine him in his threefold mystery and give the church a place in time again."
(2001:viii, italics my own).

A beautiful glimpse of what this could look like is provided by the eucharistic president's speech on behalf of the entire human race in the Alexandrian anaphora of St. Gregory Nazianzen:

"As the lover of man, thou didst create me as a man. Thou hadst no need of my service, though I had need of thy lordship. Of thy mercy thou didst bring me into existence, thou didst establish the heavens above me as a roof, thou didst make the earth firm for me to walk upon: for my sake though didst confine the sea: for my sake thou didst give life to animals in their kinds: thou didst put all things under my feet, not didst thou permit me to lack any of the things of thy love. It is thou who didst fashion me and lay thy hand upon me, thou didst inscribe in me the image of thy power, thou didst endue me with the gift of logos, thou didst open paradise for my delight, thou didst bestow on me the instruction of the knowledge of thyself, thou didst reveal to me the tree of life, didst make known to me the thorn of death. From one tree thou didst debar me that I might not eat of it: I ate it, I rejected thy law, I neglected thy commandment, I brought on myself the sentence of death. Thou, Lord, didst convert my punishment (into salvation) ... Thou who didst ever exist, camest on earth for us who were ignorant, didst enter the Virgin's womb, albeit God who cannot be contained. Thou didst not think it robbery to be equal with God, but thou didst empty thyself and take on thee the form of a servant, didst bless my nature in thyself, didst fulfil thy law for me ... Thou didst go forth like a sheep to the slaughter, didst manifest thy solicitude for me on the cross, didst slay my sin in thy sepulchre, didst take my first fruits up into heaven, didst reveal to me thy second advent wherein thou shalt come to judge the quick and the dead and give to everyone according to his deeds. I offer to Thee, Lord, the symbols of this my free service: my actions are a copy of thy word. It is thou who hast given me this mystic share in thy flesh in the bread and the wine. For in the night in which thou didst give thyself up ... "

Friday, 4 January 2008

Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity

Daniel Driver links to a fascinating-looking book, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity. Here's my favourite citation:

“Those familiar with a religion that affirms that submission to God’s agency constitutes human freedom, or that Jesus of Nazareth is no less human for being divine, or that divine power is manifested as divine suffering, or that wholly historical action is the realization of a transcendent divine intention, will not be surprised by the equally unexpected claim that fulfillments are more, and yet again not more, than their figures” (218).
"Fulfillments are more, and yet again not more, than their figures" ... I'm just standing on the tip of the iceberg of theological exegesis, and as yet I can only sense with anticipation the tremors this insight into reality releases. I wait and pray and indeed yearn for the earthquake which will tear down our strongholds and create green spaces for new life to grow.

Or am I just being naively Utopian?

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The Final Form of the Text

This post represents the last section from Childs extremely important essay, "Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets" (1996). Once again, I've copied it out verbatim, as I don't have the time to summarize it and think it's so concise it would be a shame to lose anything anyway. For the rest of the posts in this thread, see here and then here.

As for those who have left questions on this series, I will get back as soon as poss. We drive back from Berlin tomorrow!

"In the past the use of the term "final form" has evoked much controversy. Does the biblical text ever have a final form? Does it not vary within different textual traditions? Certainly such questions are fully legitimate within a discussion of textual transmission, variants, and stabilization. However, in reference to the hermeneutical issue of final form, the above questions are peripheral to the subject. Nor is the real issue at stake a debate between a diachronic or synchronic handling of the OT.

Rather, the basic hermeneutical issue of the so-called final form turns on determining the nature of this set of writings. To suggest that the Bible is literature, even religious literature, while in a sense correct, does not address its uniqueness. These writings reflect the experience of a historic people which developed over a long period of collection, transmission, and growth. However, at some point in this history - roughly in the Hellenistic period - the scope of the received books was limited and a process of stabilization of the tradition set in supported by critically authorized texts. even more crucial, these diverse writings were designed as Scripture and given a special function within a community. The Hebrew Bible became the story of Israel under Torah to which the prophetic writings were joined. In addition, the Psalms were tied to David and Wisdom to Solomon. In a word, a larger structure was imposed on this material which formed the distinct parts into a loosely ordered whole.

The hermeneutical implications of this development for interpretation suggest that this larger narrative structure is constitutive for the prophetic corpus and should be respected. Regardless of the ability of critical research to unearth earlier stages lying beneath the present form of the text, interpretation of this entity received by Israel as Scripture must ultimately focus its final attention on the received from. Of course, these writings can always be read as an ancient Near Eastern fragment, but it is not the Bible that is being interpreted. Similarly, the interpretation of the Old Testament is seriously impaired if critical literary analysis assigns to reconstructed redactional layers the decisive semantic role in construing the text's meaning.

The concluding point to make is that the concept of final form is closely connected with the issue of readership. An important corollary to the designation of a written corpus as Scripture is that these writings function as Scripture for someone. They have been ordered toward a present and future audience who receives its identity in some way from Israel's past story which is lost if a new story is reconstructed apart from the received narrative form. Thus to suggest that the major force involve in shaping Israel's prophetic history derives from readings retrojected as literary constructs runs in the face of the final form of Scripture which is eschatologically oriented toward the goal of instructing every future generation of Israel in the reality of God who continues to act on its behalf."

B.S. Childs, 1996 ZAW 108 pp. 376, 7.