Saturday, 6 September 2008

Quote of the day: The exegetical challenge

Just as Jesus Christ was truly and fully human, so the apostolic witness was not rendered by means of a special divine language. Rather, its metaphors were drawn from common experience, and its proclamation shared all the features of an ancient Palestinian milieu. The exegetical challenge for the interpreter lies in receiving the ability to hear the kerygmatc testimony to God's good news offered in, under, and through a human form. [*]
I wonder if I'll ever get tired of citing Childs?

[*] Childs, "The One of Gospel in Four Witnesses," in The Rule of Faith, 54.


slaveofone said...

Personally, I think the way to a better method lies in the "Biblical Theology Movement." I think Childs' "canonical approach" was premature as a reaction against it. A little more than a decade was hardly enough time for the principle to be more than introduced. If there was failure, and certainly there was, it was the proponents who failed BTM (by not adequately stepping up and embracing the concepts and aims of it in its first scholastic attempts), not a failure of the Biblical Theology Movement itself.

To bridge the gap between critical methods and Christianity is not to abandon critical methods for the preservation of Christianity or the kerygma as Child's canonical approach and the Neo-orthodoxy would have it, but to change Christianity and its understanding of the kerygma. Easier said than done, perhaps. It is, perhaps, easier to go the way of Childs' or of the fundamentalists or of the Neo-orthodox--to dig in one's heels and to hang on until one's knuckles turn white to the religious status quo--rather than to attempt to change it. But let us not be content with the easy path--let us aim and struggle to take the narrow one where there is such fear to tread.

Phil Sumpter said...

But let us not be content with the easy path--let us aim and struggle to take the narrow one where there is such fear to tread.

I'm with you on that Slaveofone. Indeed, "struggle" was the catchword of Childs' entire career (and not just the title of his last book). I think if you were to take some time to read Childs yourself you'd find that he fully embraced the critical method, as much as the Biblical Theology Movement he helped deconstruct. The idea that Childs is simply interested in synchronic exegesis and repeating received dogmatic categories is a characature that is nothing more than a straw man. It really is quite exasperating as the misunderstanding stems from both sides of the spectrum (Barr as well as Brueggemann, see my responses here). I'm with Thistleton who, in his introduction to the latest volume from SHS Canon and Biblical Interpretation, points out that problem with attacks on Childs is ignorance concerning the actual content of his proposal. He goes on to demonstrate just how diachronic Childs' approach, but it's fairly clear from a brief perusal of his work (especially his ignored magnum opus, Biblical Theology; look at how he deals with creation, for example).

I'd love to hear your concrete proposals concerning the value of the Biblical Theology Movement (some of their practitioners are still producing biblical theologies, see Brueggemann's "ABC's of Old Testament Theology in the US" (or something like that, see my link above). One issue I have, for example, is their theological assumption that revelation is reducible to what actually happened in time and space rather than the divine reality which undergirds the whole. The historical exdodus, for example, is only part of revelation. It leaves out the eschatological and typological dimension which has been built into the scriptural testimony but wouldn't have been perceived by those actually there. New Testament understanding of the kerygma helps undergird this.

Again, for me a major problem with the category "historical-criticism" is the way that it is used by certain practitioners as if it is a self-evidently perspicuous concept. There is often a naive objectivity attached to the term which assumes that by thinking in terms of original sources, authorial intentionality, immanent causality, and a theory of historical development that one is somehow automatically dealing with the true subject matter of the text. Aside from the post-modern challenge to this, New Testament scholars such as Paul Minear (who I've posted on a lot recently) are showing the ontological presuppositions of the critical method which itself needs to be revised.

Feel free to contradict me, however! I'm never totally sure that I've properly understood something so I'm happy to be pointed in the right direction.

slaveofone said...

"The idea that Childs is simply interested in synchronic exegesis and repeating received dogmatic categories is a characature"

From what I've read in the critics, this is actually more of a caricature of the critics... From what I've read from the critics, the point is not that Childs' is only interested in synchronic exegesis or that he only wants to repeat dogmatic categories--rather that his method in its result equals an abandonment of the historical methods and what they might have to say and that the result supports what was arrived at by the dogmatics of others.

Phil Sumpter said...

I guess it depends which critics you read. I'm thinking, for example, of Brueggemann. See my post here.

I would disagree that Childs' method does that. The best thing is to read his two commentaries (Exodus and Isaiah). I think you'll see for yourself that this simply isn't the case. In fact, I often seriously wonder how it is that anyone can claim that Child abondons the insights of criticism given what he spent his life writing. Have a look at just about anything he wrote.

What is true is that Childs relativizes historical criticism. It becomes a stage on the way to somewhere else and not the destination itself.