Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Viola is sound: check him out.

There's been a dialogue going on between a certain Frank Viola and Ben Witherington which I haven't been following. Bill of Bible/History Blog, however, has kindly pointed out that Childs has come up in the conversation, so I popped over to see what was going on. I was delighted to see that Viola gets Childs right, a fairly rare occurrence in the world these days, and so will share his paragraph:

Brevard Childs, like myself, accepted historical criticism. Childs’ position was that historical criticism is a good beginning, but not a good stopping place. We don’t stop with the historical information of the text. We rather go on to see the fullness of the canon. Thus Childs didn’t deny historical criticism. The problem is that some are setting canonical criticism and historical criticism up as an either/or choice. But that’s a false choice. One can advocate the historical study of Scripture and yet say that historical study needs to be inserted into a larger and richer context, i.e., the existing canon of Scripture which contains a revelation of Jesus Christ.
This being indeed true, a truth much needed to be heard by Evangelicals in the New Testament guild, I followed a link to an article he wrote and was again thrilled by the opening two paragraphs:

In my personal judgment, many segments of the Christian world today—including much of the emerging church conversation and the house church movement—have lost the centrality of Jesus Christ.
In addition, for many Christians, the Old Testament has fallen out of functional use. Scores of present-day believers do not find anything of spiritual value in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy.
This kind of thing makes my heart thump with joy, so thanks Frank for brightening up my afternoon! This is where it's at; this is where the problematic lies for the Church as it grapples with its muddled past and confusing present! If only we can plunge ourselves into the mystery of the Christ of the Old Testament, and not just the New Testament construal ... This is where my heart is and where I want to be pouring my intellectual activity.


John Hobbins said...


I just posted on this topic as well. We come to the same conclusion on the importance of going beyond a purely historical reading of scripture, something Viola gets right. To judge from BW3's review, however, Viola's larger and richer context is not large and rich enough.

Bill said...

Glad you liked it, Phil. Frank's writing usually is very Christ centered. He also (sometimes) writes with a syllable-per-word count that ranks very near yours, which is quite saying something! ;)

You know I'm still trying to figure out just where all these methodologies overlap, and what they mean really. But based on your posts and Frank's statements about Childs, I'm more curious than ever about this "cannonical" approach. So I shall keep watching...

PS: Thanks for the plug and for getting the slash right. My m.o. for blogging is all about that slash.

Phil Sumpter said...

HI John, I've posted some thoughts on your blog. I haven't the time to read all of Viola. I noticed in the article I linked to that he is arguing for a Christological hermeneutic. This reminds me of a debate between Seitz and Watson, where Seitz argues that a "Trinitarian" hermeneutic would be more approapriate. I think it may be more capable of getting at something of the richness you are talking about.


I'm so delighted that you are taking an interest in Childs. I highly recommend his Biblical Theology, his magnum opus which, for some mystical reason, is systematically overlooked by all his critics. He's hard work and I'm still struggling with his approach, but he's the only guy who's thought is as comprehensive as I think it needs to be for a discipline called "theological hermeneutics" (a dodgy term, in my book). If you have access to the ATLA database you can get a whole bunch of important Childs articles for free.