Saturday, 29 September 2007

An Interesting E-zine

Thank you all for the comments below. Some important and legitimate criticisms have been raised. Unfortunately, at the moment it's not always easy for me to respond immediately as I'm currently in England with the parents. I will do so as soon as possible!

Until then, a link to an interesting e-zine, which has a series of articles dealing with the Old Testament and mission. The heart of the material is an interview with Chris Wright concerning his new book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative. This is followed by reviews by an Old Testament scholar (Prof. G. McConville) and a missions scholar (Dr. Kang San Tan). I haven't read them myself yet, though the scholars involved are top quality so they are undoubtedly worth a read!

Friday, 28 September 2007

The Dynamic of Scripture

I have mentioned that the Bible is a “witness” to divine truth here, and that this revelation is connected with a concrete, historical people on a journey through time here. This journey is presented as a movement into the fullness of truth for the sake of Creation, often understood in terms of prophecy and fulfilment, shadow and substance, redemptive history or the one people of God.

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.

The closing of the canon fixed the shape of the text, focussing attention on the final form. After this point commentary became the accepted means of interpreting Scripture for changing needs.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Function of Scripture

If Jesus died and rose again in a forest, and nobody saw it, would it matter?

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

In the Blink of an Eye

I have finally published my response to all the contributors on my Hays post. Thank you once again, I hope that what I wrote was clear! Due to its enormous length, I've decided to not post something lengthy today, in order for the comments to take their due course.

Instead, a beautiful 1 minute video clip made to celebrate the Jewish New Year. I adore it!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Of the Love of Jesus Above all Things

First of all, I would like to thank you all for your copious comments. I'm sorry that I haven't responded yet. Ingrid (my wife) turned 30 yesterday, and the birthday preparations and celebrations took up more time then I expected. Some things in life are more important than blogging!

Talking about priorities, today is Sunday so I'm going to quote somebody who has a great ability to dig behind the strongholds we set up to defend ourselves from the piercing implications of the Gospel. I read it yesterday morning and it haunts me as I spend my time thinking about how one should do 'theology' or 'exegesis'.
"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.


If thou take heed only to the outward appearance thou shalt soon be deceived; and if thou seek thy comfort in anything but in Jesus, thou shalt feel thereby great spiritual loss. If thou seek in all things thy Lord Jesus, thou shalt truly find thy Lord Jesus; and if thou seek thyself, thou shalt find thyself, but it shall be to thine own great loss. Truly a man is more grievous and more hurtful to himself, if he seek not his Lord Jesus, than all the world and all his adversaries may be."
It's refreshing to have such words from from the 15th Century. Do you recognise the voice?

As an Old Testment theologian, reading the text as the living Word of God, these thoughts need to haunt me, guide me and challenge me.

Friday, 21 September 2007

A Clarification on Childs

I would like to make a series of propositions about B.S. Childs:

- Childs is NOT a postmodernist
- Childs is NOT into reader response theory

- 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

R. Hays: Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith: The Practice of Theological Exegesis

I'm excited to a have my first copy of the newly developed Journal of Theological Interpretation (see blog reactions here and here). In the comments below a potential parallel was pointed out between Childs' hermeneutical presuppositions and the first article of the journal by Hays (pp.5-21). I've given it a read and have decided that Hays' definition of what constitutes theological exegesis would be palatable to Childs. Like Childs he believes that we come to the text with a particular angle of vision, which can be inhibited or enlightened depending on our presuppositions. As Hays says,

"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":
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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

Scripture as "witness" and the "Rule of Faith"

To clarify the structure of the following posts: I will be exploring the concept of 'Christian exegesis' from a decidedly Childsian perspective in terms of what he calls the six constitutive features of Christian interpretation, outlined in my previous post below. I start with "the Authority of Scripture".

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.

This statement is, of course, incredibly vague. Although the claim that the Bible contains God's word of truth, calling for the "obedience of faith", is widespread in the church, how this conviction has been expressed and interpreted has varied (for a nice example of Eastern Orthodoxy's view of Scripture, see John Hobbins' post here).

Where does one start in order to get a purchase on the implications of this issue? Childs starts by looking at the nature of the texts that we claim to be authoritative. The texts are more then a record of the religion of Israel to be studied phenomenologically. Rather, they contain a significant confessional element, in which Israel offers a "witness" to its experience with its God. This concept of Scripture as "witness" is foundational to Childs' approach and provides the key to understanding his response to the challenges of modernity within the framework of Christian faith. It shall pop up again and again as we try to understand the hermeneutical and theological problems of the relationship between the literal and spiritual sense, the two-testamental nature of Christian Scripture, and the Christological centre of all Scripture. It is thus necessary to define what this means for Childs:

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.

Within the early church this "substance" found its mature expression in Irenaeus, who joined all parts of Scripture into a single vision of both testaments as a unified and authoritative telling of the one story of salvation through Jesus Christ. Within this narrative God lives in ongoing relationship with his people, speaking to them of his one plan of redemption as it unfolds throughout history. This very real, ongoing relationship 'outside' the text of our Bible precedes the text, encompasses its development, and continues after its completion until God's final summing up of all things in himself.

The move from "Bible as witness" to Irenaus' rule-of-faith (regula fidei) is in fact a rather large jump. But where does one start otherwise? (see my 'programmatic statements' below). The key is not try and empty one's head and start from scratch, but to choose a place to stand and go from there, in an attitude of humility before the world and text which constrain and challenge our interpretations.

Irenaeus' world is the world in which Childs lives, and by Christian confession we all live. If this creed stands up to the particularity of the text remains to be seen. The main question for now is, What are the hermeneutical implications of seeing the Bible as testimony to a reality that encompasses both the text and its readers, a divine reality which is deeply connected to the real world of time and space, in which the journey of God with his people for the sake of creation is constitutive?

Additional questions: Is this picture clear? Can it be extended to all Christian denominations? Have I misread Childs? Does such a belief system jeopardize our ability to think rationally and read the texts on their own terms?

Monday, 17 September 2007

I'm loathe to post a new post ...

... and thus distract attention from ongoing conversations which refuse to stop being interesting! Conversations have expanded on two different posts.

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

Today is Sunday ...

... so I shall take a break from blogging. Tomorrow I shall look at the question of biblical authority.

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

Introducing Brevard S. Childs ...

The discussion below rages on, much to my delight, with the appropriate insertion by a new contributor of Brueggemann into the debate concerning “knowledge”, “truth” and “scripture”. Given the rather all-encompassing nature of an exegetical approach which seeks to unite Tradition and Word, the divine and the human into an academically viable hermeneutic in the modern world, these rather abstract thoughts shall be indispensable for us on our journey (hence my opening “Programmatic Statements”).

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

What's your alethiology?

In the course of an involved, fascinating, and highly significant discussion on my post below, I have learnt a new word: 'alethiology'. It means “theory of truth” and would seem to be at the heart my disagreement with John Poitier over the Chrsitian credentials of my hero Brevard Childs. The following definition is succinct and provides the key to the crux of our debate:
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.
John is of the opinion that the New Testament evinces an “alethiology of space time actuality”, whereas Childs' so-called 'canonical approach', despite its intentions to the contrary, assumes an “alethiology of storytime actuality”. This then would undermine Childs' claim that the canonical approach represents an authentically 'Christian' way of reading the Bible in the 21st century.

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)
I think I'm converted, but the debate goes on. Check out the discussion as central issues are raised which will repeatedly reappear in the course of my thread on 'theological exegesis'.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

H. Bloom on iTunes

Due to the length of the discussion in response to yesterday's post I only have time for a quick post.

Vox Stefani has posted on the use of iTunes by academic institutions to podcast lectures and even courses. One fascinating lecture is by Harold Bloom at Yale University on the reading of poetry (go here and then look under the Humanites section once you're in iTunes). Bloom is relevant for biblical interpreters because of his 'Oedipus-complex' interpretation of intertetxtuality. The lecture may not teach you much about his theory, but it offers a great three-dimensional view of the man who is otherwise only known through his books.

Here's a short paragraph from Wikipedia:

"Bloom's theory of poetic influence regards the development of Western literature as a process of borrowing and misreading. Writers find their creative inspiration in previous writers and begin by imitating those writers; in order to develop a poetic voice of their own, however, they must make their own work different from that of their precursors. As a result, Bloom argues, authors of real power must inevitably 'misread' their precursors' works in order to make room for fresh imaginings."

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Faithful and Critical Scholarship : Interpretation Within Boundaries

A Christian's relation to the world of time and space is not particularly straight forward. On the one had, the logic of his faith demands that he believe in a God who acts, and who acts in such a way that it impinges upon our reality. On the other hand, Christian faith affirms the existence of the empirical world of laws and causality which need to be respected. These two dimensions cannot be fused, yet they cannot be separated either.

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?

I'm going to be exploring this question in relation to biblical exegesis over the next few weeks. The framework for my approach will be what B.S. Childs has called the six constitutive features of traditional exegesis over the past 2000 years (yes, he draws parallels between Justin Martyr and von Rad!). These “family resemblances” have been a consistent theological witness of the church through years of radical historical and cultural discontinuity, and have functioned as theological parameters preserving the church in its understanding of its scriptures toward a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. They are as follows:
  1. The authority of Scripture

  2. The literal and spiritual senses of Scripture

  3. Scripture's two testaments

  4. The divine and human authorship of Scripture

  5. The Christological content of the Christian Bible

  6. 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.

(One last note, John Hobbins has some great stuff to say here concerning Eastern Orthodox attitudes to the Bible, along with some comments by Edgecomb which are extremely relevant to our concerns!)

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Religious Archaeology: A Theological Quandary

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

Programmatic Statement No.# 2 (Amos 5)

A result of Derrida's deconstruction is the radicalization of the the Christian dictum that theology is “faith seeking knowledge” so that it applies to all intellectual endeavour. As members of interpretive communities we are forever caught up in the interconnected webs of significance which these communities have spun. Truth is relational, and as such we must constantly take account of our neighbours when claiming to speak of the truth. If that is true for the 'others' in our world who are our neighbours, then how much more the Other who is our maker and redeemer. The modernist dream of unmediated access to truth is a lie, so that even those who believe in their own objectivity will have to give account to the One who judges all our thoughts.

This brings us back to the ancient wisdom of the sages: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1.7a). The question of whether this statement is theological (LORD) or philosophical (knowledge) misses the point that all thinking about a world that matters is subject to the judgement of God.

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):

“I hate, I despise your lectures and seminars, your sermons, papers and retreats. For when you display your hermeneutical, dogmatic, ethical and pastoral wisdom before one another and before me – these offerings of yours I will not accept, this offering of your fattened calves I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise which is made by you old people with your thick books and you young people with your dissertations!” (Verabschiedsvorlesung WS 1961/62)

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Programmatic Statement No.# 1

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.

This Blog has Altered My Ontology

I did it ... I've acquired my own bit of cyberspace!

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.

A cyberphobe entering cyberspace

OK, this is going to be messy ... test post # 1
I did it! I'm online!
Ooh, I'm so scared ...
I hate technology।