Saturday, 13 September 2008

Barr gets Childs right!

James Barr (for an obituary go here) was a bright chap whose work needs to be carefully studied, and I consider it a deficiency on my part that I haven't read enough of him. However, this doesn't excuse the often over emotional ad hominem which characterises his attacks on those who subscribe to a view of the universe other than the one his mild modernism allows. It can often lead to a misconstruing of their actual proposals, as is the case for Childs. However, in his incredibly negative response to Childs' remarkable Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture he does get one thing right, and that is his perception of Childs' indebtedness to historical criticism. The only bit he gets wrong is that he seems to think Childs would be ashamed of the fact! Bizarre. Here's the quote:

Childs's actual operation, however, is far more dependent on historical criticism than his account of the latter would suggest. The operation is bipolar: if one pole is the new canonical reading, the other is the situation reached by traditional criticism. He displays, not what a canonical reading, untouched by historical criticism, would be, but the path by which, starting from current critical positions, one can find one's way to the new canonical reading. The canonical reading here presented makes no sense unless one already has a latish Deuteronomy, a Deutero-Isaiah, and so on. Moreover, many of the paths that lead from one pole to the other are simple historical-critical paths and defensible, if at all, on those grounds; conversely, most of them are liable to the same uncertainties which he has so convincingly delineated for previous critical views. In this respect the author remains entirely a child of the critical movement.[*]
Childs would heartily agree to all this, which should provide those who follow Barr in thinking that Childs wouldn't with pause for thought ... and perhaps pause to actually make the effort to read Childs' work for themselves.

By the way, why isn't there a Wikipedia entry for Childs?

[*] J. Barr, "Childs' Introduction," in JSOT 16 (1980), 15.


Tim Steele said...

Hi Philip,

I've just started a module in Biblical Theology at BA 1st year level. We're looking at different theologians including Brevard Childs. Reading his work though has been very confusing (my dictionary is getting well used!) and I wondered if you could fill me in on what Childs' major contributions are to Biblical theology please. Just brief ones (the first I understand is the development of the canonical approach. I appreciate any help you can give to a basic mind such as mine!


Phil Sumpter said...

Tim, I will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible. I've got several conversations running at the same time and I'm struggling to find time. To save my answer turning into some abstract essay (I'm have quite particular views on Childs' main contribution, and I'm fairly convinced your professor won't be aware of them - where are you studying?) - you could perhaps ask more concrete questions about his approach.

Tim Steele said...

Thanks for your reply. Don't worry about getting back if you're busy. I've made sufficient progress now. Success in your studies!

Phil Sumpter said...

Well, feel free to interact when you will. Best of luck in your studies too.