Monday, 6 April 2009

The "kerygmatic framework" of Scripture

The transmission and forming of the biblical material was not a haphazard growth, but was the product of theological reflection on the sacred writings. The effect of this canonical shaping was that a framework was given, often called a rule-of-faith within which the material was interpreted by and for the church. In other words, the biblical material in its larger structure has been rendered in a particular holistic fashion. Often this redaction, or “ruled reading,” has been termed “kerygmatic,” “confessional,” or “canonical.” This means that there is a semantic given, a prescribed content to its intended sense which is commensurate with its role as sacred scripture.
Childs, "Speech-Act Theory and Biblical Interpretation," 383.


joshhlim said...

This is not quite related to your post, but I had a quick question. I'm reading through "Canon and Biblical Interpretation" and was wondering if you had any thoughts regarding Stephen Dempster's criticisms of Childs at the end of his essay, "The Prophets, the Canon and a Canonical Approach" (the critique is on pp. 323-325). From what I've read of Childs, at least, I feel like the criticisms don't stick. Are Dempster's critiques legitimate?

Dempster seems to give a fair reading of Childs until the end, so I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Would appreciate your thoughts.


Joshua L.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Joshua,

I'm sorry for the belated reply - I'm fairly busy at the moment. I'd love to tell you what Childs would say (in my interpretation of course!), but unfortunately I haven't read Dempster's article. If you summarize it for me I will do so.

joshhlim said...


My apologies for not being specific enough.

On the one hand, Dempster criticizes Childs for not willing to give the text enough historical referentiality: "Childs thinks that linking exegesis with historical reconstruction jeopardizes the integrity of the biblical text and the theological enterprise, but it would seem that prophecy is crucially related to history; the transcendent word has to be immanent to prove its transcendence [. . .] It is clear that historical reference is absolutely essential to prophecy." Now, I know that Childs doesn't see the texts meaning as being univocally linked to modern standards of historicity, but he doesn't deny all referentiality, right? Dempster later brings up Frei (implying that Frei and Childs hold similar views) and comments that "to read the Bible as history-like narrative [. . .] does not mean that it is to be read with the emphasis on like only." Is Dempster simply misreading Childs here? Doesn't Childs criticize Frei precisely on this account?

On the other hand, Dempster accuses Childs of inconsistency: "He [Childs] wishes to accept the results of historical criticism and then, it seems, ignore them when it comes to understanding the text. Thus ostensive references in the biblical material to historical reality which are patently untrue from a historical critical perspective become somehow true canonically. [. . .] It seems that Childs has not overcome the classical faith-reason dichotomy. On the one hand he uses what he believes is a ‘value-free’ rationality to discern the historical ‘truth’ behind the shaping of the biblical text; on the other he accepts the biblical text’s canonical claims. Thus we can read of a canonical personage and an historical personage who may not have much in common except the same name."

Are these criticisms legitimate? And are they particular to Dempster or is this the common stuff from Childs' critics?

Anyway, would very much like to hear your thoughts (especially on the second chunk of Dempster's criticism). Thank you!

Phil Sumpter said...


it's been almost a week since you wrote. What with Easter and other commitments I've not been able to get back quicker. Very sorry - I appreciate input and will endeavour to respond more promptly in future. For now I can only give a brief answer, but do keep up the questions if you want more.

Dempster simply belongs to the many critics who have either hardly read Childs or have simply read him badly. Childs affirms repeatedly historical referentiality and critiques Frei for his tendencies to ignore it. He also affirms, with Dempster, that prophecy is crucially related to history. See, e.g., his Biblical Theology (especially where he talks about the Bible's "dialectic" understanding of history) and his Isaiah commentary (especially where he critiques redactional approaches which ignore this dimension). Two posts that come to mind are my Diachrony and Synchrony in the canonical approach and Hans Frei and textual referentiality. Historicity at the core of the Gospel? may be interesting too.

The second quote is even lamer and puts me off wanting to read anything Dempster has to say. The best thing to do is read Childs and you'll see for yourself that this is quatsch. If you want to read good secondary literature on Childs then read Chris Seitz, who was a close friend of his. The best article I am aware of is "The canonical approach and theological interpretation" in Canon and Biblical Interpretation.

Interesting question about whether this is particular to Dempster. In a recent PhD on Childs, Driver says that the Childs of the secondary literature is a "Frankenstein" that has little to do with the actual peron. In my opinion Childs has two disadvantages: 1) he is incredibly global in his thinking so that he is always stepping on someone's toes and 2) he is very deep, throughly embedded in the best scholarship accross the theological board. His critiques aren't such people: Brueggemann's knowlege of Barth doesn't match that of Childs, and in my opinion impares his understanding of Childs. Understanding Childs is hard work, but work that is well worth it. Statements like those by Dempster can only be made by people too impatient to grapple with what Childs is trying to get at.

Anyway, this is a hurried response. Do feel free to get back to me.

joshhlim said...


That's very helpful, thank you. I just finished Child's NT as Canon which has clarified much (especially his excursus on the Canonical Approach and the 'New Yale Theology'). But it is always helpful to have get an outside voice confirm/correct what I am (or, often, think I am) reading.

I have a whole stack of Seitz & Childs' books that are waiting to be read, and I'm sure I will have more questions so you will probably hear from me again.

Anyway, thanks again.