Tuesday 25 May 2010

Childs on the "dialectical" nature of the Biblical view of history

In his overview of the Christian exegetical tradition, Brevard Childs notes that an intense interest in the nature of history has been an enduring characteristic of the Christian interpretation of the Bible from its inception (2004:317). This is hardly surprising when one considers the central role of historical events in both biblical testaments (see Childs' comments here). How, then, does the Bible itself present history?

Childs claims that a tension is expressed between ordinary and divine events, between an "inner" and "outer" dimension, or between a "confessional" and "secular" perception. According to Childs, within the Bible the relation between these two dimensions of history is “dialectical”, summarized as the tension between empirical history and God's unique action in history. The dialectic is such that the two dimensions cannot be fused, and yet they cannot be separated either. It is thus appropriate that throughout its exegetical history the Church has, on the one hand, committed itself to both dimensions of this reality, yet on the other hand, she has never reached a consensus on the relation of the two. The problem this tension posed for the Church was exacerbated with the advent of the Enlightenment, which fundamentally questioned the directness of the relation between textual account and historical event.

Childs is critical of both Conservative and Liberal reactions to this problem. For Childs, the Conservative position is historically untenable and blunts theological issues, whereas the Liberals are forced to adopt some form of a philosophical system, such as idealism, existentialism, or social functionalism, in order to escape radical religious relativism. In light of this quandary, Childs has attempted to provide a new approach which attempts
to do justice to the theological integrity of Israel's witness while at the same time freely acknowledging the complexities of human knowledge and the serious challenge of modernity to any claims of divine revelation (Biblical Theology, 99).
I will summarize his proposal in my next post.