Die Kirche, indem sie die Ps[almen] betet, feiert die Einheit der zwei Testamente, und die Wissenschaft, indem sie die Ps[almen] auslegt, gibt der Unterschiedenheit des alten und des neuen Testaments die Ehre. Sie sind beide in ihrem Rechte, jene indem sie die Ps[almen] im Lichte des Einen wesentlichen Heils betrachtet, diese indem sie die heilsgeschichtlichen Zeiten und Erkenntnisstufen auseinanderhält (Biblischer Kommentar über die Psalmen, Leipzig 1883, p. 64).In the final analysis, the institutions of Church and Academy should not be completely separated from each other, and infact should not even be defined solely in terms of their focus on either the sensus literalis or spiritualis. Both institutions should be interested in both dimensions of the text. How can anyone be interested in particularity to the exclusion of unity, or vice versa?
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
take into consideration the effect of the final form of the text, once the prehistory has been appreciated and interpreted (130).It is important for this approach, however, that there is theological continuity between the layers of tradition. In contrast to von Rad, Seitz does not believe that later tradents (or “traditionists”) were “manifestly misdrawing” an earlier tradition in order to extract its doxa (to quote von Rad, p. 250). Rather,
they are seeking to hear the original word, overtaking them and enclosing them, in the context of a new set of circumstances, constraints, hopes, and divine judgments (129).Again,
In the spirit of the original prophecy, [the] canonical shaping has sought to hear God's word overtaking the generations designed by God for just such an apprehension (Zech. 1:6). Such an understanding of time is better calibrated to the intentions of the author of time and to the canonical portrayal that is providentially under his care, beginning with the original prophetic witness and carrying on through the process of development and consolidation until the witness receives a stable canonical form in the book of the twelve (134, emphasis mine).Here we see that the continuity is theological—Childs had said “ontological”—and it is guaranteed by the ultimate author of Scripture, God, its subject and object. Again, von Rad's weakness was the theological discontinuity in the message of the prophets that his approach seems to imply:
His work was a brilliant and insightful effort to connect prophecy to the wider canonical achievement by means of a tradition-historical conception. This came at the cost, however, of seeing the abiding characteristic of the prophets as their “forward leaning” capacity, based upon a reconstruction that isolated the prophets from one another … The prophets build a bridge into the New Testament by means of constant change and adaptation of their message, of such a nature that it is unclear how their original deposit is meant to maintain its force within a meaningful providential design and as an integral part of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture (150, emphasis original).My next post in the series will look at how Seitz thinks the texts ought to be read, when understood as witnesses to divine reality in terms of their present form.
Monday, 23 February 2009
“I have found that commitment [to Christian dogmatics] has sometimes entailed a measure of academic isolation. In view of the widespread view that English language doctrinal theology is in a much healthier condition than it has been for many years, this isolation may seem odd. But as I read a great deal of contemporary systematic theology, I am struck by a sense that the centre of gravity is in the wrong place – usually it is heavily ecclesial, strongly invested in the Gospel as social and moral reality, overly invested in the language of habit, practice and virtue, underdetermined by a theology of divine aseity. It is not yet Ritschl; but, without a seriously operative eschatology, it has little protection against slipping into social and cultural immanentism…. And so I find myself at odds with those of my British colleagues who are more confident of the state of systematic theology: where they see an invigorated and invigorating discipline engaged in lively conversation in the academy, I tend to see a soft revisionism chastened by bits of Barth, or over-clever Anglo-Catholicism with precious little Christology, soteriology or pneumatology” (Shaping a Theological Mind: Theological Context and Methodology, ed. Darren Marks; Ashgate, 2002) p. 133).I'm not a systematic theologian, but I sense the developments he warns us against.
Friday, 20 February 2009
Theses of what actually constitutes theological exegesis have recently been appearing on the blogosphere. Dan, of On Journying with those in Exile has an interesing post on how he understands the Bible. Given my passion for Childs and Barth and the idea of the text as "witness," (see, e.g. my posts Canonical process and the text as "witness" or Scripture as "witness" and the rule-of-faith) I especially appreciated this point:
(1.3) Thus, as a partial and privileged witness the Bible is understood as a text that reveals something beyond itself — God’s life-giving engagement with creation in general, and humanity in particular. Therefore, Christians treat the Bible as a sacred text, not because the text itself is sacred (or infallible, for that matter), but because the text points beyond itself to the revelation of the God of Life. As Karl Barth has said, the Bible is not the Word of God, but a witness to the Word of God — Jesus Christ.
I also appreciated Chris Tilling's response to this point in the comments:
The reason I am disatisfied with the ‘witness’ model is that it seems appropriate for much but not all of the biblical texts. Other models, such as authoritative canon, inspired word and revelation are discussed by Goldingay in Models for Scripture. He too prefers Witness but is careful how he formulates matters. Perhaps Vanhoozer’s essay in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology may also be of interest in terms of 3.1.
Chris has supplemented this with with some of his own views in Rethinking Scripture.
Halden, too, has posted the nine theses of the "Scripture project," recently published in Hay's and Davis's The Art of Reading Scripture. I had come accross this list independently in Daniel Treier's excelent online article: "In the End, God" (a scholar to keep an eye out for, by the way). They go as follows:
(1) Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging, and saving the world.(2) Scripture is rightly understood in light of the church’s rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.
(3) Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New.
(4) Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.
(5) The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.
(6) Faithful interpretation of Scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action—the church.
(7) The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform Scripture.
(8) Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.
(9) We live in the tension between the "already" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God; consequently, Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh rereadings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.
Richard Hays had previously listed a series of theses on the practice of theological exegesis, which I listed in my post, Reading the Bible with the Eyes of Faith. I should point out that Hays received critique from Childs in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, something about subordinating the Old Testament to the New.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Monday, 16 February 2009
I'm delighted that you have taken up this issue. I think that as long as we affirm that Scripture is our primary witness to God, then the “canonical approach,” in particular as Childs has envisioned it, still provides us with the most viable and challenging set of propositions. The problem is, as you have observed, that the name “canonical approach” has been adopted by so many that it is hard to know what it is exactly (see Schultz's article for something of the diversity amongst Evangelicals alone, let alone its more liberal fans, e.g. Rendtorff). The problem is exacerbated when Childs is consistently misrepresented . I struggle to find worthy interpreters (an aquaintance of mine has just written his doctorate on the subject. He writes that the Childs of the secondary literature is a "Frankenstein." Seitz is a refreshing and stimulating alternative). Brueggemann, for example, sometimes leaves me speechless. I often have the feeling that he simply wants to stick Childs in his pre-packaged box in order to make his own proposals easier to articulate. I've posted a series of rants and dialogues here. For a great critique by a great OT scholar, go here).
I've struggled to understand Childs myself over the past year or so (he's been practically the sole focus of my blog!). He's not easy, primarily because his thinking is so global (and because I have no formal training in theology!). As Seitz has pointed out in the best analysis yet (“The Canonical Approach and Theological Interpretation,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation), Childs is often critiqued from opposing ends of the theological spectrum (e.g.some say he's too synchronic, some say he's too diachronic [e.g. Rendtorff on his Biblical Theology]). In my opinion, the trick is to locate Childs in his own “universe,” as it were, in order to understand his perception of both the nature of the text and the nature of its substance (its subject matter, Sachverhalt, res). It is from these concrete particulars that Childs works. They provide him with his orienting coordinates, rather than a commitment to a transcendent position outside of both church tradition and the textual witness. In this sense, ironically, I believe that it is Brueggemann, with his pre-commitment to “de-construction” (whether post-modern, psycho-analytic, or Marxist—his main dialogue partners), rather than Childs, who subordinates Scripture to an alien ideology (see possibly the best critique ever by Jewish scholar Jon Levenson in the Harvard Theological Review: “Is Brueggemann a Pluralist?”, in which he compares the two scholars). Childs actually takes the “risk of faith” that Brueggemann only manages to aestheticise. Out of his concrete and particular faith Childs draws a series of hermeneutical conclusions that have tremendous power. I personally think this is the correct way to proceed, as Christianity is marked by particularity. Answering the numinous question of “how we determine methods of theological interpretation”, as you put it, involves taking into account both the dogmatic and textual/historical dimensions of the reality in which we live.
So what is the “reality” within which Childs operates?
As far as I can see, his starting and finishing point is Barthian: God reveals himself, and that is what matters. He reveals himself by breaking into human history, consciousness, and reality, and that which is revealed is the sole significant content of the witness to this revelation, its one true love and the reason for its being. The reality itself is what matters, and it is God's will that this reality should be made know through the vehicles of human testimony. The human witness is thus a vehicle of revelation, a historically and culturally bound subject who functions to point beyond himself to something transcendent, though always done out of his or her own particularity. Out of this movement of God through human vehicle to recipient (the elect), we have a history, a real history in the usual sense of the word, of relationship between God's people and God. It is a relationship of promise and calling, as well as failure and judgement. Through the various media of divine revelation (prophets, priests, kings, sages, children, redactors, temple, text, cult, tradition …) a progressive revelation takes place in which God's people are pushed to recognise God and his ways ever deeper (the “I will be who I will be” in the Exodus, and not just God Almighty, for example). This history is outside the text, spans our present context, and reaches into the future to the consummation of all things. This is the true context of the modern exegete, though his or her stage in the narrative is admittedly different to that of earlier stages of God's economy (different are the means of revelation [two-testamental Scripture, apostolic tradition] and the apprehension of the “reality” [God in Christ]). The calling of the theological exegete is to live in this reality, to be transformed by it, and to witness to it for others. That is why we read the Bible: in order to understand its true subject matter, its true “substance,” or, as Thomas Aquinas and Calvin put it, its res. For Childs, then, true theological exegesis is always a matter of reading the text in light of its referent: we have to “pierce the text to its substance,” so that, for example, the word of Jeremiah becomes a vehicle for another word, which is the full reality testified only partially to by himself (hence, also, Childs' preference for a form of Christian allegory, with its assumptions of textual referentiality, over Jewish midrash, which really does treat the text as self-referential. See my post here.). This movement is circular: we understand the part in light of the whole, and the whole in light of the part (as the fragmentary witness is latterly fused with “its full ontological reality”).
Within this dogmatically construed history/reality, God's witness has taken on a particular shape, one that is relevant for our stage in the divine economy. It is the particularity, indeed the peculiarity of this odd witness that is key for Childs' approach. He doesn't appeal to Derrida, he simply analysis the Bible and Church Tradition to the best of his limited abilities and comes to certain conclusions. “Scripture,” in other words, is no general category of phenomena, in the light of which our particular species called “Bible” ought to be read. Rather, Scripture refers to this unique bequest, replete with its own form, shape, and demands.
So what is the nature of this witness, produced by this odd history?
Childs talks of traditions-become-text, over a long period of dialectical engagement between community, text, and res. God spoke once through his elected channels, this word was efficacious and registered itself among the elect. In other words, the witness (in whatever of the forms mentioned above) was a living vehicle, one that “pressed” for deeper fulfilment in time. Those who stood under its authority perceived with hindsight the fullness of the message, that, for example, Assyria was only a type of a fuller reality represented by Babylon and later Satan's kingdom, that the land was just a foretaste of something far more eschatological. This growing understanding was registered in the structure of the traditions themselves, ultimately taking more literary form. The process was thus kerygmatic, achieve its goal by hermeneutical manoeuvres. Witnesses were read in light of the fuller reality, and shaped appropriately, by subordination, relativisation, emphasis or simply juxtaposition (etc. etc.). As the tradition became stabilised (more or less, it is fairly irrelevant that this was never fully completed) in the form of an authoritative Scripture, it is logical that the final form that documented the fullness of this divine history/reality (hence my blog name, Narrative and Ontology). Yet even in this finalised, stable literary form, they still bear this full history of revelation that gave them birth, and still maintain within themselves the thread of “apostolic” continuity between the original witness, now buried under the redactional layers or lost to a now alien culture. This history constitutes the texts for what they are. If you ask, what kind of text is the Bible, this is part of the answer, and a refutation of Childs' approach must partly take place at this level. This history, this “ontology of scripture” (if that's the right phrase), has hermeneutical implications. We are to read the text according to its own being, as it were. Concretely, we are to read the text in relation to its substance, guided by the shape that has been given to the literature which functions as a regula fidei, a boundary marker for revelation, a kanôn, one with both positive and negative functions.
One thing is key to all this: the canonical process is marked by what Childs calls a Sachkritik, a criticism according to substance. That means that the redactors who shaped the traditions into what they became were doing so under the authority of the original word and were shaping the whole in light of what came before. The Psalms were paired with each other because they witnessed to a single reality, despite their diversity. It is the substance that guided the process and it is the substance that should concern us. Thus, post-modern attempts to playfully let texts rebound off each other are excluded. This also excludes that which Childs has falsely been accused of himself, namely treating the canon as “a stable universe of coherence and meaning,” as you put it. The unity of the canon does not lie at the level of the text, as if it can all be fit into a seamless dogmatic whole. The unity of the canon consists in its referent, that which the texts are about, in their various ways. The unity is “ontological,” as Childs ceaselessly put it (Brueggemann seems to refract the discord he finds in Scripture into the deity itself).
All this is contained in the single genre designator: Witness. I reckon Childs could have called his famous introduction an Introduction to the Old Testament as Witness. It's just that “scripture” describes the peculiar way in which it came to fulfil this function, the particular form it came to take. That the term on its own, understood without the content I've outlined above, can otherwise have a fairly innocuous meaning, can be seen by comparing it to Brueggemann's definition. For him, the text as witness does not mean witness to this peculiar ongoing reality with its peculiar historical results. It means, to quote him from his “ABC of Old Testament Theology,” the text as “linguistic utterance.” He thus proceeds by close analysis of words and sentences in their grammatical constituents, pitting propositions against each other with out taking into account, or at least respecting the authority of, a prophetic redactors decision to relativise one insight by subordinating it to another (for example in Qohelet).
I may be being overly harsh with Brueggemann. I was once a passionate Brueggemannanian myself and have read a fair few of his works. I think my greatest disappointment with him, despite his misrepresentation of what Childs is actually doing, actually comes from attempting to live out his approach. I tend to jump into things and I came across him at a time when I was hungry in general for an approach that took into account everything my cultural anthropology course and my experience of life was challenging me with. After a while, however, I felt living his gospel was like eating thin wafers that couldn't keep me going for the long haul, or even help me to witness to any substantial reality to my friends. Childs turned up providentially at the right time, and his approach has proved itself in the doing and living. I guess I could say that the canonical approach, the Childsian version of it, has proved to be a better vehicle of revelation, or rather has enabled me approach the vehicle that already exists in a manner that brings true life.
There is so much that has been left unsaid, and this comment is too long as it is! I've taken the time because, as you know, I respect this blog and your opinions and would appreciate critical response from a dogmatist, someone whose job is to wrestle with the reality beyond the text! Feel free to tear apart what doesn't make sense …
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
According to Seitz,
the hermeneutical concerns of the canonical portrayal of the prophets can be understood as tuned … to questions of religious apprehension, but less in the name of identification with the prophetic personality and more in terms of the message of the prophetic corpus as a totality (85).In other words, not only the original prophetic message but also its reception and further interpretation were orientated to a theological referent. This means, first of all, that the text has a diachronic depth-dimension which must be respected and taken into account when doing exegesis. One must take into account, for example, original intentionality. Thus, it is one thing to claim that Jonah is a chronologically late book. It is another thing, however, to evaluate this reality. For Seitz, it is especially crucial to assess a later author's possible intention to create a work of prophecy
in relationship to prophecy as this is known and received in his own day, that is, prophecy as a stable literary legacy” (142, original emphasis removed).If so, the result would be that the prophetic author wanted us to associate his text meaningfully with other literary works in a specific canonical context. It is failure to take this dimension of prophecy as a historical phenomenon seriously that mars von Rad's account:
von Rad ignores as a properly historical dimension the final form of individual prophetic books—and also the prophetic canon itself—as communicating a crucial dimension of prophetic history” (49).Seitz's emphasis on intentionality also excludes pure reader-response approaches to Scripture, for him a form of scepticism which supplies “linkages in front of and not behind the material form of the witness” (240).
The role of the diachronic dimension in Seitz's approach will be looked at in my next post.
Monday, 9 February 2009
Friday, 6 February 2009
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
the Bible makes numerous claims - explicitly and implicitly - concerning the factuality of the events it records. At that most fundamental level, at the central core of Christian beliefs, is the fact that Christ did indeed die for the sins of humanity and then rose from the grave in a great victory over death. This forms the ground and basis of our faith. [*]This quote is taken from a conservative Evangelical and I affirm it. In the realm of exegesis, however, it often leads to the need to interpret every Biblical story as having happened exactly as it is portrayed. As one Evangelical Introduction to the Old Testament asks: "If Jericho was not razed, is my faith in vain?"
I don't want to answer this question here, simply because I am, at present, unable to. However, I would like to ask whether the category of "history" is as self-evident as we assume, and whether it truly does justice to "the core of Christian beliefs," as Howard put it. As I read Douglas Farrow's fascinating book, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology, I'm learning that historical events that constituted Jesus' life and mission did not just take place within history, they also transformed it. This is particularly the case with the ascension, which was "the act in which the link between our fallen world and the new creation was fully forged" (p. 39). This act has all kinds of metaphysical/cosmological consquences, consequences which lie at the heart of the Christian kerygma and thus should also be considered as being part of "the central core of Christian beliefs." In short, the Gospel does just redeem me, it redeems the very dimensions of time and space themselves. Paul Minear has made similar observations in relation to other events of the kerygma in his excellent book The Bible and the Historian (which I have posted on a number of times).
In short, though we need to say with St. Paul that "if Christ is not raised, we have believed in vain," we also need to bare in mind Paul's struggle with the ontological implications of this event. The whole of reality itself has been re-arranged around the human Christ, enthroned at the right hand of the Father. And in the light of these implications, we ought to re-evaluate once more just what it means for the Biblical narratives to be "historical," to have literally happened just as they are written. Ultimately, Scripture does not just witness to God's "mighty acts in history," (à la G. Ernest Wright) is also witnesses to his new reality, proleptically tasted in the present as the hors-d'oeuvre of the coming kingdom. Hermeneutically, that implies a vertical and not just a horizontal dimension to exegesis (see Childs' critique of the Tübingen school of Biblical Theology in Biblical Theology, 77. See also my post, The need for ontological categories in Biblical exegesis). The challenge lies in finding the correct balance between the two.
I think, by the way, that Hans Frei was touching on this too, in his response to criticism coming from Evangelicals that his narrative theology had no interest in "historical fact":
Even if I say that history if first of all the facts—and I do have a healthy respect for evidence—I come across something else. Is Jesus Christ (and here I come to the problem of miracle) a “fact” like other historical facts? Should I really say that the eternal Word made flesh, that is, made fact indeed, is a fact like any other? I can talk about “Jesus” that way, but can I talk about the eternal Word made flesh in him that way? I don't think so, just as I don't think that I can say “God created the world” and mean by that a factual referent like any other. ... Once again, yes, “Jesus” refers, as does any ordinary name, but “Jesus Christ” in scriptural witness does not refer ordinarily; or rather, it refers ordinarily only by the miracle of grace. And that means that I do not know the manner in which it refers, only that the ordinary language in which it is cast will miraculously suffice. It is historical reference (to use our cultural category) but it is not historical reference in the ordinary way: nor of course is it metaphor. [**][*] Howard, 1993: 35.
[**] Frei, "Response to 'Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal," in
Theology and Narrative (eds. G. Hunsinger; W. Placher; Oxford: Oxford Uni. Press, 1993), 211-212.
Update: I feel that Halden's two recent posts - Theology, Speech, and Silence and God's Incomprehensibility and Trinitarian Exploration - speak to this issue too, though in a thoroughly different manner.
Monday, 2 February 2009
An interest in temporality had of course always marked interpretation of the Bible as a theological and dogmatic endeavor, but it was directly related to more decisive claims about the character of God. … Time was previously understood according to not just economic but also immanent and ontological considerations, and these were seen as subsisting together in , and revealed by, a complex network of scriptural senses (35).This more ancient understanding of time is more in line with that of the Bible, which wishes to witness to the “history of the prophetic word in Israel and the world, under God's providential care and final purpose” (219). This has hermeneutical implications for the late-modern interpreter. We need to go back to school, as it were, a rediscover
a form of historical interpretation of the prophets that will … try to comprehend just how the prophetic canon is offering its own very sophisticated version of history (72).
According to Seitz, the messengers of God's word are “participant[s] in a drama larger than [themselves]” (245); they belong to “to a larger history and sweep than they as individuals were able to recognize at the time” (242). The function of secondary levels of tradition is to “figure” these “elected agents” into this larger theological reality. The deeds, words, and events of the prophet's lifetime are understood within the broader context of God's providence, within “a larger history of God's ways with his people” (190).