Flotsam and jetsam (1/7)
- Matthew Flanagan has begun posting a revised version of his argument regarding the genocide of the Canaanites. Today’s post argues that Joshua should be read as hagiography rather than literal history:
Thus Joshua itself appears to be full of ritualistic, stylised, formulaic language. It therefore looks like something other than a mere literal description of what occurred. In light of these facts Wolterstorff argues that Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history; a highly-stylised, exaggerated account of what occurred, designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what actually happened.
- iMonk reflects on the significance of the Christian calendar after Epiphany.
But for now, in these days following Epiphany, it is time for one remarkable Jesus-prompted surprise and delight after another! Our minds boggle and heads shake at the insightful words Jesus speaks. Our jaws drop in amazed wonder to see him exercise power over nature, bring wholeness to broken lives, and restore vitality where death once reigned. Fear and dread knot our stomachs as cosmic conflict erupts. But Christ speaks with authority, and all is peace.
- Michael Hyatt offers six reasons on Why I Stopped Reading Your Blog.
- Justin Taylor points out that many Francis Schaeffer’s lectures are available online.
- James McGrath offers a nice collection of links on recent posts related to evolution.
- Brian Fulthrop offers some thoughts on T.F. Torrance’s Atonement.
- And, here’s a list of the Top 10 Bizarre Toys for Kids. I have to warn you, some of these are seriously twisted and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to need therapy now. The “God Almighty” toy at the top of this post comes from this list.
Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)
A lot of good links over the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting.
- PZ Myers points out that Answers in Genesis has been guilty of using history jacking (hijacking your browser history to discern what sites you’ve been visiting) and using that information to categorize visitors. Interestingly, although they have a distinct category for “Christian” users, if you’ve visited creationmuseum.org, joelosteen.com, or beliefnet.com, you get categoriezed as “other.” HT James McGrath and Stuart.
- Mark Galli has a great post on Evangelizing Ourselves: The Gospel is for Christians Too.
Let me suggest, in fact, that whenever we communicate to non-Christians that we have found it and that they have not, that we have been chosen and that they have not, that we are the apple of God’s eye and that they are not—whenever we assume that stance, consciously or not, we are communicating something other than the gospel, the Good News.
- Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful post on The New Testament’s Use of Old Testament Prophecy. Summarizing Doug Moo, he offers six principles and two important questions to keep in mind.
Sometimes with good apologetic and evangelistic motives we will point to all the OT prophecies about Christ and then run down a list of all the NT fulfillments. There is truth here, but if we set things up as “here’s the prediction; here’s the prediction come true” we are bound to confuse people. We may even cause people to doubt the prophetic witness rather than trust it.
- In “This is not my father’s Pentecostalism!“, Roger Olson reflects on the shift from the anti-intellectualism of his early Pentecostal background to the Pentecostals of today.
These Pentecostals are widely read in biblical and theological studies, immersed in the latest trends in missiology, even leading the way in some areas of theological reflection such as the Holy Spirit and world religions.
- Daniel Kirk has posted his SBL paper: “Toward a Theory of Narrative Transformation: The Importance of Both Contexts in Paul’s Scriptural Citations“
Our attempts to read Paul, in other words, will come up short to the extent that we either (a) neglect the narrative flow within which the cited verse occurs in its original OT context, or (b) allow that OT context to be entirely determinative for what the verse means in Paul.
- And, here’s an article on the threats facing Ethiopian Orthodox monasticism. HT David Mills
Today, the monastery is a vibrant stronghold of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox monasticism. And at first glance, it even seems impervious to modern Ethiopia’s fast-changing society. But it, as do all facets of Ethiopia’s monastic culture, confronts new realities and an uncertain future.
- Brian LePort continues his discussion of Derrida, deconstruction, and postmodernism with a post on Interpreting Derrida: Deconstruction. (You can see a list of his other posts here.)
- Bible and Interpretation has a fine essay on the Tel Hazor Excavations: Highlights from Recent Seasons. HT Jim West
- Patheos is hosting a discussion of Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne, 2010), which deals with an ancient syriac tradition regarding the three wise men.
- James K.A. Smith announces that Brazos is giving away a copy of his Letters to a Young Calvinist. XSM2B7AG8BTA
What is theological interpretation of Scripture? (ETS paper)
One of the papers I attended yesterday was Gregg Allison’s “Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Promises and Pitfalls for Evangelical Appropriation.” In the paper, Allison did an excellent job with his three main goals:
- Define theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS).
- Identify some benefits of TIS.
- Explain some potential weaknesses of TIS for evangelicals.
Allison begins his discussion of TIS in the same place that most people do, by noting that there is no commonly agreed on definition of TIS. He begins by summarizing Vanhoozer’s description of what TIS is not:
- It is not the imposition of a theological system on the biblical texts.
- It is not the imposition of a general theory of interpretation onto the biblical texts.
- It is not a merely historical, literary, or sociological approach to the text.
Allison then goes on to offer his own definition of TIS:
“TIS is a family of interpretive approaches that privileges theological readings of the Bible in due recognition of the theological nature of scripture, its ultimate theological message, and/or the theological interest of its readers.”
TIS, then, is a broad label for a number of different approaches to Scripture that share a number of important family resemblances. Allison notes three key elements that are all thematized differently by TIS proponents.
- The Text of Scripture (textual TIS): From this perspective, a proper interpretation of scripture must be guided by a correct understanding of Scripture as informed by a doctrine of Scripture.
- The Message of Scripture (message TIS): On this view, a proper interpretation must be guided by the “theological locution of Scripture” – i.e. the core theological message of Scripture that drives and orients everything in the text.
- The Reading of Scripture (interest TIS): This element emphasizes the theological concerns that the interpreter and his/her interpretive community bring to the text.
These elements are not exclusive and many will incorporate several in their approach to TIS. The differences among various TIS proponents, then, stem from the different ways in which they unpack each of these aspects (e.g. different doctrines of Scripture, different ways of understand Scripture’s core theological message, etc.) and the different combinations in which these three can be found.
In addition to these three key elements, Allison identified a number of other key characteristics of TIS.
- It is often advocated as over-against or as an advance beyond historical approaches.
- It is often advocated as rescuing the Bible from the academny.
- It is commonly oriented to a rule of faith.
- It is commonly slanted to recovering the past by imitating certain elements of pre-critical interpretation (e.g., unity of Scripture, typology, analogy of faith, etc.), but without espousing a simple return to pre-critical interpretation.
Having explained what he thinks TIS is, Allison goes on to offer several benefits of TIS.
- It clearly presents Scripture as the Word of God.
- It makes explicit what we do unconsciously anyway (i.e. read the Bible theologically).
- It may help bridge the gap between interpretation and theology , especially in academic settings.
- It clearly emphasizes the explicit telos of Scripture (i.e. the ultimate purpose for reading Scripture).
Then, Allison concludes with what he sees as the key weaknesses of TIS, particularly for evangelicals.
- The lack of a clear definition. It’s a new movement, so lack of definitional clarity is not surprising. Nonetheless, Allison argues that we need greater consensus if the approach is going to move forward.
- The lack of concrete results by which to evaluate the approach. The best way to evaluate any interpretive method is to analyze its results. And, since the movement is relatively new, such concrete results are limited.
- The generic theological orientation to which TIS may lead. Here Allison expressed concern with limiting the “rule” that guides interpretation merely to the early creeds and councils. As evangelicals, we are heirs to the Reformation and our own evangelical distinctives, which should also inform our reading of Scripture.
- The theological perspective of most TIS proponents. Allison recognizes that a major stumbling block for many evangelicals is the fact that most of the current TIS proponents hold views of Scripture that most evangelicals find inadequate. He doesn’t think this is necessary to TIS, but is something to be acknowledged.
Reflecting back on the paper, there were just a couple of things that I found less satisfying.
- I wish Allison had interacted directly with some of the “concrete results” that do exist. The Brazos and Two Horizons commentary series have been around for quite a while. And, many of the major books published on TIS include some examples of TIS at work. Yet, Allison only referenced was Vanhoozer’s Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. And, unsurprisingly, he found the short articles in that work to be unsatisfying. But, of course, that would be like assessing historical-grammatical interpretation by reading one of Zondervan’s Bible dictionaries. It seemed clear that Allison’s understanding of TIS is more theoretical than practical. A direct engagement with concrete results might have led to a more interesting set of benefits and weaknesses.
- I think I’d disagree that evangelicals need to bring a more robust theological framework to the task of TIS. I completely agree with his point that we all bring our entire theological framework with us when we read the text; this is unavoidable and should be done with as much full awareness as possible. But, the idea behind a “ruled” reading of Scripture (i.e. the Rule of Faith), is that you are saying this is the rule by which Scripture must be read if it is to be read properly. While I hold to my theological convictions sincerely and deeply, I would not want to say that my entire theological framework is a “rule” in this sense.
Morning links (9/20)
- iMonk has begun what looks like a very interesting series on spiritual formation. They started with a reflection on J.I. Packer’s Knowing God and followed up today with some comments on what “spiritual formation” means.
- Richard Beck uses some principles from statistical analysis to comment on the two kinds of errors we can make when saying who is/isn’t going to hell, and which kind he thinks we should lean toward.
- Brian Fulthorp has had an interesting discussion on confusing interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself.
- James McGrath reviews Dale Allison’s forthcoming book, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. He also points out the new Big Tent Christianity ebook.
- NYT had an interesting article last week, “Fibbing with Numbers,” discussing Charles Seife’s Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception.
- Here’s a slide show from HuffPo explaining how unnecessary quotations marks are infecting the nation.
- And, here’s a slideshow of 23 impressive science fiction LEGO creations. Some people have a lot of time on their hands.
The Hermeneutical Dilemma
[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]
I was happily finishing our week’s reading, relieved I was almost through, when I was taken aback by this quizzical statement:
A more recent philosophical development of theological interest, hermeneutics…
I stop the quote here not because there is not important information to follow but because this is where I dropped my book. Could it be!?! I asked myself, apparently aloud for my study partner raised his head. I gave him that snide look that says, That was not for you; get back into your reading, before continuing my reverie. Could it be!?! this time I asked in silence, has the purity of our biblical studies been tainted by this vile beast of philosophy at its very source. Subtle monster. Again, I must have spoken this last bit aloud for my study buddy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His eyes did not rise from his book.
I took a breath and continued. “…hermeneutics, actually has its source in a theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834).” This statement on page 203 of Allen and Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, Second Edition (creative citation) held my attention for some time as I sought several ways to dismiss it without serious thought. After feeling I had succeeded I continued on and finished the book certain I had escaped the shameful conclusion that our interpretations of Scripture are informed by, based on, or are in any way influenced by this insurrectional specter otherwise known as philosophy.
Alas, at night my thoughts held me captive and the name of a German theologian tormented my waking dreams: Schleiermacher.
Morning came. After discussing the origins of liberal theology with my wife over our morning tea, at her behest, (gosh, I need to learn to keep these inner thoughts to myself!) I waved goodbye, as she set off for work, and sat down to consider my day’s labor. How could I overcome my fears of this encroaching philosophy? Forgetfulness had failed; it must be faced head on. I decided to study the man himself.
Apart from his reputation bestowed by future generations as the Father of Modern Theology, Schleiermacher was a masterful translator, if not a mediocre philosopher. His translations of Plato’s works were highly influential for a century after his death and are still considered quite good.
Philosophically, Schleiermacher believed that there are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people. He also believed that thought was bounded by (even identical to?) word usage. Taken together these two concepts declare that every individual has a vocabulary that, while heavily informed by their culture and time, is in fact unique to themselves – as unique as their own minds. This makes absolute (and sometimes basic) understanding between any two people challenging, and this challenge is only exacerbated by distance in time and culture. Consequently, the task of the interpreter is to get into the culture and ultimately into the mind of the writer, to learn the language the way it was used at that time and particularly the way it was used by that writer. Understanding is not a given, it is a challenge, and hermeneutics was developed to deal with that challenge. (For more about Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Schleiermacher: . Similar concepts are discussed from different vantage points concerning different individuals in Philosophy for Understanding Theology, p203 ff.)
After reading the principles of interpretation as described by Schleiermacher I was stunned… they seemed so similar to my own. And yet, his work was considered ground breaking for its time (even if he was only one of many at that time breaking ground). Could it be that my beloved historical-critical method was not lifted directly from the pages of Scripture but was actually birthed and laid at theology’s doorstep by that whore, philosophy? If so, it is already too late. I cannot disown her now; I love her too dearly. If I were to leave her on this account, who would take her place?
Whoa is me! What is the pure theologian to do?
[Correction: When this was first posted, I accidentally omitted the word “philosophical” from the opening quote. That has been corrected.]
Early Christianity lectures
The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies has a couple of good lectures available online.
- Everett Ferguson, “Why Study Early Christian History and Literature“
- Robert Louis Wilken, “Going Deeper into the Bible: The Church Fathers as Interpreters“