Friday 12 December 2008

Introducing Theological Interpretation 2

[The second of three posts, the first here, introducing theological interpretation, a subject that has occupied much of my attention for the last ten years or so.]

Far from setting aside presuppositions and reading the Bible ‘like any other book’, recent years have seen an increasing number of scholars calling for a special, theological hermeneutics, where reflection on biblical interpretation is informed by theological considerations, and asks what the aims of a specific Christian use of the Bible might be.

Stephen E. Fowl, for instance:

‘In brief, I take the theological interpretation of Scripture to be that practice whereby theological concerns and interests inform and are informed by a reading of Scripture.’

Stephen E. Fowl, ‘Introduction’, in Stephen E. Fowl (ed.), The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), xii-xxx, here xii.

One of the more prominent voices, Francis Watson, writes:

‘The text in question is the biblical text; for the goal is a theological hermeneutic… within which an exegesis oriented primarily towards theological issues can come into being.’

Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 1.

Others (in addition to Bockmuehl and Watson) who have advocated the legitimacy of a self-conscious theological hermeneutic of Scripture include: A.K.M. Adam, Brevard S. Childs, Karl P. Donfried, David F. Ford, Stephen E. Fowl, Joel B. Green, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Richard B. Hays, Werner G. Jeanrond, Robert W. Jenson, Luke Timothy Johnson, Matthew Levering, Walter Moberly, R.R. Reno, Christopher R. Seitz, Daniel J. Treier, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, John Webster, David S. Yeago, and Frances Young.

Four of these – Adam, Fowl, Vanhoozer, and Watson – have interacted with one another recently in a helpful volume which, as Adam points out, suggests ‘both an increase in the degree to which [their] positions converge and an increase in the nuance of [their] disagreements’.

A.K.M. Adam, ‘Toward a Resolution Yet to Be Revealed’, in A.K.M. Adam, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 143-48, here 143.

The list embraces biblical studies scholars and systematic theologians, and is by no means exhaustive. In fact, an increasing number of biblical scholars have begun to think through how their work might be appropriated in theology, while some theologians have ventured into offering readings of passages in Scripture as part of their work in theology.

Two representatives may be noted briefly. Although working primarily in the discipline of Old Testament studies, much of Moberly’s output seeks to overcome standard divisions in the theological curriculum. Two of his books, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus and Prophecy and Discernment, have been published in the ‘Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine’ series as if to make the point. Both works seek to show how the Bible might be appropriated in contemporary theology and church life.

R.W.L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Prophecy and Discernment, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In turn, two publications by the theologian David Ford in the same series offer readings of biblical texts.

David F. Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 107-65; Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. 14-120.

A number of the volumes in the ‘Scripture and Hermeneutics Series’ are pertinent to this area, especially the following:

Craig Bartholomew, Mary Healy, Karl Möller, Robin Parry (eds.), Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 5 (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2004), and Craig Bartholomew, Scott Hahn, Robin Parry, Christopher Seitz, Al Wolters (eds.), Canon and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture & Hermeneutics Series Vol. 7 (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2006).

In addition, a new monograph series…

‘Studies in Theological Interpretation’, published by Baker Academic, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, and Christopher R. Seitz.

a new journal…

Journal of Theological Interpretation, edited by Joel B. Green, launch issue Spring 2007.

two new commentary series…

‘Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible’, published by Brazos, with R.R. Reno as the general editor, and ‘The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary’, published by Eerdmans, with Joel B. Green and Max Turner as the general editors.

and a dictionary…

Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London: SPCK, 2005).

… make it clear that what used to be a fairly minority interest within the scholarly guild has now taken off and is developing into what could be a significant movement.

Theological hermeneutics enables a commitment to a careful reading of the Bible without that commitment being tied too tightly to the agenda of Enlightenment reasoning; it is able to understand Scripture as God’s own self-disclosure or the decisive witness to his revelation, place it in the church as the primary context for interpretation and community formation, seeking to do justice to the role of worship, tradition, and the Holy Spirit. It also allows biblical texts to be interpreted in the light of their subject-matter, Jesus Christ, which in turn leads to suggestive proposals about breaking down the traditional boundaries (also largely established during the Enlightenment) between Old Testament and New Testament studies, and between biblical studies and systematic theology, as the following works go some way to demonstrate:

Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); Ben C. Ollenburger (ed.), So Wide a Sea: Essays on Biblical and Systematic Theology, Text-Reader Series 4 (Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1991); Francis Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997).


AndrewR said...

Many thanks for this Anthony. Have scoured my books and the web and could find no direct analysis of the varying positions and definitions on this, especially the slippery move from theological hermeneutics to interpretation. Writing up the thesis into a book for Ashgate and trying to keep it accessible. Trying.

Antony said...

Thanks Andrew – good to hear from you. You should, of course, bear in mind that this was written quite a few years ago now, and so things will perhaps have moved on a bit as well. I look forward to seeing your thesis in print. Hope it goes well. Thanks again – Antony