Sunday, December 17, 2006

prolegomena to the patches...

About a year and a half ago I blogged what turned out to be a little booklet that has now got its own ISBN number and everything with Triangle Publishing: "A Brief Guide to Biblical Interpretation." It was, alas, a little too brief for what's called "perfect binding." So I have been asked if I could write a few more pages.

In a way, this is fortuitous, for I remain deeply unsatisfied with the run of the mill "inductive Bible study" approach. If IWU starts a seminary or even an MA in Biblical Studies, I will lobby for the title "Integrated Bible Study" or some such for the key interpretive course.

Why unsatisfied?

1. Because it goes along with the "smoke and mirrors" that is the evangelical pretense that it actually derives its thinking almost exclusively from the Bible. In reality, our theology is what has always held the upper hand in our dialog with Scripture, a theology that has risen from the church meditating on the text with the mind of the Spirit. And I mean this of the staunchest "sola scriptura" group. They may say the Bible is driving what they think, but they are deceiving themselves.

If we were to give someone with absolutely no Christian background a Bible and send them off to the woods without any instruction, they would come back ready to found a cult unless the Holy Spirit intervened and performed a miracle of special revelation just for them.

2. After we have arrived at the original meaning, when we can, we do not yet know how to jump from the text to life. God's word for them is often not exactly the same as His word for us. In that sense there is a disproportionate yield from our study. We may have ideas about the Middle Platonic background of the Colossian hymn and how Colossians may modify such ideas to address a Jewish sect with mystical tendencies. But what does this have to do with me and today? There is a frequent disconnect between the meaning we work so hard to arrive at and the significance of the biblical text for life. This is endemic to the evangelical paradigm of "inductive Bible study."

3. In practice, we do not usually start with the text and then move to life. We usually start with some exigent circumstance and then go to the Bible for help. The text to life approach of inductive Bible study yields randomly usable results (because the text rather than current needs drive the appropriation). Life to text is the overwhelming orientation of Christian Bible use.

Well, that's enough of a break from grading. I may reappear when I need my next break.


Scott D. Hendricks said...

Just some thoughts I had:

Not even the New Testament goes from text to life, but from life to text. What I mean is that the New Testament was written based on the life experience of its authors, and often in response to other people's lives (whether it be the life of Christ, the life of the Spirit, or the lives of their audience).

Your interposition of the Spirit's role in interpretation is only slightly different from Barth's notion of the "three-fold" Word of God (about which I know almost nothing!, actually, since I've never read Barth).

Ken Schenck said...

I would say that my approach is a mixture of Barth and more traditional evangelical hermeneutics. Barth believed that the Bible became the Word of God to a person on God's terms. Many conservatives did not like the sense that the text as text might not necessarily be the word of God without further ado. So in this sense I try to maintain the authority of the original text over the original context so that it was God's Word to them regardless of whether I have a Word of God moment at any given point in time when I am reading it.

Another way in which I differ from Barth is the role I assign the church in the equation. Being Reformed, Barth is keen to see the church as ratifying an authority the text already had rather than really seeing any determinative function of the church in the setting of the canon.

We call on the spirit of John Drury to come and correct what is almost certainly a bad channeling of Barth by me...

Anonymous said...

If we distinguish (with all modern theology since the enlightenment) between revelation and scripture, then the canon must be in principle open. Despite common statements to the contrary, acknowledging canonization as an ecclesial process by human agents is not a distinctively Catholic or Orthodox notion, but rather one that was incipiently suggested by early protestantism and has been forcefully advanced by modern protestant theology.

Karl Barth can be placed within this tradition. The following quotes confirm his principled open canon view:

"As is well known, the establishment of the canon has had a long and complicated history. Basically, we cannot yet say that that history is closed." - KB, CD I/2 pg. 473

"The insight that the concrete form of the canon is not closed absoluted, but only very relatively, cannot be denied even with a view to the future" - KB, CD I/2 pg. 476

As for me, I would affirm human ecclesial agency in determining the canon as an act of faithfulness to the apostles and their writings. However, the very people that made these determinations would also claim that they put themselves under the authority of these writings. So to appeal to tradition in this case doubles back to the primacy of scripture, so that, if we are truly instructed by the canonizers, we should also accept the authority of scripture over even those who set its limits. This may be counter-intuitive, but an appeal to tradition at this point recommends we take them seriously and thoroughly, not just use them to get ourselves out from underdeath the scriptures. Yes, they chose the texts; but they also considered these texts as authoritative.

Jeffrey Crawford said...

How similar is the approach of life to text to the viewpoint of Harry Fosdick, who espoused that all doctrines come from life experiences? It does seem that by filtering text through the exclusive lens of experience that we are greatly open to misinterpretations and even heresies. Furthermore, I believe we pigeonhole the text into our own contexts while we lose the greater picture, yes, the metanarrative, if you will.

Ken Schenck said...

One interesting issue dancing around these discussions is the question of meaning "in" a text. Did God set up Isaiah 7:14 to resonate with the virgin birth or did He inspire Matthew to see the virgin birth in the Greek translation of Isaiah. So to what extent did these texts become Scripture as parts of the church accepts their authority and to what extent did God intend them to be Scripture from the very first?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the authority of scripture requires that we "choose" between potential meanings in order to flatten out the meaning of the Bible. Holy Scripture does not deliver revealed data to us, but rather is God's chosen witness to his revelation in Jesus Christ. The Law and Prophets before JC and the Evangelists and the Apostles after JC bear sufficient and adequate witness. That they had different thoughts in their mind as they bore their human witness would befit the nature of the case. I think to even have a conversation about how we read the Bible we have to speak of the nature of the Bible. This is how I think of it at least.

Ken Schenck said...

It would be helpful to me sometime to sit down with you and see if you and I are in some sort of Barth-Brunner or Barth-Schleiermacher relationship on these things. I'd have to do my assigned reading ahead of time to make it worth your while, of course.

Jeffrey Crawford said...

Yet it seems that the Bible in fact does have an undercurrent in each and every book. This gives the Bible cohesiveness. Perhaps I am oversimplifying the Bible by looking for a grand picture. It is a very modernistic view, but it works for me - haha. It seems to me that every single book has as a theme that is a subtle - or even overt revealing of God to man in one degree or another.
To me, this means that the Bible is in fact bigger than me. My lack of discernment of the Scripture on all levels doesn't negate its existence, it just means that I haven't yet arrived (Phil. 3:12 for you, Dr. Schenck!)
In many ways, the authors of each book fulfilled the revelatory aspect of God, perhaps knowingly or not. In other words, we can serve a God who WANTS to be known and who makes efforts to be known. That is something that makes the Bible stand out to me. I guess I am not ready to make the leap that we all bound by language to a world of subjectivity. Once again, that is something that makes the Bible a unique work. We continue to return to it, revere it and most who study it will recognize that the Bible has a human yet divine context to it, yes an adequate witness!

Anonymous said...

Related to the orignal post:

'There is a notion that complete impartiality is the most fitting and indeed the normal disposition for true exegesis, because it guarantees complete absence of prejudice. For a short time, around 1910, this idea threatened to achieve almost a canonical status in Protestant theology. But now, we can quite calmly describe it as merely comical.'
[Barth - Church Dogmatics I/2, p469]

As you know, Ken, I assigned your little book on Hermeneutics as the secondary text for a Methods of Bible Study class this past summer. I got extra copies for the preachers on our staff here too.

Wonderfully helpful stuff. Glad you're thinking of expanding.

Anonymous said...

Ken - I think you are on to something to characterize our congruences and differences along the lines of Barth and Schleiermacher. I say Schleiermacher because (1) Schleiermacher's mind is equal to or greater than Barth's, which cannot be said of Brunner's and (2) certain notions that you float around remind me of Schleiermacher, especially your talk of pre-linguistic religious experience (read: feeling of absolute dependence) which leads you to characterize the relationship between doctrine and piety in a manner remeniscent of Schleiermacher.

All that to say that you are on to something.

By the way, despite Schleiermacher's reputation in some circles, please hear this comparison as a complement. Schleiermacher is a worthy option within modern theology. Overcoming the Barth/Schleiermacher impasse is a critical task for contemporary theology, so I am happy to work these angles with you :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm confused at the multiple posts above, Ken. Strange.

Feel free to delete them... The little trash can thing I usually see isn't visible to me (perhaps Beta blogger is messing things up???)


Ken Schenck said...

Confusion gone... Since when have you been reading through the Dogmatics?! I'm so depressed :-)