September 23, 2010 by Jason Hood
First, a teaser: we’re about to announce what I trust will be an exciting series of interviews on politics and theology, featuring interviews with a variety of thinkers.
I was preparing for some OT lectures recently and came across some commentary on politics in Gordon McConville’s commentary on Deuteronomy (from pages 42-50).
McConville notes that “prophetic critique of the abuse of power,” is a built-in feature of the way in which Deuteronomy subordinates authority to Torah, God’s spoken word, not least by creating a vision of an ideal order functioning as an alternative (“cultural critique, or counter-culture”) to what is on offer among the nations. It is this vision by which Israel, her king, and even the nations may be judged as idolatrous or tyrannical.
The paradox of the book is that it aims to regulate the life of communities in reality, yet ever directs the attention of hearer and reader to an ideal that exposes the faults of the status quo. This is the lasting contribution of the book. It is capable of informing practical thinking about the organization of societies, while maintaining a vision of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is now and not yet.
It is instructive to note the way in which McConville has interpreted Deuteronomy not just as Law, but as something close to wisdom literature: “The book offers training in the right way to live, and in this respect is closer to Proverbs than to anything else.” Neither book is as wooden in its interpretation of the good life as sometimes thought, as they articulate the vision that “what is right is also useful, because of the claim that there is order in the universe, moral as well as natural.” “[P]eople are called to be trained in what is right, not merely to avoid retribution, but because a full and joyful human experience depends on the acknowledgment that life is a gift to God.”
Thus Deuteronomy becomes a vital arrow in the prophet’s quiver, capable of piercing idolatrous and tyrannical social, political, and economic structures. (The connection to wisdom has been particularly intriguing as I’ve had discussions on this topic with his former students, and as I’ve tried to distill their brilliance for myself and laity. For a start, see pages 43-45 in McConville.)0 Comments
March 2, 2009 by Gerald Hiestand
Rusty Reno has a couple of relevant posts (see here and here) in First Things’ On the Square blog. Reno, as you may be aware, has been leading the charge in the new Brazo’s Theological Commentary series. The series is decidedly theological, and the respective volumes are being written by theologians rather than bible scholars. Genius, in my mind. Yet not everyone is impressed. Many professional bible scholars are crying “foul”, declaring theologians (particularly Christians ones at that–gasp!) unfit to handle the text appropriately. Too much of the church’s theological dogma is being imported back into the text. My favorite is the (apparently self-evident) complaint by biblical scholar Barbara Green that the Jonah volume “features Jesus on nearly every page.” Ha! Luther would be horrified, I’m sure. Reno, quoted at length below, gives us his reason for pressing forward in this (at certain points) unpopular project:
“Not surprisingly, biblical commentary played a central role in the life of the Church. The Fathers wrote commentaries, far more in fact than treatises on doctrinal topics. The great medieval theologians wrote commentaries. Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote commentaries, as did Cajetan and Robert Bellarmine. For more than a thousand years it was simply assumed than an exegete and a theologian were pretty much synonyms. After all, you need to know what the Bible says in order to develop an accurate account of God and salvation—and you need to study classical doctrine in order to give a clear and cogent account of what the scripture says.
These days this unity can no long be presumed. Over the last two hundred years, the work of biblical interpretation has rotated away from the churchly business of teaching doctrine. Bible scholars have built their own independent intellectual project, one that excludes Church doctrine from the process of interpretation as a matter of principle. The job of the modern historical exegete is to scientifically determine what a particular portion of the Bible meant when it was composed, not how it should be read by the Church today.
We can point to many remarkable intellectual achievements in modern biblical scholarship, some of service to the Church. But on the whole the results have been disastrous. The “meaning in the original context” approach has made the Old Testament into the Hebrew Bible. To read forward to fulfillment in Christ is the unforgivable sin of modern biblical scholarship. The New Testament is rich with the vocabulary of Christian piety. St. Paul’s letters are themselves already theological. But even in New Testament scholarship, the requirement of original context invariably drives a wedge between Scripture and the great Trinitarian and Christological doctrines of the early Church. Ask a biblical scholar, “Does the New Testament teach the doctrine of the Trinity?” Odds are overwhelming that the answer will be “no.”
In the quote above, and throughout the rest of the post, Reno addresses many of the concerns that drive the SAET. The bifurcation between biblical exegesis and theological reflection so prevalent in the academic guilds is a big pet peeve of mine. In many respects, Reno (and other sensistive academic theologians/bible scholars) are looking to do within the academy what the SAET is looking to do outside the academy. God speed to Reno.0 Comments