I’ve moved!

I have made the switch to my own stand-alone weblog. Reset your bookmarks and blogrolls and come see me at www.dcspinks.com.

Right now all I have there are the few posts from this blog. My next project is to move the pages over (see the links in the sidebar here). Eventually dcspinks.com will become my base for all things theological, biblical, academic, etc.

A move is in the works…

I have not been blogging much lately for several reasons. Now that graduation is over I can devote more energy to preparing for teaching in the Fall, which, for me, also includes blogging about exegesis and interpretation, since the blog is my sounding board for class preparation. However, it may be a few more days before I am back in the saddle completely. One of the gifts I received for graduation was a subscription to a web host (thanks to my adoring wife!). Tonight my good friend, Wess Daniels is going to help me get set up with my own website. Stay tuned for more information. Soon the edublogs blog will move to a site that is all my own!

A Beginner’s Guide to NT Exegesis

[I started this review a couple of weeks ago. I am not sure when I will finish it. I am finding life busier post-dissertation than I had expected. Maybe my drive has lessened. Nonetheless, I got tired of seeing this in my drafts file, so I present it here, knowing that I will get back to it to finish at a later date. Your comments are appreciated even now before it is completed.]

Since the Extended Course Description for my course was due several weeks ago, I had to choose my required reading list earlier than I would have wanted. My good friend and colleague, Rich Erickson, recently published the newest and most helpful introduction to NT exegesis I have yet seen, so I chose it as my primary textbook, having looked at it only briefly. I am certain I will not be disappointed. I am also quite confident the students will enjoy Erickson’s style. Still, I want to review it here. The results of this exercise might benefit the few interested readers who take the time to read the review, but the exercise itself is mostly for me.

Erickson, Richard J. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of Critical Method. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Richard J. Erickson is associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary at Fuller Seminary Northwest in Seattle (for those of you who do not read the back cover of the book). After twenty years of teaching exegesis and several years of using and adapting Gordon Fee’s Handbook, Erickson decided to write a guide to NT exegesis that would not be so overwhelming for the beginning student. Still, his goal is much the same as Fee’s – “to lay a groundwork for the exegesis of the Greek New Testament.” (15) Rather than overwhlem, Erickson hopes to encourage and enthuse his student readers.

The book is divided into ten chapters (Fuller is on the quarter system, and so each chapter represents a week in the quarter), with the first five chapters covering introductory matter and general exegetical methods, and the last five chapters covering the specific issues of the three broad literary genres of the NT (narratives, epistles, and apocalyptic literature) and the place of exegesis in theology, ministry and life.

Chapter One spells out Erickson’s assumptions and the exegetical frame of mind, both following a fairly traditionally moderate evangelical stance. For instance, the New Testament is understood as inspired and life-providing. It requires people dedicated to interpreting it for the church and for whom the Holy Spirit is guide. The task of exegesis, Erickson claims, is “to project us back into that ancient world.” (21) This task requires skills in the orginal languages and a certain distance between ourselves and the text. But, and most importantly, the task requires us to see ourselves as part of a larger grand theological conversation. Ultimately then, for Erickson, exegesis is a listening tool.

The next four chapters proceed in a logical manner, introducing the reader to the issues of textual criticism (ch. 2), linguistic, semantic and literary structure (ch. 3), syntactical and discourse analysis (ch. 4), and historical-cultural criticism (ch. 5). It may jolt students a bit to begin with textual criticism, but the establishment of the text with which they will be working seems a good place to start. The order of chapters 3-5 rightly puts historical-cultural criticism in its place following a thorough analysis of the text itself.

After an introduction to many of the most important exegetical methods, Erickson turns to the three broad genres of the NT. In chapter 6, Erickson considers the questions surrounding the interpretation of NT epistles. This leads him to consider the setting of a letter’s writing, but more importantly revisits discourse and syntactical analysis as well as introduces rhetorical criticism to the readers. The chapter helpfully ends with a brief step-by-step approach to a simplified exegesis of an epistle (something this reader wishes he had done for the other two NT genres). Chapters 7 & 8 cover the NT narratives, complex, yet central, bodies of writing. Erickson first discusses the broad approaches to gospel exegesis (ch. 7), namely narrative, historical, form and source criticisms. He spends a good bit of space expanding on the source critical approach through his explanation and discussion of redaction criticism and helpful instruction for using a synopsis. With chapter 8, Erickson moves to more detailed reading of NT narratives. In this chapter, he essentially expands on narrative/literary criticism by considering things like plot, character, setting, parables, allegory, type-scenes, allusions, parallel accounts, speeches, logia and summary passages. Erickson’s consideration of the apocalyptic genre in ch. 9 is both careful and helpful for the beginning exegete. In covering aspects of apocalyptic literature such as generic characteristics, function and method, Erickson concludes that apocalyptic literature of the NT is “an alternate style of biblical communication” which employs “alternative forms and methods to convey the same message conveyed by all of Scripture.” (203) Erickson’s last chapter…

The goal to encourage and enthuse beginning exegetes is a lofty one. Erickson does his best to meet it. I think he does about as good as anyone can hope to, better than most in fact. I myself felt encouraged and enthusiastic about the task of exegesis.
Fourth section – mechanics of layout; helps, etc.

Fifth section – relevance and personal recommendation for use

Teaching Exegesis

Next school year I will be teaching a class entitled ‘Exegetical Methods and Practice’. As I begin to think about my syllabus, I am struck by the various ways one could teach such a course. I think the variety stems from the diverse nature of exegesis itself. How does one teach the methods and practics of exegesis when it has become increasingly difficult to say what exegesis is or should be? This question is related to my lingering questions about biblical interpretation.

My dilemma is selecting the right combination of introduction to traditional critical methods, introduction to more recent critical methods, and the theoretical foundation for all of these methods. And, how do I cover these things in only ten weeks? Furthermore, what is it that students should leave the class knowing or knowing how to do? What exactly is the point of this class? What exactly is the point of exegesis of Christian scripture?

Ultimately, in the seminary setting, exegesis means to serve the church somehow. So, the questions of How? and What? must be asked with the church in the foreground.

Still, I am wondering what it is I should say and do from week to week. What should the students be saying, hearing and doing from week to week that will prepare them to listen, say and do from week to week in their churches, parishes, ministries, lives? I cannot answer these questions without acknowledging some of my own presuppositions and convictions about interpretation in general.

I am convinced that most of the “traditional” critical methods–and by that I mean those methods connected to the larger historical-grammatical-critical method–are necessary and helpful for what it is my students will be doing in their respective ministries. So, I will certainly introduce and try to teach these methods. I have in mind things like grammatical analysis and historical-cultural analysis. Certainly since the middle of the twentieth century exegesis cannot be done without also giving proper attention to the surface of the texts themselves. So, literary tools will need to be employed–redaction criticism, textual criticism, discourse analysis, narrative criticism, rhetorical criticism. The historical and literary tools will take up most of the class. The need for these critical tools has to do with a recognition of 1) the historical setting of the text’s production; 2) the dynamics of the language of the texts; 3) the genre and form of the various books that make up the NT; and 4) the ways in which and the reasons for which first-century authors wrote, compiled, and edited texts.

The historical and literary methods of biblical criticism are teachable methods. They represent approaches to the text that can be demonstrated and practiced. The question we must ask though is what they do for us. How do their results serve the church?

We cannot answer that question without also having an eye on the church itself. And, having an eye on the church requires a panoramic perspective, because the church is not a synchronic community. We cannot view the church through a keyhole. In fact, I contend, that we cannot view the whole of the church even if we open the door and move around the house. I am convinced that the church–a community I and my students (most at least) are a part of–must be understood as a living body whose life precedes me and whose life will continue after me. It is from the early church that the NT texts were written. It is within the church that the texts are read and revered as scripture. In other words we are not reading strictly ancient texts produced by ancient authors who come from unknown communities that worship an unknown god. We are a part of their community, we worship their god, we live empowered by the same spirit, we have faith in the same savior. But, and I must be clear about this, the texts of the NT are products of a culture and time unfamiliar to us. How do we reconcile these two things–historically embedded texts and transhistorical scripture?

I am not sure that there are practices I can teach or exercises the students can practice that will help relay this conviction. But, there are critical methods that begin on the frontside of the texts in the community of today’s readers and ask questions that stem from these settings rather than the cultural settings of the first century. I think it is imperative for students to be aware of these sets of questions. In addition, I think it is important to retrace the interpretations of our community and ask the frontside questions for our forebearers. This practice will help remind us that reading the scriptures is not something new to us. Our community has been doing it for centuries. And as any good and healthy body should do, we have the responsibility to learn from, question, and even refute the readings of the past, just as the church will do to our readings. So, some discussion of reader-response criticism and history of interpretation ought to be a part of our exegetical practice.

After all is said and done, however, the day-to-day content of the course will center around reading the text, reading them carefully and fully, and reading them in community. I am going to try to teach the students to be good readers. And, good readers strive for a clear picture of what went into the production of the texts. Good readers have a sensitivity to the use and effects of the texts in the present community. Good readers are sensitive to the contours, rhythms, seams, tones and complexion of the texts. They recognize the type of texts they are reading (scripture on the whole, various genres in specific). But, most importantly they recognize that a full understanding of God’s word can come only by a reading of the body of Christ, the church. And so, good readers of scripture learn from, question and converse with their fellow community members, those who have gone before, those who sojourn with them now, and even those who will follow.

I have only 10 weeks. The best I can do is help put some reading tools in their toolkits and encourage them to develop healthy habits of reading.

Future posts: a review of the following possible textbooks.
1) New Testament Exegesis and Research by Donald A. Hagner
2) New Testament Exegesis by Gordon D. Fee
3) Elements of Biblical Exegesis by Michael J. Gorman
4) A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis by Richard J. Erickson

Interpretation 2.0 – Capsules

In my previous post I suggested that the traits of Web 2.0 might translate well into traits of theological interpretation. I want to offer some quick ideas–capsules, if you will–about how this translation might work.

1. Web 2.0 doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core.

It might be better for us to define theological interpretation in terms of a center or “gravitational core”. In this way a “rule of faith” might come into play. More appropriately, though, we ought to define theological interpretation as that interpretation that is pulled toward Christ. Theological interpretation is not so much defined by the boundaries placed around its edges, but by the larger body to which it is attracted. “Theological interpretation doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather a gravitational core in Jesus Christ.”

2. Web 2.0 embraces the power of the web to harness collective intelligence.

Theological interpretation, while certainly an exercise that can become a specialization, is not something exclusively the discipline of elite scholars. In fact, I would contend that theological interpretation, like Web 2.0 products, is only fully realized when the collective force of the body of Christ is harnessed. Again, we ought to consider the role of a “rule of faith” which encapsulates the hermeneutic of the Church. But, also we need to understand that the collective intelligence/understanding of the Church is not a concerted effort at any one point in time. The body of Christ must be seen in its pan-historical, cultural, ethnic nature. “Theological interpretation embraces the power of the body of Christ to harness collective understanding of Scripture.”

3. Web 2.0 software infrastructure is largely open source or otherwise commodified.

It may be difficult to offer an analogy of software infrastructure when speaking about theological interpretation. I see the idea of infrastructure in theological interpretation in the interpretative methods employed. In that case, we might be able to say, on the one hand, that biblical interpretation has always been open source. The history of biblical interpretation demonstrates a quite open dialogue and exchange of ideas. Changes have occurred; discoveries have been made; better understanding has been a result. On the other hand, however, since the rise of the historical-critical method, there has been a sense that biblical interpretation is closed off to certain methodological approaches. Much has contributed to this. I believe that at some level the closed nature of historical criticism can be attributed to interpreters’ notions of what it is one is after in interpreting the bible–AKA “meaning”. There is more to say here, and I have addressed some of this in my dissertation. In the interest of keeping this to “capsule” size I will hold off on further comments. “The methodology of theological interpretation is largely open source and otherwise commodified.”

[I’ll expand the following at later date. For now I offer only the first attempt at translation.]

4. Web 2.0 software is delivered as a service, not as a product, therefore, it must be maintained on a consistent basis, and users must be treated as co-developers.

“Theological interpretation is in service to the body of Christ and its life with God, therefore, it must be engaged on a consistent basis, and the members of the body must be treated as fellow interpreters.”

5. Web 2.0 strives for simplicity and to be “organic”. This means applications are loosely coupled and even fragile, applications encourage cooperation and not control, and that “the most successful web services are those that have been easiest to take in new directions unimagined by their creators.”

“Theological interpretation strives for simplicity and to be ‘organic’ and ‘holistic’. This means interpretations are loosely coupled, fragile and underdetermined, interpretations encourage cooperation and not control, and the most meaningful interpretations are those that can be taken in new directions unimagined by original authors or faithful interpreters.”

6. Web 2.0 is no longer limited to one platform.

“Theological interpretation is no longer limited to one eccesiological framework.”

7. Web 2.0 creates a rich user experience where applications learn from the users using an architecture of participation.

“Theological interpretation creates a rich experience of faith where the body of Christ is enriched by the interpretations of its members who are parts of interpretive communities that utilize an architecture of participation.”

Inchoate thoughts on Interpretation 2.0

I left off over two weeks ago on some reflections about Scripture, concluding that further exploration would open up the complex relationship of the Church and its sacred text. In short, I believe that it is impossible to offer conclusions about the nature of Scripture without considering the community to whom it is Scripture. Likewise, I believe it is impossible to reflect on the nature of the Church without considering the text it considers God’s word. [NB: Henceforth, in my discussion I will try to hold to the use of ‘word’ and ‘Word’ as Kevin Vanhoozer has suggested in The Drama of Doctrine – ‘word’ refers to the spoken/written words of God, primarily the biblical text; ‘Word’ refers to the incarnated Word of God, Jesus of Nazereth.]

For further discussion the conundrum is where to “jump in”. It’s a chicken-or-egg question really. Does the reflection on the nature of Scripture inform the reflection on the nature of the Church or vice-versa? How do we hold these concepts together? Or, better how does one reflect and comment on one or the other without implying some sort of separation, a separation that I am conviced is theologically impossible?

Questions like this are what keep me from writing. I simply don’t know where to begin. And, I don’t know how to go down a different path, a less systematic, more holistic path. I am constantly grasping for analogies. I am mostly wasting time browsing the internet. I wonder if the internet itself might offer an anaology.

Discussions about the concept of Web 2.0 have intrigued me for some time. [NB: I am well aware that the term ‘Web 2.0’ is much debated and possibly losing any significance, but until some other term can evoke the same notions, I will stick to it.] The general descriptions of the direction the internet is going echo some of the same concepts I believe may enhance our understanding of theological interpretation. I am plannning a more thorough and fuller article that will use Web 2.0 as an analog for theological interpretation. What I offer here is a list of the general descriptions of Web 2.0 found in an article by Tim O’Reilly. I don’t think it would require much revision to use these descriptions for theological interpretation.

1. Web 2.0 doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core.
2. Web 2.0 embraces the power of the web to harness collective intelligence.
3. Web 2.0 software infrastructure is largely open source or otherwise commodified.
4. Web 2.0 software is delivered as a service, not as a product, therefore, it must be maintained on a consistent basis, and users must be treated as co-developers.
5. Web 2.0 strives for simplicity and to be “organic”. This means applications are loosely coupled and even fragile, applications encourage cooperation and not control, and that “the most successful web services are those that have been easiest to take in new directions unimagined by their creators.”
6. Web 2.0 is no longer limited to one platform.
7. Web 2.0 creates a rich user experience where applications learn from the users using an architecture of participation.

Of course the technologies have to be in place for these sorts of things to happen. That is, we have to have the nuts, bolts, wires, buttons, browsers, codes, etc., but once all these things are put together in their proper place we do not have Web 2.0. Likewise, we have to have a proper perspective on the nuts and bolts of the biblical text with its historical, cultural, theological, sociological, narratival, ideological backgrounds. But do any of these things alone, or together, embody what we would call a “theological interpretation of Scripture”? More to come…

The Bible as scripture?

I have established that an exploration into the nature of Scripture is a first priority. What follows is simply personal reflection on the matter. I will need to read and reflect more thoroughly as I proceed.

It seems to me that the term “Scripture” can be understood in at least two ways. First, one can hold the conviction that a set of texts, the Christian Bible in our case, is the word of God. Of course one would want to analyze this conviction a little more, but for now we can define Scripture in this way as divine text. Second, one could hold the conviction that a set of texts is Scripture because a community deems it as such. Many in the community would no doubt hold the prior conviction–the text is the word of God–but to speak of interpreting the text as Scripture would imply a communitarian perspective. In this way the text is a sacred text.

At this point we could go one of two ways. 1) We could accept without question the idea that the Bible is either divine text or sacred text. In the first case–the Bible is divine–there is a straightforward conviction that the words we are reading are God’s words with little to no mediation of these words through human authors, human communities, or human interpreters. The goal of interpretation then is to filter out all of the noise and uncover the voice of God. The pure form of this position is rarely held today because we have understood that God’s word has come to us in human form. In the second case–the Bible is sacred–there is the implication that the text is really no different than any other text but it is held in higher esteem by certain folks. Interpretation with this idea in view becomes either an exploration into the history of the community’s interpretation or an attempt to uncover the “real” meaing of the text hidden behind the layers the community has applied to it. 2) We could also, and instead, recognize the overlap of the ideas of a divine and sacred text. That is to say, we do not naively accept the text as God’s word without also exploring the way the community has understood that conviction. Nor do we simply accept the fact that this (or our) community holds an otherwise normal text as sacred without exploring the reasons why the community holds these texts as such. By recognizing the text as both divine and sacred, as both the words of God and the sacred texts of the Christian community we are acknowledging a complex relationship between community, text and God. To interpret Scripture with this relational web in mind forces us to take account of the community (more on this later) and the text. In this we also assume the presence of God in both the community and the text. A recognition of this network of relations is in some ways an expansion of the straightforward assumption of the text as God’s word. It explores the complexity of God in text and God in the community that reads the text. The network of relations is also a corrective and revisioning of the notion that the Bible is sacred only at a functional level. It acknowledges with the functional perspective the importance of the history of the community’s interpretation but it does not see layers of community interpretation as necessarily a negative thing one must overcome. In other words, we are recognizing that the theological interpretation of Scripture is an intra-communal conversation in which the community is understood to span many locations and times.

In the end, my exploration into the nature of Scripture is necessarily an exploration into the nature of the Christian community with its sacred text as well. At this point I am a little uncertain how I might proceed. My initial thought is to do some reading, delve deeper into my dissertation sections on the issue and offer some reflection.

What is theological interpretation of scripture?: A complex question

I should know how to answer this question. It is after all the topic of my dissertation. But, the question is not easy to answer. Much has been written on interpretation in general and even on interpretation of the Bible. And, I suppose if I am going to get a firmer grip on theological interpretation then I will want to explore some of those conversations. When we put “theological” in front of interpretation, however, it seems to me that we are implying an extra set of assumptions and therefore an extra level of complexity. Add to this complexity a sacred text and we are now dealing with a growing hermeneutical web. This is not a general interpretation of just any text; it is the theological interpretation of scripture, our scripture. So the question asked in the title is more complex than it first appears. We have, in asking the question, added two crucial topics to the conversation. We must explore what it is that makes theological interpretation theological. Before that, however, we must explore the very nature of the bible as scripture. What implications for interpretation are there when we understand the texts to be sacred? I think the question of scripture needs to be at the center of my reflections at first.

And so it begins

I have been blogging for nearly a year over at Ekballo. This blog, however, has been more personal and scattered. I needed a place to just write, a place where I could not only practice the art of writing, but a place to get down some of my ideas and thoughts on matters more related to my career and research interests. I expect two things to happen if I stick to writing on this newly created blog. First, I hope that I will begin to see improvement in my writing. Second, I hope that I will begin to see development in my thinking on certain academic, theological, biblical studies. I told people about Ekballo. I don’t intend to publicize Katagrapho. If someone stumbles across it, great! I wouldn’t mind some discourse on my writing style and/or my ideas. At the moment though, I will keep Katagrapho to myself. Once I get some things written down, I might let some people know about it. I also do not intend to spend time applying the “bells and whistles” to Katagrapho. I may from time to time insert some links in the sidebar, but one will not find the miscellany found in Ekballo.

Right now the follow areas are at the top of my interest list:
1. Theological Interpretation
2. Emerging movement
3. Anabaptism

At first glance, I find the common denominator to be community. I think there is significant overlap among these areas, and I believe the overlapping issue is communitarian in nature.

Other areas on which I think I need to spend some time:
1. Major issues in New Testament studies (I know this is broad. Part of what I need to do is identify what the major issues are.)
2. Hermeneutics
3. Philosophy of interpretation (includes philosophy of knowledge)

These three areas, no doubt, have significant bearing on the three primary interests and so the two lists are not mutually exclusive.

The method I foresee is quite simple. First, I want to reflect and free-write on a particular topic and then do some reading in order to probe the topic more fully. I can’t imagine how I will do all of this. I would guess that it will be a bit sporadic.