writing things down…

Archive for January, 2007

From Posts to Print

If you are like me and still hanker for the tactile when reading but also want to keep up with the goings on in the blogosphere, you might be interested in picking up (or better, printing out) the first issue of The Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation (pdf). The issue covers the essential posts from the last part of 2006 on churchandpomo.typepad.com.

The Question of Authorship

I am trying to utilize the append text tool of Quicksilver and so I created a file in which I can plop down thoughts about Ephesians as I go about my daily routine in the office – a routine that does not allow much time for reflections on Ephesians.  So when I created the file I thought I would jot down a few initial thoughts.  What was meant to be a quick note ended up as the following:

Authorship – Paul, pseudepigraphical, or later revision of Paul’s original – What does it matter?

If Paul – needs to be fitted into a plausible biographical and social-historical setting in the apostle’s career.  Ephesians could be key to interpreting Paul’s faith and to understanding the ways in which Paul’s ideas are recast or modified.  It seems to me though that the significance is not so much for understanding Ephesians but for understanding Paul.
If pseudepigraphon – forced to guess at what is the historical and social setting.  Must come to terms with those places that are in tension with Pauline statements elsewhere.  Again, the emphasis seems to be on understanding the author rather than understanding the text as it stands.

What does authorship matter for the course?  Well, when we encounter certain parts of the text that could be enlightened by a comparison to other Pauline epistles, we will have to ask is this development/modification by Paul himself, or is it by someone else.  Then we must ask, why the change by Paul, or by the imitator.  To what were either of these authors responding?

Does that matter?  To some extent.  However, if the emphasis is laid on the text as we have received it, the questions of authorship and historical setting are less important.  They are secondary matters of concern.  In that they might shed light on our grasp of the message of the text itself these historical/authorship issues are important enough to consider.  In that we are trying to grasp the message of the text itself, these concerns are less important than say, discourse analysis or grammatical analysis or rhetorical analysis.  Our question is, “What is the message/thrust/point of Ephesians?”  It is not “What is the message of Paul?”  We might modify our question a bit to ask “What is the message of Paul in Ephesians?” or “What is the message of the pseudepigrapher in Ephesians?”  But, we are still after the message of Ephesians.  Ultimately, I want students to always be on the lookout for answers to more missional questions – What does this text say about who God is? who the people of God are? What idea/activity/conviction does the text prompt? What is the response of the church implied by the text?  At this point, I am not concerned to answer questions like, “What is Paul’s view of who God is? who the people of God are?”, etc.

Will I disregard the authorship question altogether?  Of course not.  But, I will do my best to put it in its proper place among the many questions we can ask of Ephesians.

Over at Ekballo

On my more personal blog, Ekballo, I began a schedule of posting on a different topic each weekday. Wednesdays are for things to do with religion, church, Christianity, etc. The last two Wednesdays have sparked a nice discussion that I figured could just as well fit into the ethos of katagrapho. Below is the bulk of a response I wrote in the comments to today’s post which mentioned AKMA’s short essay on biblical interpretation.

I like to think of postmodernism (the noun) as a sensibility and not a particular method. To say something is postmodern is to say that it possesses or promotes or characterizes a certain sensibility. Now, what exactly that sensibility is is up for grabs. AKMA offers a definition that more than anything tries to describe what is going on in the world of biblical interpretation. It does not, however, prescribe, what biblical interpretation must look like to be postmodern. Personally, I think there are sensibilities that run awry of conventional approaches and could therefore be considered postmodern, and yet at the same time they are thoroughly theological/biblical/Christian. Postmodern approaches to reading Scripture are not, by definition, atheistic or anti-Christian. To be sure, though, there are postmodern approaches to biblical interpretation that are just these things. I want to discourage, however, a “guilt by association” response to reading practices that are characterized as postmodern. I think the revitalized discussion regarding theological interpretation is thoroughly postmodern and also theologically more fruitful. I think the same can be said for some streams of missional and emerging churches.

Ekballo does not always promote this sort of dialogue. It is usually more about music, politics, computers, and life in general. But, feel free to come join the conversation. I’ll cross-pollinate if the discussion is good.

Seams and Headings

This week in my Exegetical Methods class we are discussing structural issues of texts, specifically the breaks and seams that demarcate one pericope from another. To use Erickson’s image, we are looking at the way bricks in a wall are separated. We will then consider how the placement of a brick or a group of bricks fit into the wall as a whole, how the brick(s) gives the wall some of its character, and how the wall as a whole gives character to the brick(s). We are not yet considering the structure of the brick itself. Rather, our concern is 1) to delimit, and 2) place in literary context. This, to me is a rather important early step in the exegetical exercise. For one it forces students, who are likely accustom to jumping straight in to a passage, to first consider the context of the passage. This is a literary parallel to the habit I am trying to instill in the students to consider the social and cultural contexts in which they are before even looking at the texts. Contexts on several levels are important to careful, close readings of any text, but especially texts considered sacred.

Contexts, however, are not the point of this post. I am more interested in the idea of seams and structure. Let me recommend something to everyone. When you are wanting to engage the biblical texts with depth and care, do yourself a favor and begin your exploration with a Bible (preferably a good translation! A topic for another day) that does NOT have paragraph headings. Read the text for yourself. Create your own paragraph headings.

I like the UBS text of the Greek New Testament (GNT), but it bugs me that the editorial committee provided English headings and sub-headings for all of the major breaks and paragraphs. For one, the placement of the breaks is somewhat arbitrary. I admit though, it would be a bit silly to have printed one continuous text with no breaks at all. But, did they have to title each of the breaks? The headings are actually pretty good, but that is not the point. The point is that I want to encourage my students to see the breaks for themselves, and maybe discern seams in different places. Of course, I want them to justify their decisions. Making these decisions by their own engagement with the text is what I want for them. The same things applies to readers of translations. The discernment of structure, breaks and seams is not an exercise only for seminarians or biblical scholars.

I think my frustration with this one smaller issue comes from a larger frustration. Too often readers of Scripture rely on tools and do not engage the text itself. Study Bibles, amplified versions, and the like should not be our first stop on the journey with the text. The bare bones text ought to be the first place we go. We should explore here before we go on to see the results of other people’s explorations. If we can engage the Greek, we should. If we cannot, we should get a good translation and dive in. Only after we have read the text carefully, noticing things like keywords, key themes, structural ambiguities, cultural complexities, etc., should we move on to the tools that will answer, correct, support, or amplify our initial observations and questions.

I am also keenly aware that one does not engage even the bare bones text without one’s own baggage. In other words readers are never bare bones readers. We should acknowledge this and even take the time to know ourselves. Still, I would hope that readers, no matter the marks of life they bear, could come to the biblical texts as they (the readers) are and engage the texts as they (the text) are. Seems a good way to approach people too!

Tough Stuff

I am finding it rather difficult, given my busy-ness at work and my proclivity to procrastinate, to do the following:

  1. Teach Ephesians to an adult ed Sunday School class in four weeks.  I am two weeks into a four-week adult ed class at church.  I am leading them in a “close” reading of Ephesians.   We have managed to make it to 2:10, or through what I consider to be the ground clearing work the author (Paul?) does before moving into the ethical and social implications of the latter half of the book.  The difficulty in teaching the class is two-fold: 1) I am short on prep time; and 2) This is likely the most densely packed book of the entire NT.  So, inevitably, even while trying to read closely, we will skirt some important issues or I will neglect to mention some significant piece.  The class has been engaging and they seem to like the idea of simply reading the biblical text in more than a cursory fashion.
  2. Write a review of a book that is comprised of four essays and four responses to the essays by the essayists themselves.  In other words, I am finding it difficult to write a short review of Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation by A.K.M. Adam, Stephen Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson.  The difficulty here lies in the fact that the book as a whole does not have a thesis/argument/point.  Instead, each essayist has an argument to make about theological hermeneutics.  They do share some common purposes, but the commonalities are too broad to say that the book has a singular thrust.  Thus, I am really writing four reviews of rather short essays.  It is difficult (for me at least) to write reviews of short works without simply repeating what the essays say.  I would like to offer some critical comments, and I will; but, so much space is taken up with summaries that the review could run longer than it should.  And, to make matters more difficult, the essayists, in a sense, offer their own reviews of each others work in the responses.  So, how do I summarize the short essays and make critical comments without repeating both the essays and responses?  I’m inclined to take each contributor on their own.  That is, I am inclined to speak to Fowl, for instance, taking into account his essay and his response.  I would hope to characterize his position with reference to both.  Anyway, enough whining.  I just never thought the review of such a short book would be so taxing.

I do like the fact that I am reading scripture with the church while at the same time writing a review about reading scripture with the church.  I’ll end with a line from the preface of the book:

The theological sense of the Bible pervades the operations by which we endeavor to arrive at meaning, as it also pervades our efforts to articulate the meaning we discern.

Multiple Choice

Often the most difficult part of ________ is not deciding what to include but deciding what not to include.

a. writing

b. teaching

c. life

d. all the above

I’d like to see…

…some seminaries and divinity/theological schools getting in on this.  The concept is right up my alley, especially with regard to meaning and theological interpretation.