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This kind of stuff scares the crap out of me. How does the American Patriot’s Bible do anything for the kingdom of God, which, by the way is not synonymous with the kingdom of America? I am ashamed—as a Christian and an American—this book exists. Others have expressed their opinions on the matter as well.
And, I should add, Richard G. Lee and others who actually think this sort of thing is godly are simply delusional. Someone who writes under the auspices of Mental Health Examiner ought to recognize delusion. Unfortunately, this writer does not.
On the Monday afternoon of AAR/SBL, I took part in a panel session of Christian Theology and the Bible. The make-up of the panel had several permutations before the actual session. Originally the session was the following:
Christian Theology and the Bible
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Room: 24 C – CC
Theme: Reading Scripture With the Church
Kathryn Greene-McCreight, St John’s Episcopal Church, Presiding (10 min)
David Ford, Panelist (20 min)
Amy Laura Hall, Duke University, Panelist (20 min)
Andrew Adam, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Respondent (15 min)
Francis Watson, University of Aberdeen – Scotland, Respondent (15 min)
Kevin Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Respondent (15 min)
David Ford had to back out because his father-in-law, Dan Hardy, was seriously ill and eventually passed away. (My prayers are with the Hardy family. I met Dan once in 2002. In that short encounter he made a strong impression on me.) Once David backed out, the plans for the session changed. (Do keep in mind, I am piecing together events from second- and third-hand sources.) The organizers decided to invite a couple more people to prepare questions and make the session more of a Q&A discussion. Watson and Vanhoozer were not ready to participate in this more off-the-cuff style. Suddenly, the organizers were faced with one enquirer (Amy Laura Hall) and two authors (AKMA and Fowl). In a scramble, apparently—how else do I get invited to participate?—the organizers ask me and John Wright to participate by preparing questions and emailing them to the panel beforehand, if possible. (Joel Green, whom I had met earlier this year in my position in the dean’s office at Fuller, where Joel was hired, recommended me to the moderator. As a side note, I am thrilled that Joel is at Fuller now!) This all happens less than a week before I leave for San Diego, about 12 days before the panel.
So, I am preparing to leave for San Diego, when the day before departure, an email arrives with a short paper by David Ford attached. It seems he will participate by having his paper read in his absence. The panel, thus, morphs once again. I am now expecting David’s paper, three sets of questions, and two author responses. In the hustle and bustle around the office, I am not able to send my questions until I get to San Diego. I email them on the Thursday before the session.
Monday arrives and I discover that Francis Watson is now back on the panel. One paper, three sets of questions, and three author responses. And, on top of that the session has been scheduled to end at 5:30 and not 7:00, as originally planned. Where will we fit in time for discussion and audience questions? I’m hoping the paper, questions, and responses move quickly. They do not. The session morphs, yet again. The Ford paper is much longer than I expected (I had not looked at it carefully beforehand), and Wright has prepared not a set of questions so much as a paper in the vein of Ford’s. Both short papers were terrific, by the way. But, that was not the issue. The issue was time and the character of the session. We were going to run out of time, and there would be no room for proper conversation. Oh well. A final bit, seemingly because he wanted to craft a response beforehand, Watson’s response was only to Ford’s paper, although Amy Laura Hall had provided questions a good month before the session and Ford’s paper only arrived a few days in advance.
In the end, I thought the session turned out pretty well under the circumstances. I won’t detail the papers, questions, and responses. I think they will eventually be made available on the Christian Theology and the Bible blog. I am going to provide my set of questions. Feel free to comment.
Let me first say that I am interested in this discipline (can we call it a discipline?) of theological interpretation, as I am sure many of your are, because it has gap-bridging potential. So, many of my questions will press on the different “sides” of the debate (can we call it a debate?), not because I am interested in bringing differences into sharper relief, but because I am interested in how the variety of theological interpreters can move forward together in one general direction instead of in many disparate ones. A few questions, you will see, also push toward clarity of that general direction. Finally, because I am interested in the movement forward, I want to press some of the questions that arise in the responses of the book. Many of you ask questions to one another that do not get answered in the book itself because, well, the book had to end at some point. I’d like to bring some of those questions back up.
I’m sure to be splitting hairs here, but I wonder if the preposition in the title of the book sets the conversation among the four authors outside of or at best alongside the Church, instead of inside of it. How do you see this conversation that means to move “toward a hermeneutic for theological interpretation” in relation to the Church? More pointedly, are the four of you, in this book especially, reading Scripture WITH the Church or AS (members of) the Church? And more importantly, what difference would it make if you were reading with or as the Church? In a related sense, what difference does it make that it’s the CHURCH reading SCRIPTURE and not a group of biblical scholars reading ancient texts? Finally, I suppose I should go ahead and ask it, because it is bound to come up at some point: Whose Scripture? What Church?
With AKMA’s concluding remarks in mind—”the essays in this volume do not arrive at a concordant resolution” (p. 148)—I wonder if you could speak to how it is this particular conversation among you four, and the larger conversation among all who self-identify as theological interpreters, moves toward A hermeneutic (singular?) for theological interpretation. I’m not asking here for a review of your individual proposals. What I’m wondering is if and how you see the conversation itself as a supervening level whereupon theological interpretation, the “theological sonata allegro” (p. 148), plays out.
To AKMA and Stephen:
I’m sure you will agree that the absence of Kevin changes the complexion of today’s discussion. So, let me revisit one of his concerns. How do you respond to his detection of “a pronounced anti-theoretical bias” (133) and his unease “when hermeneutical pragmatists no longer care about ‘getting it right'” (134)?
[If Kevin were here, I would want to know from him what it is interpreters ought to be “getting right.” He writes, “[Reading to discover all that the human and divine authors do in using just these words in just these ways] yields not a specific method so much as a regulative goal. If I insist on ‘getting it right,’ it is not because I am a hermeneutical monist who believes that texts have but one meaning (much less that I have it!) but because I believe in the integrity (i.e., oneness, wholeness, entirety) of the gospel.” How does the regulative goal of “getting it right” not become hermeneutical monism? How does it not operate with the notion of one meaning? And how is “getting it” right different from “having it,” which you disclaim?]
On this same issue, to Stephen, more especially:
Since you call attention to the differences that remain between you and Kevin (125), and since your positions, I believe, well represent different sides of the spectrum of theological interpretation (see my The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning), I wonder how much your differences are an impasse. Can the theoretical lion lie with the pragmatic eagle (or calf [Francis], or human [AKMA])? What would that look like?
Finally, to all:
It seems to me—I will readily admit I get hung up on this issue; it may not be such a big deal to the rest of you—”meaning” is the monkey wrench in the machine. I’ve wondered elsewhere whether the images of creating or discovering meaning are the most helpful images. Each of you, in some way, bring meaning into the discussion.
AKMA – Making meaning seems to be the dominant image. See discussion of the ways “a hermeneutic that takes verbal communication as the defiitive case of evoking and apprehending meaning inappropriately generalizes from the most formalized and unusual sphere of meaning-making to the more common and less specific spheres” (27). Also, “…various subcultures…making meaning by the ways that they signify…” (29).
Stephen – Avoids use of the term for the most part (see argument for doing so in Engaging Scripture). But, one could argue that his discussion of “literal sense” is the same as the one about meaning. Though neither the image of creating nor the image of discovery has pride of place in Stephen’s chapter, the issue of meaning arises in statements like, “Thus, Thomas claims here that we should neither take falsehood to be the literal sense nor confine the meaning of a text to the extent that we exclude other truthful claims” (44)
Francis – In much the same way that Stephen argues for a multivoiced literal sense, Francis argues that the fourfoldness of the canonical gospels suggests that we ought to have a more comprehensive hermeneutic – “no one-sided subjection of readers to authors, or of authors to readers, will be adequate for the complexities of a given interpretive situation–at least where it is a genuinely theological interpretation that is at stake” (122).
Kevin – Proposes that theology consists of two aspects: “grasping the meaning of the script and determining how to follow its direction in the contemporary situation” (78). Or, later that there is one literal sense that needs “thick description of its manifold aspects” (136).
There is much that we could discuss here, and maybe our conversation will move to some of these things. But, I have a fairly simple question: What are we talking about when we use the term “meaning”?
I’m sure you’ve all noticed that you are all white Western men. How might this discussion of theological interpretation open itself to “theological” models that more often get labeled contextual or ideological? I ask this having in mind David’s longing for more of the “society of friends” feeling (see p. 3 of his short presentation).