This evening I attended the 2013 meeting of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar. The topic of discussion: A Manifesto for Theological Interpretation. Three presentations were given. Southeastern’s own, Dr. Heath Thomas, gave the first presentation.
Dr. Thomas’s topic centered on “Scripture and Theological Interpretation.” Thomas asked us to consider the following questions:
- How can we think about what Scripture is to the enterprise of theological interpretation?
- What is the identity of Scripture?
- It is the word of God
- It is Trinitarian
- It is for the church
- Upon what authority is theological interpretation founded? Priority is given to the Scriptures.
The second presentation was prepared by Murray Rae, though it was delivered by Dr. Thomas. Rae’s topic explored the interface between history and theological interpretation. How does historical inquiry interact with theological interpretation?
Rae proposes that a theological interpretation of Scripture begins with a historically grounded Christology. This means that interpreters, unlike most scholars engaged in the post-enlightenment interpretive enterprise, must begin with a hermeneutic of trust. Interpreters must approach the scriptural texts with a submissive and attentive ear, assuming that the authors of scripture provide reliable witness to the event and its significance. Such an interpretive enterprise will, of necessity, be kerygmatic.
If we begin with historical criticism, argues Rae, we have already conceded the battle. Our epistemological starting point matters. If we start in the wrong place, we will inevitably spin our wheels in frustration as we try to arrive at a living and active message for the church.
Finally, Craig Bartholomew spoke on the topic of Reading Scripture for All of Life. Bartholomew likened the biblical text to the pearl of great price. In order to find the pearl, we must dig, work hard, and set ourselves resolutely to the task. When it is found, the pearl reveals Christ. Scripture reveals Christ, the author of life and the God that says of the world, “this is mine.” Scripture leads us to the feet of someone; it leads us to the feet of Christ.
Bartholomew draws our attention to six points for reading the Bible for all of life:
- Recover an adequate Christology
- Our Christ is too small.
- We must expand our understanding of Christ; he is bigger.
- Retrieval of a robust doctrine of creation
- Scholarship has largely eclipsed the theme of creation.
- Without a solid understanding of beginnings, we do not fully know about redemption.
- Creation is the very stuff of redemption; God saves to make me fully human.
- Work that is not policed and controlled by mainstream scholarship
- We must not concede the epistemological ground.
- Scripture is for the church and is theological in nature.
- Be alert to the story of the Old Testament
- Israel is an Ancient Near Eastern nation.
- The Old Testament tells a story of God’s journey with Israel.
- The New Testament does not lose the holistic vision of life taught in the Old Testament, it universalizes it.
- The kingdom of God is not just about his reign.
- The kingdom of God includes his realm.
- We forget that before the Fall, God pronounced his creation good. His mission is to restore creation.
- Christ is the clue to hermeneutics.
- This is different than, “Christ is the answer, or key, to hermeneutics.”
- A clue must be pursued with all rigor.
- This is not an easy task.
After the presentations, the floor was opened to discussion. The great thing about this seminar is that discussion actually took place, a good hour and a half. Here is a snapshot of some of the more interesting questions for consideration (note: there were no readily given answers. This session was a period for the community to challenge the authors of the forthcoming Manifesto as well as offer potential avenues of fruitful discussion.
- A great number of assumptions are being made that need to be acknowledged (i.e. reading scripture through explicitly Trinitarian and Christological lenses). What theological assumptions can we all agree on before engaging in this project?
- There tends to be a certain rhetoric among those engaged in “theological interpretation” that they are the only ones that are or have interpreted Scripture theologically. What makes this Manifesto distinct?
- How can this project engage with and learn from critical scholars who do their work from a “neutral” and “non-dogmatic/ecclesiastical” framework, and yet are integrally involved in the life of the church?
The SAHS has been and continues to be one of the highlights of my SBL experience. The seminar is couched within a liturgical framework. Prayer, the reading of Scripture, communal reading, and the fellowship of the saints are hallmarks of the meeting. After worshipping our great God through the study of his word, we depart from the church and break bread together (arugula, walnut, and fig salad, roasted chicken, and a chocolate pudding cake).
I thank God for the encouragement and fellowship of these brothers and sisters. It is a great joy to see and hear about their work for His kingdom.