Thursday, November 10, 2005

Biblical Theology?: Losing Sight of the Exegetical Trees for the Redemptive-Historical Forest

  1. In redemptive-historical exegesis there is a tendency to see a biblical-theological forest behind every exegetical tree. Redemptive-historical interpretation, especially when sensitive to exegetical echoes and backgrounds in a given text, is prone to overinterpretation, hearing echoes where none are sounded. For instance, in his sweeping book on the temple motif (and hardly the mission of the church), Greg Beale detects the influence of temple theology in Colossians 1 and 2 (Beale, Temple, 267-68). However, the primarily metaphor used to described the church and Christ in Colossians is that of the human body (cf. 1.18; 2.9-10, 19; 3.15). Here is a case of seeing the “forest” instead of the “tree,” the biblical-theological temple instead of the exegetical body. In fact, Paul’s concern in the letter is not so much the church’s expanding mission of temple construction and expansion as it is recognition of the thoroughly human and physical nature of the church. The reason for this is that Paul wants to correct the body-belittling acetic practices of the Colossians, which is rooted in their dualistic, deficient view of creation and Christ (2.16-23). Paul selects the body metaphor to drive home the point which is made in the Christ poem, creation is good and so is the body because Christ is the agent of all creation. Therefore, enjoy freedom in what you eat and drink, treat your body with honor, and do not enforce ascetic measures on others. Consider the “body” of Christ and glorify him for his creation, ecclesiastical and literal. Therefore, we must be cautious when we import valid biblical-theological themes invalidly into a text. The influence of a given themes must be weighed carefully against the immediate context of the letter, allowing for the appropriate exegetical constraints.

  1. There is a tendency to mark and meditate on the trees of the redemptive-historical forest instead of considering the exegetical tree in front of you. When detecting echoes and allusions in a given text, authorial intent is often derived by piecemealing an OT background from several disparate books. While this is certainly the case in some instances, there is a tendency to assimilate an OT composite that may not have been intended by the author. This attempt to be exegetically rigorous may in fact, be more reflective of modernist interpretive methods and not authorial intention. Moreover, the attempt to "do bibilical theology" may end up being more theology than biblical as "backgrounds" are given more wieght than the historical "foregrounds" of the given text.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Freakonomics and Faith

What do Freakonomics, Morphic Fields, and the Church have in common? Steven Levitt, author of the best-selling Freakonomics and Rupert Sheldrake, author of the Dogs That Know Thier Owners Are Coming Home and The New Science of Life, are both experts in their fields. Sheldrake and Levitt have centered thier careers on something that seminary students, pastors and theologians do well to heed.

An expert in developmental biology and pioneer of the concept of "morphic fields," Sheldrake has devoted his scientific research to understanding the quotidian, "the everyday mysteries of life." Developing scientific theories to explain such matters as why amuptees can feel sensations in their amputated limbs, why birds seem to always find thier way home, and why dogs can anticpate thier owners arrival, Sheldrake has devoted his work to the suff of everyday life. Whether or not we agree with his unorthodox methods and unusual claims, we must admire his attention to the details of life, his preoccupation with the normal.

Stephen Levitt, recent recipeint of the is attempting to explaing the "hidden side of everything" through economics. He wrestles with matters like, 'What Makes A Perfect Parent' and 'Why Drug Dealers Still Live With Thier Moms'? Levitt's analysis is certinaly thought-provoking and , at times, right on. An outstanding intellectual, Levitt has not settled for the ivory tower. Instead, like Sheldrake, he has devoted his capacities and insights to the stuff of everyday life.

Seminary students, pastors and theologians would do well to imitate the "rogue" attempts to translate academics into "everything". When was the last time you tried to understand your pet or your parenting from a theological perspective? Beyond what developmental biology and freakonomics can offer, practical theology, integrating life with faith, sparks not only the intellect, but also the soul.