Reader-Response Criticism and Theological Interpretation

I have to admit that when I first came across Reader-Response Criticism in seminary I was skeptical about what insights could be gained from such a method. My experience has been that even when a method is agreed upon by readers agreement of a text’s meaning is still harder to come by. This has led me to be more open towards reader-response when such readings are done along the grain of the text. I think Robin Parry captures this well in his short essay in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker Academic 2006):

Christians can concede that different acts of reading are undertaken with different goals in mind and that theological interpretation is not the only goal a Bible-reader, even a Christian Bible-reader, may have. For instance, I may read Scripture in order to attempt a historical reconstruction of the events narrated, or to explore the gender relations encoded in the text. Such differing goals will yield different results and must be judged by criteria relevant to their goal. For the Christian, theological interpretation is the supreme goal for Bible-reading, and it too has its own rules of assessment (canonical context, the Rule of Faith, the gospel, etc.). Faith will also guide Christians in discerning which other goals may be legitimate subservient Christian projects (e.g., discerning a text’s redaction history) and which produce inappropriate ways of handling Holy Scripture (e.g., materialist interpretations) (661).

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