Method

Yesterday I posted a quote from Gordon Spykman on biblical exegesis. I’ve been asked to expand on that, especially in terms of what it means for a Christian theological method. In the first chapter of my book (excited that it came out today!), I outline tenets of a proper Christian theological method, and Spykman’s quote bolsters my claims there. I hope to expand on each of these tenets in future posts, but for now they are as follows:

  1. A Christian theological method ought to be Christocentric, but within a properly Trinitarian framework. That is, it recognizes that God the Father reveals himself to his people in God the Son and by God the Spirit.
  2. A Christian theological method ought to be pneumatological. This means it will recognize the role of the Spirit in both inspiration and interpretation, and notes the Spirit-generated ecclesial context (both historically and contemporaneously) in which interpretation occurs. It also recognizes both the contextual and presuppositional nature of all interpretation and the Spirit’s ability to confront our context and presuppositions.
  3. A Christian theological method ought to be canonical, in that it recognizes the Spirit’s inspiration of all of Christian Scripture and therefore the intertextual interrelatedness of it. This aspect also calls us to recognize the structure of the canon and its influence on interpretation of particular books and passages.
  4. A Christian theological method ought to be narrative, in that it frames interpretation of particular passages within the broader framework of the biblical storyline – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. This aspect also recognizes that Christ stands as the goal of that story and that our lives need to be re-oriented within it.
  5. Finally, a Christian theological method, ought to be textual. This means that Christian interpretation ought to place primacy in hermeneutics on the text itself and not on reconstruction of a provisional, incomplete, finite, and uninspired historical framework.
  6. Although not on my official list in my chapter, I should also note here that each of these tenets is historically rooted in the history of interpretation.The previous five points have been the dominant stance of interpreters throughout church history until the Enlightenment. To privilege Enlightenment approaches to biblical interpretation, which are embedded in a serious mistrust of tradition, an elevation of human autonomy, a belief in the Bible’s lack of overall coherence, a desire for presupposition-less “scientific” objectivity, and a desire to break free from religious constraints, is, in my opinion, completely wrong headed. As a side note, in evangelical circles we have continued to affirm the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures while at the same time capitulating to Enlightenment-fueled methods of interpretation. We want to “be right”, focus on one passage without recognizing its place among the others, and jettison any sense of an appreciation of tradition when we interpret. As a result we have cut ourselves off from church history and the interplay of the Spirit-inspired canon and made interpretation into an exercise in which we crank the text through our method machine in order to “be right.”

Spykman’s quote primarily relates to #s 3 and 4 on this list. Christian interpretation must pay attention to the context of a passage. Ultimately this means giving priority to the context of the canon, and this context includes both the intertextual connections generated by the authorship of the Spirit (and the human authors’ use of previous Scripture) and the narrative context of the biblical storyline. Spykman also alludes to the Christocentric nature of the narrative, and this is key as well. Paying attention to the canonical context ultimately means giving credence to a Christocentric approach, since the canon as a whole and the narrative embedded in it are testimonies to Christ.

NOTE: my articulation of a theological method in my book is heavily reliant on Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God. If you haven’t read it, go buy it.

Biblical Exegesis

The true meaning of Scripture can only be disclosed contextually. The basic rule for biblical interpretation is therefore this: first, last, and always consider the context – the immediate context, the extended context, ultimately the context of God’s Word in its fullness. Piecemeal, fragmentary, proof-textish exegesis of loosely dangling bits of biblical information does violence to the narrative flow in the history of redemption. Those who choose to engage in such malpractice forfeit all claim to biblical support in their hermeneutic undertakings. For the authority of any given passage of Scripture is bound up intimately with its creationally based, covenantally focused, kingdom-oriented, Christ-centered thrust. Woven into the fabric of its many stories is its single story. And that biblical message must define our biblical method.

Gordon Spykman, Reformational Theology, 127

Dualism

Gordon Spykman hits the nail on the head:

In dualisms the divine norm is always either kept at a distance, a step removed from everyday living (‘upstairs’), or it is identified with some aspect of life (‘downstairs’), or it takes the form of a dual normativity which wavers dialectically between the two. Dualism is a deceptive attempt to reject life in the world (in part) while at the same time also accepting it (in part). It tends to break rather than to absorb the tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ in the biblical vision of the coming kingdom: some parts of life are viewed as ‘already’ under the rule of Christ, others ‘not yet.’ Christian faith is often related only extrinsically to scholarship. All such dualisms make it impossible to do justice to the biblical message of creation/fall/redemption as holistic realities. For they disrupt the unity of the creation order. They legitimize the reality of sin in on or another realm of life. They limit the cosmic impact of the biblical message of redemption. They confine Christian witness to only limited sectors of life (Gordon Spykman, Reformational Theology, p. 68, emphasis mine).

I find this to be a much more appealing vision of Christ’s redemptive work than those which would exclude certain sectors of life from the effects of redemption and instead would call them “secular” or “neutral.” The question, as Spykman notes 2 pages prior, is not whether a sphere of life is sacred or secular, but whether those in it are obedient to Christ or to the powers of sin, death, and evil. To quote him again,

Christian causes stand in principle behind the thesis that Christ is Lord of all. So-called ‘neutral’ organizations and institutions, which are in reality humanist and secular, are in principle ‘antithetical’ and ‘separate.’ For they fail to stand on the side of the biblical thesis. They have in effect separated themselves from the renewed order of reality, namely, that ‘God is in Christ reconciling all things to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). So now the basic question we all face is this: Are we for Christ or for some anti-Christ? This thetical/antithetical decision is radical and all-embracing in its impact (Ibid., 66, emphasis mine).