Friday, September 04, 2009

How Committed to the Text ?

I'm reading George Eldon Ladd's the Presence of the Future, it is very good, but it is definitely the work of a Biblical theologian. That is someone whose primary commitment is to the text. He is convinced of his understanding of Kingdom of God theology based on what he sees in the scriptures. His concerns are about the correct interpretation of those scriptures. And I suspect that if he found the scriptures to paint a different picture of the Kingdom of God then he'd not be willing to challenge those scriptures. What I'm wrestling with is how committed I am to the text.

I think this is why I am not a Biblical theologian. If I found an unhelpful understanding of the Kingdom in scripture I would definitely challenge that. But it is not so simple. The reason I don't find such a reading has to do with the bias I bring to the scripture. I know that Ladd, like all Biblical theologians, also brings a bias to the scriptures. Actually I'm impressed when Ladd lays out his assumptions and his thesis, I wish more general evangelical writers would take this lead. But one of the biases I bring to my reading of scripture is that our interpretation changes over time. So my commitment is primarily to a specific reading of the text, but always to a particular understanding that I find supported by the text but also by tradition and experience.

So I am not uncommitted to the text. In fact I have a high value for the text. It disturbs me greatly when scriptural texts seem to counter my values, such as Wednesday's lectional reading about Simon's mother-in-law being healed and then serving. But my response is not to say the scripture is to be rejected or chastised, rather I love to wrestle with it. And in this case I had to conclude that it is equally plausible that Simon's mother-in-law found serving fulfilling (indeed it is a value of the Kingdom) and so was enabled to do something that was deeply rewarding and meaningful even if it could be construed as supporting a patriarchal view of society. The reason I would wrestle at all is that Jesus, in most cases, treats women in ways that are quite radical for his social context. And when this isn't the case usually there is something quite profound going on. Maybe it is best to say that I don't give up on the text - but is this real commitment to the text?

I think it is good for me to reflect on this, the text is important but I'm not animated primarily by the text. Although it is undeniable that 20+ years of reading the bible has influenced my theology, it is how these ideas work themselves out in the context of community, life and politics that really drives my faith to seek understanding. This is a big reason why I don't even pretend to be a Biblical theologian. It also is the reason that I avoid backing up my ideas with proof texts (a practice I abhor). So I end up at a place of both-and. I have a commitment to the text, but it is not primary. My commitment is to well thought out theology that understands and exposes its presuppositions (as much as possible) and seeks to work for a better world for everyone.


steven hamilton said...

i tend to swim in more biblical theologian waters. it's such an adventure, and the text comes at you wave after wave...but i'm committed to swiming in them!

One of Freedom said...

Hey Steven. Pastorally I really appreciate wrestling with texts and have greatly benefited from the work of biblical theologians. Academically my concerns are not bounded by the text, except where and how the text is being employed in the development of local theology.