Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Christ-Conditioned Interpretation of Scripture, As Literature

Of course in light of my last post; scripture is literature, and so I should be clear that I am not in anyway suggesting a rejection of that more than obvious reality. Instead, that there is an ontology of Scripture that flows from within a properly construed concept of God's triune life and Self-revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. It is this framework that ought to tense the way we approach scripture as the literature that it is, and appreciate that the singular meaning of scripture is centered in Jesus Christ and the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ (Triune). As Thomas Torrance has said, this is scriptures 'depth dimension', and one that framing and understanding scripture in the way that Ernst Käsemann cannot appreciate. Scripture is about Jesus, and I think it is about Jesus in an intensively, principial way; meaning that Jesus and God's Triune life is what holds all of scripture together. If this is the case, and I think it is, then this ought to impinge on the way we interpret scripture (as it did for Karl Barth for example in his Commentary on Romans). Here is how David Gibson describes Barth's approach to biblical interpretation, and in particular, his interpretation of Romans 9--11 as a case study:

Karl Barth
 A good example can be found in the way Barth approaches Romans 9–11. When his thesis of biblical text as witness to revelation is read in conjunction with his understanding of Jesus Christ as the object of that witness, and with his understanding of Jesus Christ as therefore the electing God and the elected man, then a particular set of theological lenses for reading Romans 9–11 come into view. Barth’s approach is well stated by Douglas Sharp:
[Barth's] exegesis [of Rom. 9--11] presupposes the identity of revelation/incarnation and election, and can be seen to consist in the interpretation of an objective reality (Israel and the Church) which he finds imaged in the text. The truly significant element of the exegesis is the fact that it is not so much the intepretation of biblical revelation as it is an interpretation of a medium which is itself an interpretation of revelation. This is to say that the exegesis of Romans 9–11 is an interpretation of an interpretation. Jesus Christ is the revelation, and Barth views the existence of the community as an interpretation of that revelation. Thus Barth interprets the community in its two forms in terms of the primary reality of Jesus Christ’s election.
This argument corresponds with what we discovered in reading Barth’s exegesis of Romans 9–11. The two forms of the community, Israel and the church, were read by Barth as witnesses to the two-fold determination of Jesus Christ for both judgment and mercy; here Christology intensively occupies the horizon of interpretation. We may recall how different this is to Calvin’s approach. Calvin’s covenant hermeneutic for Romans 9–11 (arguably the most salient feature of his exegesis) is influenced by Christology. But his hermeneutic is not christologically intensive, because he does not see Christology as the meaning of certain verses where Christ himself is not mentioned or as providing the typological structures for Israel and the church within the details of the text.

It is now clear that Barth’s reading of the Bible displays a heremeneutical paradigm that is created not just by Barth’s doctrine of election as it has emerged out of his reading of the Johannine Prologue, but just as closely by a tightly related set of well developed and consistently applied hermeneutical convictions that have operated at least as far back as CD I/2. As Barth comes to provide extended exegesis of biblical texts as part of his doctrine of election, his understanding of interpretive freedom and responsibility ensures that his exegesis of election will be carried out in a manner that may be described as intensively christocentric. This is because his account of the required subordination of the biblical interpreter to the witness of revelation is itself intensively christocentric. [David Gibson, Reading The Decree: Exegesis, Election, and Christology in Calvin and Barth, (London: T&T Clark, A Continuum imprint, 2009), 190-91]

I am actually not totally sure I am altogether comfortable with interpreting scripture the way Barth does, in toto, but I am quite close. I see all of the OT, for example, prefiguring the preincarnate Christ; and then the OT given it's proper orientation in its fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ's actual incarnation (and all the attendant realities associated with that). Nevertheless, in gist, I am heading more in the direction of Barth, than what Gibson describe's of Calvin's approach as soteriological-extensive (which we can get more into later); if possible, I might be somewhere in between Barth and Calvin. Which really, that's right about where T.F. Torrance was at.

PS. Just so you all know, if not apparent, I often work through my thinking right here at the blog, in the open. So, a post like this represents that mode of my blogging existence; I'm in process here.

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