Colloquium on Theological Interpretation: Reflections

After the second day and closing ceremonies of the Colloquium on Theological Interpretation at Laidlaw college, I have a few overall thoughts about the enterprise of theological interpretation.

One of my thoughts is about theological interpretation as a discipline unfolding in the biblical studies academy. In short, I realize that I perceive the academy differently from my senior colleagues who feel the need to fight for space for theological interpretation, because I see them as the academy.

In conversations with several senior colleagues I’ve seen that the academy that they see themselves needing to try to survive in is the world you catch a glimpse of whenever someone writes a letter to the editor at SBL and decries the presence of people who think the Bible is scripture.

For me, the academy is the place that has always had a Pauline Theology group. It’s the place where the Richard Hayses and Michael Gormans and Joel Greens and Tom Wrights and Stephen Fowls and AKMAs and Jimmy Dunns are presenting papers that have significant theological weight to them.

In other words, I’m spoiled, and I tend to take for granted that the biblical studies academy is a place where I can do the kind of work I want to do–whether that be the boring stuff of Pauline chronology (I’ve got a riveting paper on my hard drive) or the more theologically engaged discussion of the beauties of the hermeneutics of Christological revisionism.

So: thank you to the generation of senior scholars who have created this space in the biblical studies world, especially in Pauline studies.

The second reflection is more about the substance and practice of theological interpretation.

In general, a wide gulf continues to exist between biblically generated theology and the theology of theologians, and this gulf will continue to stymie the vision of bringing together the fields of biblical studies and theology.

There were only a couple of hints at this over the weekend, where in general the conversations seemed to be unfolding on the same playing field.

But there were hints. One paper that was reflecting on T. F. Torrance’s reading of scripture talked about Torrance’s assertion that Mark indicated a virgin birth, for instance. In the Q & A afterward, this presenter talked about the annoyance of students coming from their intro to the Pentateuch course into his theology course and not having anything significant to say, theologically, about Gen 1-3. The “throat clearing” has taken place, but they’ve not yet spoken.

I began to wonder if the problem wasn’t with what the students were reading in Genesis, but that theology, in general, has not yet learned to listen to the theology of scripture, how ancient pre-Patristic texts theologize; or, even more importantly, that the texts simply do not speak of, support, or presuppose the theology that the theologian demands of them.

In a side conversation with one of the presenters (whose paper I very much appreciated and whose overall position on theological interpretation I find quite congenial), I made a brief case for why Christian hermeneutics should be Christological rather than Trinitarian.

He sees these working together. And I get that. But in trying to situate my point I asked, “Was Paul a Trinitarian?” He said, “Yes.” End of conversation.

That’s a small picture of where a biblical scholar can’t say what a theologian presumes, and why scholarship’s Bible will continue to be an enigma to the church. Beyond whether scholars are approaching their exegetical task as Christians, theologians (and church people) often want the Bible to say what it does not say, to support what it does not speak to.

I do wonder if the church’s theology will need to learn to hear what it takes for throat clearing as the song of the Spirit before the chasm will bridged between theology and the Bible.

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