Confession is good for the soul.
I confess, here just between you and me, that I am a theological interpreter of the Bible.
This is why I named my blog “Storied Theology,” in fact–because I believe deeply that theology is important (there’s the “theology” part).
But also because I am convinced that there are better ways to conceive of the theological task than traditional systematic, confessional, and dogmatic theology. There is a theology that trades in the diachronic and polyvalent nature of scripture itself, and that continues to embrace such inevitable change and diversity as the church itself continues to speak over time.
I am, at times, critical of things that are going on in the “Theological Interpretation” circles of the biblical studies academy. Why? What are those criticisms?
Two issues stand out:
First, there is a tendency among some of the theologians involved in the movement, especially, to use theological readings of scripture as a way to bypass critical issues. I am all for theological interpretation being post-critical (where historical criticism in its modernistic forms does not get the last word), but it cannot go back to being pre-critical.
Thus, for example, we cannot simply say, “God is the author of scripture, so Isa 7 was speaking of a coming, virgin-born Messiah all along,” without also acknowledging that for Isaiah and any audience before the first century that this coming virgin-born Messiah was manifestly not in view.
There is a critical issue that can’t be gotten around, even if we then go on to give a second reading that embraces the Christological telos of the biblical narrative.
Second, I am at times grumpy about “the Rule of Faith.”
From the above, you can see that this does not mean that I am against Christian readings of scripture; and I am not even against a Christian hermeneutic for reading pre-Christ material (in fact, I think that this is necessary).
What makes me nervous, and where I think Christian reading of the Bible has not been helpful in its pre-critical manifestations, is where the Rule of Faith, embodied in the Creeds and Confessions of the church, become the hermeneutic by which our Christian readings are done.
Thus, a Rule of Faith “hermeneutic” might always be approaching Jesus in the New Testament as fully God and fully human, wrestling with how this God-man helps us make sense of the story of Mark. Jesus as God-man might become a way to understand how Jesus can forgive sins, walk on water, or feed 5,000 in the desert.
The idea that we use the rule as a hermeneutical lens has a rich history. But in a post-critical, post-modern environment it cannot be the whole story and often, we must acknowledge now, keeps us from recognizing a better one.
A first reading of Mark should recognize that its Christology is not John’s logos Christology. It may very well be that Jesus here is not depicted as pre-existent at all. We have to wrestle with the fact that neither “Christ” nor “Lord” means “divine” in an early Jewish context, whatever their subsequent connotations in Christian theology.
But such a claim that Mark develops a theology of a human messiah also does not contradict the faith of the church, which always maintains against Gnostic tendencies that Jesus is truly human. It falls within the trajectories set by the church’s Faith without using that Faith as a hermeneutic to transform the meaning of the story or Jesus’ identity within it.
The theology I am for is a theology that takes the Bible seriously–and that Bible as we know it is, in part, the Bible as critical scholarship has opened our eyes to it. And what it means for me to be a Christian is to continue to build theology for the church trusting that this Bible we actually have is, in fact, the Bible that God wants us to have.
While resisting the pre-critical moves that I do not think we can make anymore because we are more aware of issues of theological diversity and the like, I continue to affirm that the God who created the world is the God who has acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus and through the Spirit in the church. I continue to affirm that we know all this only through the Bible which is the record of and witness to, the revelation of God to humanity.
Because the story keeps pointing in these directions, I can continue to say with the church of all times, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son…”
I do theological interpretation because I am convinced that the Bible, a theological construct in its own right, continues to tell us what the church’s story is.