Well, it’s been a little while since my last blog post. But, here I am, two more weeks of classes, five more papers to go, and I felt it might be time to bring my poor old blog back from blog purgatory and into the land of the living (or however you conceive of the internet).
What prompted this sudden return to the blogosphere was a wonderful quote in a little monograph I’ve been reading lately by John Webster (Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch). The book sketches a Protestant view of scripture that is sensitive to the numerous complexities of Protestant theology. The line I am thinking of comes in an early discussion of sanctification as it relates to the Christian understanding of the Bible:
Though some modern critical strategies of investigation may have greater sophistication than that of Spinoza (in, for example, analysing rhetorical, socio-economic or ideological aspects of the history of scripture), the basic historical naturalism remains. Affirmations of the role played by the text in the revelatory economy of God are not considered germane to determining what the text is; if considerations of any such kind are entertained, it is only after fundamental determinations of the substance of the text have been reached on historical grounds. For a Christian theological account of Scripture, the problem raised here is a matter not so much of what is affirmed but of what is denied. The problem, that is, is not the affirmation that the biblical texts have a ‘natural history’, but the denial that texts with a ‘natural history’ may function within the communicative divine economy, and that such a function is ontologically definitive of the text. It is this denial – rather than any purely methodological questions – which has to form the focus of dogmatic critique. (19)
One of the projects I am working on this semester is an extended study of the information structure of Exod 3.1-4.17 (the theophany of the burning bush), which is essentially a linguistic analysis of the Biblical Hebrew text rather than a discussion of the theological value of this narrative. However, the above quote seems to highlight the danger both in divorcing these two avenues of research (discussed in greater detail later in Webster’s monograph as he critiques this ‘docetic’ approach to scripture) and in viewing the historical-critical method as an end in itself. In fact, the more I think about it the more convinced I become of the need for a reading of the Christian scriptures to be informed by theology even as it acknowledges the need for good exegesis. This, in turn, means recognizing that Webster is right in asserting that knowledge of the Bible’s diachronic development does not preclude an affirmation of its value within ‘the communicative divine economy’.