Technicians and Intuitions
“Surf weasel Leithart’s out there getting barreled
and Carson doesn’t find it ‘convincing’?”
Some more on the Bandwidth of the Bible:
Don Carson has written a chapter in “Theological Commentary: Evangelical Perspectives.” It’s called, Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Yes, But… (see Carson’s Evaluation of Theological Interpretation of Scripture. There is a link to the chapter in PDF.)
Very briefly, his assessment is that the revival of biblical theology is a good thing, but anything in this revival that is new is bad. Whatever his assumptions, the bottom line is that no new ground of any consequence has been broken.
I’m not familiar with some of the “T.I.S.” writers he mentions, but he does say something about the work of Peter Leithart.
Another writer who does not connect his work with TIS but who is traveling down a parallel path is Peter Leithart, who prefers to speak of entering into the depths of the text. Always evocative and sometimes provocative, Leithart provides another parallel to the TIS tradition: his actual handling of biblical texts, while invariably stimulating, is less frequently convincing. (See especially his Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture). (p. 187)
There a lot of really helpful material in Carson’s chapter. He knows his stuff and his work has often been a great blessing to me. But he obviously doesn’t have what it takes to “get” the way the Bible is actually written, to move beyond practising one’s scales on the piano and shuffling sheet music to actually hearing the music and anticipating what it will do next.
Even with the limited Hebrew I’ve studied, I can feel the progression of ideas like a musical rhythm. Each recapitulation repeats what has gone before but will modify, modulate, invert, subvert and even omit what we expect in order to teach us new things. The prophets can only confound our expectations if we have expectations. The best literature does this to us all the time.
In his concluding reflections, Carson writes:
A colleague and friend, Graham Cole, has written a paper developing a model he has used in the classroom. He speaks of four levels of interpreting biblical texts. At the first level, the Bible itself must be understood exegetically, within its literary and historical contexts, with appropriate attention devoted to literary genre, attempting to unfold authorial intent so far as it is disclosed in the text. At level 2, the text must be understood within the whole of biblical theology, including where it fits into and what it contributes to the unfolding storyline and its theology. At level 3, the theological structures found in the text are brought to bear upon, and understood in concert with, other major theological emphases derived from Scripture. At level 4, all teachings derived (or ostensibly derived) from the biblical text are subjected to and modified by a larger hermeneutical proposal (e.g., Trinitarian action, God’s love and freedom, or something vague such as “what was disclosed in Jesus”). Traditional interpreters of Scripture who hold the Bible as the Word of God tend to operate at levels 1 and 2, with the strongest of them making excursions now and then into level 3.
So far, many if not most supporters of TIS operate at levels 3 and 4. One suspects that one of the reasons why the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible has, in several of its volumes, proved so unsatisfying is that its writers were operating at levels 3 and 4 while trying to give the impression they were operating at levels 1 and 2. Because readers could not forge the actual connections between text and theology ostensibly derived from a commentary on the text, they balked–and rightly so. For what is really needed is work that shows how levels 1, 2, and 3 should be tied together. One should indulge in level 4 only with the greatest caution, and only after the writer has done a lot of work on the first three levels.
I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like a guide to music appreciation by people who have never actually heard music, even in their heads.
What sort of person needs to have “4 steps” consciously employed to listen to music? Sure, we listen, interpret, evaluate, enjoy, but the process is a natural one. Our understanding of it increases and becomes intuitive, like surfing. You learn to predict the behaviour of the ever-surprising, multi-layered depth of the sea. Actually riding the wave is hardly an indulgence. It’s the whole point. Surf weasel Leithart’s out there getting barreled and Carson doesn’t find it “convincing”?
The whole point of art, music, literature and preaching is to take the norms, smash them up, and construct something never seen or heard before, i.e. to take your audience somewhere new. The Bible itself takes us through these steps. The artist is in charge.
Carson’s criticism of the disunity in the TIS camp is justified, but he has no solution to the problem. Perhaps the real problem is this: On the one hand, we have the conservative thinkers imposing their own one-eyed rules and “assorted grids” on the text to protect it from abuse, and on the other hand we have the imaginative thinkers very often ignoring the Bible’s own innate guidelines.
Like any book, the Bible, once it gets going, is primarily self-referential, self-alluding. Once it sets the scene, it makes its own rules as it goes along, but it constantly stretches them, breaking new ground, interpreting the old in a new, more mature, more beautiful and intuitive (bridal) way. And how do we discern the rules? We do it by letting the text move us first.
In a culture where we now grow up bombarded with sounds, images and yes, even words, that speak to us at gut level, it takes a special kind of stupid to not present the Bible as the brilliant “sensory bombardment” it really is. Academia has its own unique brand of dumb. It’s devoid of instinct. Certainly, there’s a lot teaching to be done to get Christians up to speed, but men with years of biblical study behind them should be able to hear the “four part harmony.” They need to let the Bible speak to them in the way other great books do.
I guess the study of ancient languages attracts people with certain gifts, but being a linguist doesn’t make one a gripping writer. What makes these scholars think they can manufacture hermeneutical rules for something that should come naturally, intuitively? Is this ever the case in art, or music, or… surfing? What sort of person thinks watching a movie through different “lenses” will affect its spiritual and emotional impact on him? It is the artist who is in charge. The lens is the eye of the artist: the art itself, the music itself.
We need less technicians and more intuitions, more instinct. What scholarship has unwittingly done is alienated our culture from the Bible. I’m finding that, in retrospect, what James Jordan has done for us is teach us to read the Bible like any other book.
Pic: Intuitive surfer, Clay Marzo