Another set of quotes from my PhD research. Last week I looked at Paul’s gospel, this week I’m going a different direction by looking at different views of the past.
Time is one of the key concepts in my thesis. In studying time, I have found just about every concept is debated so for the fun of it here is a sampling of different views of the past.*
Heidegger – the deep unity of time as future, past, and present…the backward move toward the past is retrieved in the anticipation of a present, therefore, in a being’s move toward death retrospection is reconnected to anticipation and anticipation is rooted in retrospection. (Ricoeur speaks of this view of Heidegger as he explains the becoming of being as the extension of life both backward and forward)
Richard Lehan – “…you cannot buy back the past, cannot realize ideals located in the past. The past is not a stable, solid block of meaning to which one can return at will. Present reality transforms the past. Because the past is constantly emptied of meaning – ‘you cannot go home again’…To seek meaning in the past is to seek it in a realm that will never be the same again.”
Aneesha Dharwadker – “The past dictates what we know, the very core of our existence…Menard defines history not as delving into reality but as the very fount of reality…The past changes the present as much as the present changes the past.”
Northrop Frye – “In our ordinary sense of time we have to grapple with 3 dimensions, all of the unreal: a past that is no longer, a future that is not yet, and a present that is never quite…but the centre of all time is ‘now.'”
Udo Schnelle – The past is available to us exclusively through present interpretations. In other words, history is not simply reconstructed but necessarily constructed as interpretation invents the past as we now see it by giving it a structure it did not previously have. Thus, the past exists only when it is brought into meaningful relationship with the present.
Augustine – “No time is wholly present…All past time is driven backwards by the future, all future time is the consequent of the past, and all past and future are created and set on their course by that which is always present.”
“As a faithful child of the Enlightenment, I must admit that just the thought of adopting a theological hermeneutic makes me nervous. However, perhaps it is time for me (and ultimately us – the Church) to embrace our rightful identities as children of promise. Children who once again let the word be near us, in our mouths, and in our hearts.”
I wrote these sentences as the conclusion to one of my first graduate school papers – a review of Richard Hays’ The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Little did I know that these words would be a strangely prophetic description of the theological formation that I would receive during my graduate education. I walked with a M.A. in Theological Studies from Houston Baptist University on May 19, 2014 and I could not be more thankful for my time there. I was blessed financially with various grants and with the Sharon E. Saunders Endowed Graduate Scholarship, I was fortunate to study under an amazing group of professors (such as Dr. Ben Blackwell and Dr. Randy Hatchett, picture above) that stretched, loved, challenged, and encouraged me, and I now recognize that I am a more faithful Christian thinker because of my studies.
As I reflect on the many ways in which my thinking has been transformed over the past few years, I continually return to the image of “rebellion.” That is to say, my graduate studies taught me to rebel against the Enlightenment and its strangle-hold over much of Christian thinking. The Enlightenment taught me to read Scripture scientifically, skeptically, surgically, and objectively. It also groomed me to reject tradition, look arrogantly at the past, and stand alone as an individual. Now, however, I find myself leaving my graduate studies as a “child of promise” – committed to reading theologically, embracing & exploring the heritage of the church, and living and learning as a distinctively Christian person.
A few of the lessons I learned:
 The Importance of the Church: The House that God Built
I once accepted the Enlightenment’s assumption that exegesis and theology could be (and sometimes were best) done outside of the church. I now accept the limitations of the pursuit of pure objectivity and even believe, like the Fathers, that only as a Spirit-filled Christian can I do proper and faithful exegetical and theological work. Before my graduate studies, I hoped to work in the academic world far away from the messiness of the church. Now, I’m enslaved to the conviction that Christian academics must be immersed in and useful to the local church. I entered my graduate studies knowing little about church history and caring even less. Who cared about how Origen translated a certain passage when I’ve got the best Hebrew & Greek tools in history available to me and am free of his cultural limitations? However, I now know how important church history is and indeed have found myself with a deep love for the study of patristics. In fact, I wrote my master’s thesis on Cyril of Alexandria’s Interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 and his use of the Adam-Christ Typology. If you told me that would be my topic as an exegetically-focused undergrad, I would have called you crazy. Now, I can’t imagine anything more worthwhile than studying all the depths, contours, and messiness of the Church Fathers’ lives and works.
 The Beautiful Necessity of Theology: Working with Spirit-Filled Words
My undergrad major was in Biblical Languages – Hebrew and Greek. This meant that I largely focused on and valued biblical studies. Actually, I often thought theological studies were pointless – why make these big conclusions when there are so many debatable issues surrounding the exegetical decisions on which they rest? I thought that systematic theologies were good for nothing except misinterpreting biblical passages. I was focused on the trees (exegesis), finding so much ambiguity/excitement there that I couldn’t understand the need or ability to debate or expound upon theological ideas (the forest) which were often foreign to the biblical text. Now, I am immersed in theology. I think theologically, I pray theologically, and I even read the Bible theologically. (Go figure!) I think terms like “the hypostatic union” and “perichoresis” are hugely important to grasping the depth of the beauty of God and his work in Christ. Once again, the Spirit-given words of the Church have opened my eyes up to a bigger and better faith, as well as a better means of reading the Scripture.
 An Invitation to the Vocation of Scholarship: The Mind As A Means To Worship
My graduate studies continued to instill in me a lesson which began during my undergraduate work: the truth that loving God with all of your mind is an extremely important call to an incredibly difficult task. Too many in the Evangelical church (and even in seminaries) treat the pursuit of academic excellence with shallowness and immaturity. HBU does a fine job of exemplifying a commitment to Christian excellenc (see their 10 Pillars Vision). Not only was I deeply challenged to engage with the best thinkers of history and of our day, I was also encouraged to put my voice alongside them. Thus, through the help of professor Ben Blackwell, I submitted and presented my first paper at an SBL/AAR conference. This, and other opportunities like it, were only possible because of the standard of excellence required and the personal mentorship provided to ensure that I could meet it.
I’ll end this post by saying thanks and offering some encouragement.
First: Thank you, Houston Baptist University. Thank you, as well, Dr. Ben Blackwell, Dr. Randy Hatchett, Dr. David Capes, Dr. Peter Davids, Dr. Joseph Blair, Dr. Felisi Sorgwe, Dr. Jamie Johns, and all of the many others who shared their passion and knowledge of the Scriptures and theology.
Second: No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, no matter how much time you have, & no matter how “smart” you think you are – avail yourself of the many resources all around you so that you might further learn how to think and live faithfully. Who knows, we might run into each other one day on the other side of the Enlightenment. 🙂
One of the questions I am trying to answer for my thesis is how historical-critical methods and historical-grammatical methods might interact with theological exegesis. Today I was rereading an article by Hays–on how we need to read with eyes of faith–and the question is briefly addressed in his description of the practice of theological exegesis (point 3 of 12):
“…historical study is internal to the practice of theological exegesis. The reasons why this is so are themselves fundamentally theological: God has created the material world, and God has acted for the redemption of that world through the incarnation of the Son in the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. History therefore cannot be either inimical or irrelevant to theology’s affirmations of truth. The more accurately we understand the historical setting of 1st-century Palestine, the more precise and faithful will be our understanding of what the incarnate Word taught, did, and suffered. The more we know about the Mediterranean world of Greco-Roman antiquity, the more nuanced will be our understanding of the ways in which the NT’s epistles summoned their readers to a conversion of the imagination.”
– Richard B. Hays, “Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith” in Journal of Theological Interpretation I.I (2007), p.12
This is one of my favorite articles by Hays–I think it should be required reading for any class on the Bible or theology. You can read a slightly different version here.
As I am working on my thesis, I’ve been reading through some articles and chapters on theological interpretation and today I’ve been mulling over an article by AKM Adam on Post-Modern Biblical Interpretation. It’s an excellent article if you are interested in getting a summary review of the differences between modern and post-modern approaches to interpretation. I thought it was particularly relevant in light of the move Noah which has caused a bit of an uproar in terms of its “accuracy” and the freedom taken by Aranofsky in his story-telling.
In discussing the freedom of post-modern interpreters, AKM Adam writes:
“…post-modern interpreters may productively disregard the modern norms that restrict interpretation to discursive genres. Although such interpretations might not readily be judged by strictly modern criteria, reviewers could draw on the critical wisdom relative to the genre in question to supply what is lacking in the modern repertoire. A film adaptation of the Davidic monarchy would not be answerable simply to the customary questions relative to historicity, anachronism, verisimilitude, and scholarly integrity but would also be answerable for the quality of lighting, staging, direction, acting, and soundtrack.A modern critic might wince at the thought that exquisite casting and a compelling soundtrack could redeem a filmed interpretation that fell shot of a perfectly accurate historical interpretation, but a post-modern critic could articulate a judgment that took account of more dimensions than only the historical foundations.”
– AKM Adam on Post-Modern Biblical Interpretation*
Personally, I really enjoyed Aronofsky’s Noah. And the more I think about the story Aranofsky told, the more I love his re-telling of Noah. I can look past its so-called “inaccuracies” because it succeeds in telling a good, thought-provoking, and relevant story. I don’t need a film to stick to the biblical script… I have the scriptures for that and I don’t expect a movie–which is about entertainment, art, as well as a message–to serve the same role as the Bible.
I think the best description of the film I have heard (by multiple tweeters and bloggers) is that it is a modern day parable which uses the story of Noah as it’s framework, a sort of outline or jumping off point. Michelle has written a great post here at Cataclysmic that I highly recommend on Noah and the Violence that Haunts Us All. Peter Enns also has a good, spoiler-free review at his blog.
*I got this article from my adviser and don’t know which dictionary it came out of but I will update this post with that info and page number once I find out.
I’ve started working on a post about presuppositions and their place in biblical interpretation and hermeneutics… but it may be a while before it actually sees the light of day. I’ve got lots of pondering to do. Until then, I thought I’d share this quote from Karl Barth which inspired the post yet to be:
“When I am named ‘Biblicist’, all that can rightly be proved against me is that I am prejudiced in supposing the Bible to be a good book, and that I hold it to be profitable for men to take its conceptions at least as seriously as they take their own.”
– Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, sixth edition (p.12)
As part of my thesis on Barth’s Der Römerbrief and theological interpretation, I am looking to explore how we might determine which presuppositions we should and should not bring to the text, or if it’s even possible to, in a sense, ‘check them at the door’ when we go about the task of interpretation. And what’s the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this? And… well, I have a lot of questions. Stay tuned!