Monday, July 19, 2010

C. Clifton Black on "Trinity and Exegesis"

A welcome contribution to theology done for, in, and with the church is the burgeoning body of recent literature advocating theological approaches to exegesis (e.g., Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, eds., The Art of Reading Scripture [Eerdmans, 2003] and the new Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series). Another from among the company of biblical scholars making such proposals is C. Clifton Black, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. His article “Trinity and Exegesis,” also from the current issue of Pro Ecclesia (vol. 19, no. 2 [Spring 2010], pp. 151-80), is a useful addition to these efforts to recover and practice the church’s distinctive way of reading Scripture.

Black’s thesis “is that a remapping of ‘biblical theology’ as scriptural theology invites forthright reclamation of the church’s canonical resources, especially its doctrine of the Triune God and an appeal to its regula fidei” (p. 151). Before applying his proposals to the test case of interpreting Ecclesiastes, Black offers for consideration the following ten theses regarding the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to the interpretation of Scripture:

Thesis 1: Considered reflection on the Triune God is appropriate to exegesis that attends to the Bible’s first-level theological character.

Thesis 2: If, as the historic church has confessed, the Trinity is a faithful and true expression of the God whom it worships, then that doctrine inevitably bears on the church’s understanding of the Bible as Holy Scripture, its inspiration and sanctification, prior to its disciplined exegesis.

Thesis 3: Even as theology arises from worship, the native habitat for a Trinitarian approach to Scripture is the church and ancillary communities, like schools of theology, whose special vocation in service to the gospel is the strengthening of the church’s ministry.

Thesis 4: No academic exegete is required to practice scriptural interpretation as herein characterized, nor is every student required to study the Bible as Christian Scripture.

Thesis 5: For Christian theological exegetes, Trinitarian doctrine is the most comprehensive and integrative, hence least sectarian, framework within which to read Scripture.

Thesis 6: The components of a Trinitarian confession—the integrity of persons who voluntarily respect the space among one another in loving freedom—suggest a salutary framework within which to consider the variety of biblical texts, the diversity of interpretive methods, and the inevitable divergence among Scripture’s interpreters.

Thesis 7: A Trinitarian hermeneutic does not abjure historical criticism en bloc. It embraces and opens up historical investigation, even as it challenges historicism’s fatal imperialism.

Thesis 8: A Trinitarian approach to exegesis is eschatologically pregnant, affirming God’s freedom to explode interpretive obstacles and to guide Scripture’s readers to fresh, truthful insights.

Thesis 9: By its nature Trinitarian exegesis of Scripture involves the interpreter intimately. Properly construed, the relationship is not merely that of “subject matter” and “investigator”; it is, rather, nothing less than that of “Lover” and “beloved.”

Thesis 10: So understood, scriptural theology recognizes no insuperable division between scholarly and devotional reading, even though a different emphasis may be appropriate in different communal settings.

In the final paragraph of the article, Black offers the following encouragement to Trinitarian exegesis:

For those who do return to a more classical approach, unafraid of bringing scriptural interpretation into focus by means of that lens with which the church has traditionally concentrated its worship, then the task of exegesis will look very different....No longer will the expositor be the clinical observer of an ancient artifact. Instead the exegete will engage both text and its audiences with the kind of love instantiated in Christ; the art of craft of interpretation, as of every human activity put to good use, will be enlivened by the Holy Spirit to praise their Creator (p. 180).

I think he’s right.

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