Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Steven Fowl on the Habits Necessary for Theological Interpretation

First, Fowl looks to premodern interpretation for the general stance for Theological Interpretation today.  He argues that the main difference does not lie in their exegetical naiveté in contrast to our own hermeneutical sophistication.  Rather in the fact that they “read Scripture in the light of its role in brining believers to their proper end in God.”  [54].  What did this look like?  They gave theological and ecclesial concerns primacy over historical exegesis.  “Scripture was an indispensable gift from God that enabled them to understand and order the world in which they lived and moved and worshipped.”  [55]

Second, Fowl urges for the reconsideration of the figural reading that was prevalent in pre-modern period.  While many struggle to differentiate between the allegorical and figural readings and tend to treat them both with equal suspicion, Fowl does a good job defining the figural reading and demonstrating it in practice. [56-63]

Third, Fowl outlines several interpretive habits that Christian readers must espouse in order to read the text theologically.  He points out that Christians have always disagreed about their interpretations of the text.  He suggests few practices that would enable the Church to continue to dialogue, disagree, and seek the meaning of the text without bloodshed.  Rather than providing an exhaustive list, he gives few pointers in a certain direction.Three categories of habits that he considers are:1.truth seeking/telling; 2. repentance, forgiveness; and reconciliation; 3.patience.

Steven Fowl on the Excavation Approach to the Text

Steven Fowl offers a keen observation on the impact of the agenda driven approach to the text.  “Much modern scholarly biblical criticism operates on the assumption that there is something hidden by or hidden inside the text.  Moreover, the corollary of this assumption is that the properly trained critic is just the right person both to determine what this subject matter is and how to extract it from the text.  Although the precise digging tools will differ, the basic set of assumtions seems the same whether one is looking for Christ, or the suppressed voices of the marginal in Israelite society, or for the lost religious consciousness of ancient Israel.”  [33]

Here is a devastating verdict for anyone who carelessly digs for hidden treasures, “This type of interpretation seems designed to end interpretation, theological and otherwise.  On this view, once you have located whatever has been buried within or hidden by the text, there seems to be little need for the text any longer.  When interpretation is viewed as excavation and you have finished digging that hole and extracting the desired article, the text is just excess dirt, you have little need for it, except to excavate further for something else.”  [33]

Steven Fowl on Theological Interpretation

I have been reading Steven Fowl’s excellent new book Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Written by one of the key participants in the current academic dialog, it is a great primer for anyone trying to enter into the realm of reading the Bible as Christian Scripture.  Here are few thoughts that have stood out to me.

First, Fowl reflects on the nature and  role of Scripture.  He writes, “Scripture is a gift from the triune God that both reflects and fits into God’s desire to bring us into ever deeper fellowship with God and each other.”  This claim flows out of Fowl’s assertion that “the end or telos of the Christian life is ever deeper communion with God and each other.”  [13]

Second, based on this assertion of Scripture as a gift, Fowl insists that Christians are called “to interpret, debate, pray over, and embody Scripture as a way of advancing toward their true end of ever deeper fellowship with God and each other.”  [14]

Third, based on these two thoughts about the nature of Scripture and its role in God’s ongoing drama of salvation, Fowl offers his  understanding of theological interpretation of Scripture, “Theological interpretation of Scripture will involve those habits, dispositions, and practices that Christians bring to their varied engagements with Scripture in ways that will enhance their journey toward their proper end in God.”  [14]