Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Irenaeus of Lyons and Christological Reading of the Bible

Posted in Reading the Bible as Scripture, Theological Interpretation by Bacho on March 30, 2011

The dominant mode of exegesis in the Early Church was to read the Bible christologically.  What does that mean?  The lens of Christ’s incarnation, life, crucifixion, and resurrection allowed them to read the entire Bible with Jesus as the key figure that stood in the center of the text.  The words of Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyons are instructive here, “If one carefully reads the Scripture, he will find there the word on the subject of Christ- de Christo sermonem– and the prefiguration of the new calling.  he is indeed the hidden treasure in the field- the field in fact is the world- but in truth, the hidden treasure in the Scriptures is Christ.  because he is designed by types and words that humanly are not possible to understand before the accomplishment of all things, that is, Christ’s parousia.”  [quoted in Christopher Alan Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers , 192]

Dating Tips for single PhDs in Biblical Studies

Posted in Dating tips for a single PhD, Humor by Bacho on March 30, 2011

This is a tip #3.  It is kind of different.  You are a PhD student in Biblical studies who is nearing the end of this academic hazing.  Your research on scented symbols in the Song of Songs has been consuming all of your time.  You can hardly smell yourself.  No time for social exploits.  Yet you do not want to appear as a person devoid of romantic interludes in the company of your SBL friends.  What do you do?  You need to check out the CLOUD GIRLFRIEND.  The new service allows you to create the perfect girlfriend.  You know, the one who will write on your Facebook wall in Ugarit, follow your tweets about the Old Assyrian cuneiform and Sumerian orthography, and otherwise make her ghostly presence evident through social media.  According to the site, here is how it works: “Step 1: Define your perfect girlfriend. Step 2: We bring her into existence. Step 3: Connect and interact with her publicly on your favorite social network. Step 4: Enjoy a public long distance relationship with your perfect girl.”

So if you are not yet ready to admit to your friends that you do not have a significant other due to the all-consuming PhD research project, you can do better than just put on your Facebook relationship status “Complicated”.  Go ahead give the Cloud Girlfriend a try.  But also remember Walker Percy who said, “You can get all As and still flunk life.”  So go ahead and get that scented research done.

Jon Levenson: Historical Criticism as a Tyrant, Parasite or Tradition

Here are few exerpts from Jon Levenson’s book The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies.  By the way: this book is a must read for anyone trying to read the Bible as Scripture:

“Even the most antireligious among biblical scholars must face this paradoxical reality: the vitality of their rather untraditional discipline has historically depended upon the vitality of traditional religious communities, Jewish and Christian.”  [110]

“The belief that the meaning of religious phenomena is available only to the outside observer is a secular analogue to religious revelation.  If so, then a system of thought like historicism, which “exempts itself from its own verdict”, is a secular equivalent to fundamentalism.  For though it subjects all else to critique, it asserts axiomatically its own inviolability to critique.”  [117]

“Historical criticism will not only have to surrender the positivistic notion of critical autonomy and recognize itself as a tradition.  It will also have to recognize that it corresponds to a community of interpretation.  It is a very special kind, however, one dependent upon other communities of interpretation for the very object of its inquiry and, historically if not necessarily, for its motivation as well.  Historical critics thus constitute a secondary community; they engage in second-order reflection upon the primary language of the religious communities they study.”  [123]

Richard Hays: Five Features of Paul’s Hermeneutics

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Richard Hays by Bacho on March 28, 2011

As I mentioned earlier I am going to post a series of gems that I stumble upon as I work my way through RIchard Hays’ The Conversion of the Imagination.

At the opening of the book Richard Hays does a superb job outlining few broad features that are characteristic of Paul’s approach to the reading of the Scriptures:

First, Hays highlights the pastoral context of Paul’s reading of Scripture.  He writes, “His readings are not merely flights of imaginative virtuosity; rather, they seek to shape the identity and actions of a community called by God to be the bearers of grace.  The conversion of the imagination that Paul seeks is not merely the spiritual enlightenment of individuals but rather the transformed consciousness of the community of the faithful.”  [xv-xvi]

Second, Paul’s reading of Scripture has a poetic character to it.  Hays writes, “He finds in Scripture a rich source of image and metaphor that enables him to declare with power what God is doing in the world in his own time.  He reads the Bible neither as a historian nor as a systematic theologian but as a poetic preacher who discerns analogical correspondence between the scriptural story and the gospel that he proclaims.”  [xvi]

Three, Hays points out the narrative mode of Paul’s engagement with the text.  “It is not for him merely a repository of isolated proof texts; rather, it is a saga of God’s election, judgment, and redemption of a people through time.  Paul sees the church that has come into being in his own day as the heir of that vast ancient story and the remarkable fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.”  [xvi]

Four, Paul reads the scripture with an eschatological mindset. “The fulfillment of those promises has taken an entirely unexpected turn because of the world-shattering apocalyptic event of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.  When he rereads Israel’s Scripture retrospectively, Paul finds prefigurations of this revelatory event- which nevertheless came as a total surprise to Israel and continues to function as a stumbling block for those who do not believe.  Once the Scripture are grasped in light of this hermeneutical key, their pervasively eschatological character comes into focus.”  [xvi]

Fifth, Paul reads the Scripture with the hermeneutic of trust.  “He believes that Scripture discloses a God who loves us and can be trusted, in his righteousness, to his promises and to save us.  Thus, he always comes to the reading of Israel’s Scripture with the expectation that what he will find there is a word of deep grace.”  [xvi]

Richard B. Hays: Paul’s Model of Exegesis vs. “Kids, don’t do this at home!”

Posted in Hermeneutics, Reading the Bible as Scripture, Richard Hays by Bacho on March 27, 2011

Apostle Paul’s interpretation of the Old Testament has been a challenge for the modern readers of his letters.  I remember one of my profs making an off-hand comment while we were working through the Greek text of Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Kids, don’t do this at home.  You will not get an A for this kind of exegesis.”  Richard Hays has been one of leading voices trying to make sense of Paul as interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.  I recently came to his book The Conversion of the Imagination which seeks to “come to grips with one of the most brilliant and provocative readers of Scripture that Israel’s tradition has ever produced”, namely Apostle Paul.  Hays’ conceptual framework can be summed up in this following quotation, “to link two dimensions of Paul’s thought that are often set in artificial antithesis to one another: narrative continuity with Israel’s story and radical apocalyptic transformation.  In 1 Corinthians both elements are grounded in Paul’s reading of Israel’s Scripture.  I contend that Paul’s pastoral strategy for reshaping the consciousness of his pagan converts was to narrate them into Israel’s story through metaphorical appropriation of Scripture- and precisely by so doing to teach them to think apocalyptically.”  [xi]  Everything in Pauline hermeneutics seems to flow from this overarching framework.

[Note: stay tuned for some more nuggets from Hays as I work my way through this book.]

Augustine’s words that every PhD student in Biblical Studies should heed

Posted in PhD Research, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on March 27, 2011

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received.  In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it.  We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of the Holy Scripture.  We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.”  [Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion, 119]

Kevin Vanhoozer on Theodrama, Faith, and Discipleship

I just came across this lecture by Kevin Vanhoozer titled Gospel Theater: Rehearsing, Imrpovising, Performing. It is an hour long, but worth every second of your time.   To understand Vanhoozer’s program one needs to grasp few key aspects of it.  First, one needs to be familiar with his metaphors, like metaphors for theology (dramaturgy), Scripture (the script), theological understanding (performance), the church (the company), and the pastor (director). Second, crucial for Vanhoozer is his conviction that doctrine is linked with life.  What does that mean?  For Vanhoozer it means that the the doctrine serves the church by guiding it towards wise living.  In his book The Drama of Doctrine Vanhoozer’s goal is “to convince ministers and laypeople alike not to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant, and to encourage theologians not to neglect the needs of the church. It aims to make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion. Its goal is to refute, once and for all, the all-too-common dichotomy between doctrine and real life. Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality” (xii)  It is towards this end that he coins the term theodrama. Under that large rubric he understands the Church as an arena where the gospel is improvised and lived out.  The Scripture is seen as a script to be performed, faithfully, leisurely, and imaginatively.  Discipleship is envisioned as improvisation.

NOTE: this lecture was a part of the the Page Lectures at Southeastern Seminary, Nov. 10-11, 2009, titled “Doing Faith: Seeking (and Showing) Understanding in Company with Christ.”

Eugene Peterson on the Gospel, the Bible, and Discipleship

Posted in Eugene Peterson, Life of Fatih, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on March 24, 2011

“Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty.  So we go out and buy a Bible.  We adapt, edit, sift, summarize.  We then use whatever whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit.  We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day.  But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that.  The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation.  We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus.  Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey- or we do not.  This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything.  Our task is to obey- believingly, trustingly obey.  Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.'”  [248-249]

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on God’s Economy, true abundance and Christian imagination

Posted in Life of Fatih by Bacho on March 24, 2011

“Beyond the flicker of televised Christianity, more and more followers of Jesus refuse to believe that our only choices are pie-in-the-sky poverty and the materialism of the American Dream.  There is a third way, God’s way of radical abundance in the here and now.  This third way requires the transformation of our desires; it demands a revolution of our imagination.  there is a way to receive real abundant life, not the version measured in dollar signs and square footage that ultimately leaves us wanting.  Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are right about one thing: our God of abundance does want to give you your best life now.  It’s just that God’s abundance is more radical than many of us have dared to dream.  We sell ourselves short if we think that the joy of the Lord can be captured in a cosmetically whitened smile.  Our God offers so much more.”  [28-29]

The transformation of our imagination is an absolute must because it hits at the core of our problem.  Following Augustine’s lead Wilson-Hartgrove argues that our fundamental God-given restlessness, this abiding hunger for more, can been high-jacked.  Our imaginations has been colonized and exploited.  Rather than desiring to be more, we now insist on having more.

While there is much current debate about large systemic issues and wholesale change, Wilson-Hartgrove suggests ‘tactics’ that could be put into practice here and now.  Followers of Jesus can utilize these five tactics to live out the first fruits of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the current economic system.

Subversive service [Mark 9:35]
Eternal Investments [Matthew 6:20]
Economic Friendships [Luke 16:9]
Relational Generosity [Matthew 5:42]
Gracious Politics [Mark 12:17]

As Eugene Peterson writes in his Forward, “Money is everybody’s problem: rich and poor alike, Christian and non-Christian alike.  There is no escaping money.  If we think of and deal with money on the terms offered by the American economy, we will almost certainly diminish, if not downright ruin, our lives and the lives of those around us.  But there is a way of unmasking the demonic power of money by setting our imaginations free from the captivity of money so that we are free to enjoy the extravagant economy of God.”
I am so aware of my deep need for wise and honest companions who help expose the allure of money and bid my imagination to see the light of God’s true abundance.

C.S. Lewis on Heaven and our limited capacity to grasp its nature

Posted in C.S. Lewis, Life of Fatih, Reading the Bible as Scripture by Bacho on March 22, 2011

“Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon.  There she bears and rears a son.  He grows up seeing nothing but the dudgeon wall, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of sky seen through the grating, which it too high up to show anything except sky.  This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils.  As she never loses the hope of deliverance she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never sen.  She does it very largely by drawing him pictures.  With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities and waves on the beach are like.  He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious that anything in the dungeon.  At times he succeeds.  on the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause.  For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes.  Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception.  “But,” she gasps, “you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?”  “What?,” says the boy.  “No pencil marks there?”  And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank.  For the lines by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it.  He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely atransposition- the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the colored three-dimensional realities which no drawing could ever achieve.  the child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s picture.  In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.  So with us.  “We know not what we shall be”; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth.”  [C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 109-110]