Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Daniel Treier. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Baker Academic, 2008), 221pp. [review copy courtesy of Baker Academic]

Daniel Treier’s Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice is a timely and largely helpful introduction of the growing, diverse movement to recover a distinctively theological interpretation of Scripture broadly known as ‘theological interpretation’ or ‘theological hermeneutics’.

As a mapping exercise, the book provides a useful orientation to the movement’s dominant trajectories, prominent figures, and to the issues most pressing for evangelicals (e.g. preoccupation with authorial intent).

Because Treier’s primary aims are introduction and mapping, his own constructive proposals for theological interpretation are mostly downplayed. However, in those moments when he transitions from exposition to argument, we get tantalizing glimpses of what will hopefully occupy his full attention in subsequent works. For example, with his evangelical readers in mind, Treier searches for a middle ground between ‘reader-response’ approaches and what sometimes appears to be a complete disregard for the ‘reader’ in evangelical hermeneutics. Following a close reading of Gadamer and some discussion of the appropriateness of the evangelical rejection of relativism, Treier makes a measured argument for ‘interpretive plurality’. ‘One gets the idea’ Treier remarks,

that we would have no need for interpretation in an ideal world. But in some respects diversity is a creational and pentecostal reality: Continue reading

Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future

Mark Husbands & Jeffrey Greeman eds. Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future. Downers Grove: IVP, 2008. 271pp., $21.86.

The later years of the twentieth century saw evangelical theology beginning to remember the importance of the church’s tradition and, in doing so, to engage in its own form of ressourcement theology (La nouvelle théologie). As Husbands contends,

[I]t is evident that if contemporary evangelical theology aspires to help the church engage the contemporary world in a faithful and persuasive fashion, it would do well to recover the best conversation partners is can find, even if this means reaching back a thousand years or more…Standing in the shadow of Lubac, we believe that Christianity cannot meet the challenges of modernity and postmodernity without returning to the tradition of the early church (p. 12).

In light of this trend, the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference sought to demonstrate the “viability and promise of engagement with the early church”, and the present volume contains the papers from that meeting.

Rationale and Attendant Challenges

The book is divided into four parts. Part one explores the underlying rationale and attendant challenges of an evangelical ressourcement theology. The essays by Christopher Hall and D.H. Williams are particularly good. Hall’s piece, the keynote address for the conference, argues that the bible must be read with the church fathers based on the substantial difference between the doctrine of sola scriptura and, what he considers, a common “yet confused” appeal to nuda Scriptura,“a view of the Bible in which no ecclesial context is thought to bear on the meaning of the text”. Aware that evangelicals are susceptible to an overly romantic reading of the church fathers, Continue reading

Sung Theology: Hymns & the Formation of Faith

How do hymns display and express the theology of a particular Christian community or tradition? And how does this sung theology shape and form our faith (belief, affection, and action)?

For the sake of the discussion, let’s focus on evangelical hymns. In American Evangelical Christianity, Notre Dame historian, Mark Noll, attempts to probe the message of evangelical Christianity through the medium of its hymns. In doing so, he identifies three distinct layers of hymnody that define the modern evangelical movement at its best. For our purposes we will consider just two: Christ-centered picture of redemption and social vision (the other is ecumenism). Even if you don’t identify with the evangelicalism Noll expounds, consider how the sung theology of your tradition shapes your beliefs – your credo.

The Scandal of the Cross Is the Scandal of My Forgiveness

“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused such pain? For me? Who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That thou my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley)

The first thing to notice about this hymn is its characteristically evangelical focus on the individual person’s salvation. It casts the scandal of the cross primarily in terms of how the love and forgiveness therein could be for “me.” Wesley wonders over the radicality of Christ’s death and asks: “For me?” Continue reading

Probing Evangelicalism’s Revivalist Heritage

Is Evangelicalism’s revivalist heritage its greatest asset or Achilles heal?

Yes I know. Questions like that don’t have simple answers, but bear with me for the sake of probing the issue a little. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses that attend Evangelicalism’s revivalist heritage was prompted by Douglas Sweeney’s definition of N. American Evangelicalism in The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement  (Baker Academic, 2005), but the issues have been on my mind ever since our vigorous discussion on Christian conversion a couple weeks ago (Asking Jesus into your Heart??).

Evangelicals comprise a movement that is rooted in classical Christian orthodoxy, shaped largely by a Protestant understanding of the Gospel, and distinguished from other such movements by an eighteenth-century twist…[M]odern evangelicals differ from other Christian groups in that the movement emerged from a definite, eighteenth century cultural context, one that yielded a twist on Protestant orthodoxy. Modern Evangelicals, as distinguished from others who use the label or share our view of the gospel message, are heirs of the Great Awakening – a renewal movement that changed forever the course of history (p. 24-25).

Sweeney goes on to chronicle the dramatic affects of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, among others, on the self-perception of conversion among American Christians. In the wake of the Great Awakening many thousands of Christians dated their “new life in Christ” to Whitefield’s and Edwards’ field preaching. For example, simply consider Jonathan Edwards’ narrative of his own life-changing conversion at Yale: Continue reading

Asking Jesus into your Heart??

Why do many Christians say, “Ask Jesus into your heart”?

I understand what this refers to, a relationship with God through Christ, but find it curious that non-biblical and potentially misleading language is the most important language for evangelism among many evangelical Christians. In a recent blog post, Klyne Snodgrass reminds us that neither Jesus nor the other New Testament writers come even close to saying, “Invite Jesus into your heart so you can go to heaven.” He continues,

Paul rarely speaks of Christ in us-at most six times, but at least 164 times he has the Greek expression en Christō or its equivalent, which can express a variety of ideas. Clearly though, being in Christ is a much more powerful image than Christ being in us. Faith is not merely a mental activity. As Sanday and Headlam’s old ICC commentary on Romans put it, faith involves “enthusiastic adhesion” (p. 34). Faith is that which attaches you to Jesus. Nothing less is saving faith.

John’s language focuses too on attachment to Jesus. While he speaks both of Christ being in us and our being in him, he expresses both ideas with the word menein, “to remain.” Christians are people so attached to Jesus that he remains in them and they remain in him. (emphasis mine)

Assuming Snodgrass is right (and I think he is), how could we speak about life with God in ways more disciplined by the Scriptures – ways other than “Ask Jesus into your heart”? For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus the issue specifically on children for three reasons. Continue reading

Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology

Timothy Larson and Daniel Treier, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Those looking for a fine collection of essays by established and up-and-coming Evangelical theologians from across the globe will not be disappointed. Topics covered include “The Triune God of the Gospel” by Kevin Vanhoozer, “Jesus Christ” by John Webster, and the “Holy Spirit” by Terry L. Cross. I mention these three not only becuase they are very fine essays but additionally they are representative of the high quality of scholarship represented here.

The essays serve not only to “locate” evangelical theology broadly speaking within its dogmatic and historical contexts but they urge us to continue working toward an ever faithful and ever reforming evangelical theology as well. Continue reading