Friday, April 13, 2012

Vacation Reading #2

The 2nd book I read while over vacation was one that my pastor urged me to read (I picked from his library We Become What We Worship).  It was not on my list, and I had no intention of adding a book on hermeneutics and ethics to my list (by the way, the book I am talking about says nothing about hermeneutics and ethics in the title... that was a surprise... a pleasant one too).  I will say this for Stephen Jenks; he has good taste. 

The book that was chosen for me was Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology (part of Zondervan's counterpoint series).  Let me preface that the theme of "moving beyond the Bible" has grown a great deal in evangelicalism.  But many (including myself prior) have no idea what that means.  At first glance, it seems that it is a movement away from Sola Scriptura and the foundation of the Bible for all faith and practice.  But actually, it really deals with 2 things: doctrines or practices not explicit but implied in the Bible (Trinity or churches gathering on Sunday's) & ethics or moral theology (slavery was a hot issue in this book).  The Bible has things to say on these subjects, but we Christians have moved beyond the Bible to formulate and systematize them into statements and practices that are only implied or inferred from the text of Scripture (with some philosophical and exegetical gymnastics thrown in the mix). 

There were 4 views presented, with replies from each of the writers, and ended with 3 other perspectives of the theme.  My big problem with this book is that there seemed to be more interaction going on and less explanation of the 4 views presented in the book.  The "reflections" part of the book was an excursus I could have done without.  Not that the added thoughts were bad, but they turned the book into 7 views instead of 4.

Without going into too much detail of all 4 views, let me briefly say that Kaiser's principlizing view is the most widely practiced today.  Even the other 3 contributors principlize.  In other words, we look at a passage like "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and we see that Paul used this text as a principle to argue that missionaries and elders had a right to be paid for their ministry.  Kaiser was Kaiser every time: short, succinct, and to the point.  Doriani's approach is a popular one amongst the reformed camp (redemptive-historical).  I thought his article was pretty good, but his responses seemed he had an axe to grind towards Webb.

Vanhoozer was amazing, of course.  What I liked most about Vanhoozer is that in his responses, he often made mention of how he'd hoped the discussion would dive into the realm of theology rather than just ethics.  However, when he ventured into theology and ethics, his own theodrama view was hardly applied.  But his approach is probably the most applicable since we, the followers of Jesus, are players and not the audience in the drama of God's kingdom.  This is where Vanhoozer and Doriani are diferent.  Both focus on the redemptive story, but Vanhoozer has us as part of that story (Acts 29ish).  Doriani's approach is one of observation, albeit watching a good, Christocentric story.

Webb was refreshing in that he was tackling issues that many of us shy away from.  His approach is giving him a lot of heat, but he answers honestly and cogently (and a good writer to boot).  I enjoyed his approach.  It caused me to really seek out its validity since it answers many of the hard questions.  To briefly explain (but hardly to justice to his approach), it portrays Scripture as on a trajectory or moving toward a "redemptive spirit".  For instance, the OT and NT never does away with slavery, but the trajectory of slavery as set forth in Scripture (the principle first in the OT then in the NT) is that slavery should be done away with.  He moved beyond the Bible by coming up with an ethic that the Bible never denounced; an ethic that says slavery should be abolished.  I see some major problems with it, but by and large I think he may be on to something (whatever that "something" is). 

I was disappointed that most of this book wrestled with issues like egalitarianism, slavery, and other hot-button issues of moral theology (or slight ecclesiology).  The title of the book was moving beyond the Bible to theology.  This rarely happened, with exception to Vanhoozer for the most part.  It was also mostly a treatment of how we contextualize the Bible to our modern day.  In short, it was a hermeneutical issue.  Things like war ethics ("taking the hot woman" as spoil) or slavery as presented in the OT and NT were mostly discussed.  How can we, as clearly more civilized than the ANEers, use the ethics presented in the pages of Scripture and apply them to our modern world?  Take spanking.  Even those who principlize or see a static ethic presented in the OT (rod of discipline as it is put) still soften the meaning of the text and thus use a trajectory (Webb's view) toward a redemptive spirit of the Bible.

All in all, this put an important issue to the forefront of my mind and forced me to wrestle with my own approach.  This is a good thing!  I am indebted to my pastor for urging me to read it.  In fact, we would all do well to read this book, though it is more for those who are able to critically think about the Bible, theology, hermeneutics, and ethics.  I would recommend this book for any to read, but with reservations for some who are not able to think beyond objectivity and fundamentalism (my axe I grind).  This issue is big, on an apologetics level too.  Since Christians clearly do not stone their rebellious children but rather practice "grace", we have moved beyond the Bible and acquired our own parenting ethic when the NT never explicitly said so.  What is the guide that we follow to move beyond the Bible biblically?  This book enters that debate.  Go forth and do likewise!

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