Return to the Sources!
If you’ve spent any time on our main website, you know that we've said a lot about the theological interpretation of Scripture. This view desires that Christians are able to read Scripture together as a church community, wrestling with the text for answers to normative questions. After all, the theological interpretation of scripture is normative, not merely descriptive. The concern is often that if we reduce our method of scripture-reading to historical criticism, we will come away with only a view of the world “behind” the text, but as James K.A. Smith has pointed out (utilizing the insights of Paul Ricoeur) in his review of Pete Enns’ recent book, “the meaning of Scripture is also generated in front of the text.” We should not eschew the benefits of the historical-critical model; the theological interpretation of Scripture is just one method that implies that what’s “behind the text” – the historical context, the authors’ original intent, etc. – will likely not fully account for the political, social, and intellectual contexts that change drastically with time. The theological interpretation of Scripture implies that we utilize a hermeneutics that can apply the Scriptures for us today. Of course, we will inevitably come to the Scriptures with the presuppositions that reflect our cultural situatedness, which is why Dr. Graham Cole says we should be good phenomenologists of the text. How we receive the phenomena of the Scriptures – how we see in front of the text – generates meaning in the Scriptures that could not possibly have been inherent to the authors’ original intentions or contexts. This does not imply that we are the sole infusers of meaning, or that we have the right to “update” the Scriptures according to our times. Rather, it simply acknowledges the vibrancy and vastness of Scripture, a text that we both “live into” and generate meaning “in front of.” And the meaning we generate is inspired by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Since the theological interpretation of Scripture seeks to account for the background knowledge we inherit from the church’s two-thousand year history, it requires us to return to the sources. In the mid-twentieth century a number of Roman Catholic theologians proposed that the Catholic Church must return to the sources of Scripture and the ancient church. That is, they proposed that the life of the church today depends on its participation with the ancient sources (the movement is known as the Catholic ressourcement (“return to the sources”)). Recently, a number of evangelical Christians have proposed a ressourcement of their own, seeking to recover the insights of Christianity’s Great Tradition. A few days ago, James K.A. Smith posted about David Dockery and Timothy George’s recent engagements with these ancient theological sources. I would like to direct you to other related books, specifically the Evangelical Ressourcement series, published by Baker and edited by D.H. Williams. By returning to the ancient sources for the sake of the church’s future, this series encourages a theological interpretation of Scripture, and the evangelical authors encourage their evangelical readers to cultivate tradition rather than being overly suspicious of it. Here’s a brief description of the aim of the series, found on Baker’s website: “The Evangelical Ressourcement series is grounded in the belief that there is a wealth of theological, exegetical, and spiritual resources from the patristic era that is relevant for the Christian church today and into the future. Amid the current resurgence of interest in the early church, this series aims to help church thinkers and leaders reappropriate these ancient understandings of Christian belief and practice and apply them to ministry in the twenty-first century.” One might wonder what these sources have to do with the “faith and science” conversation. But for that I’ll leave you with Dr. Graham Cole’s remarks on how the theological interpretation of Scripture intersects with this conversation: part one can be found here, followed by part two here.