Jan 182010

I was at the evening service in my home church last night and, I must confess, didn’t particularly engage with the theme of the sermon. It struck me as bordering on eisegesis rather than exegesis. To be fair, what it was doing was asking questions of the text that weren’t (I would have said) inherent in the text – the questions didn’t arise from the text; they were being imposed upon it (in my opinion). But, as I said, it did kick off a train of thought that I’m still wondering about.

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Dec 052008

Barring exams on the 11th and 19th, three of my four courses for 4th year are now done. Only one course and a dissertation to do and that’ll be 4th year and my BD done. It all seems to have gone by in a rush somehow, although I’m still convinced term-time ‘time’ runs at a different rate to real time.

Of the three courses this semester, Hebrew Prophecy with Professor Barstad has definitely been the most enjoyable, not least because of some interesting class dynamics which I’ll not go into here. The bizarre thing is that, despite 10 weeks of lectures, I’ve barely got a handful of notes. This is mainly because most of the lecture is spent actually doing exegesis rather than talking about how to do it. It was a bit like being back in school – read round the class first, then ask questions. There’s always one particular ‘nugget of gold’ in his classes and the ‘light coming on’ moment for me was when he dropped in an almost ‘throwaway’ comment about “underlying reality” when considering the prophets. First and foremost, when tackling the text, the question to ask is, “What’s the underlying reality?” And it’ll be something like war, famine, idolatry, whatever. That then is the key to unlocking the language being used. From there it’s a matter of unpicking the metaphors. The problem is that it is also a slightly circular activity – unpicking the metaphors also helps to expose the underlying reality.

I’ve already grumped about Biblical Interpretation several times but I sort of enjoyed the course but ultimately found it very dissatisfying. Way too much emphasis on historical-critical methods. The irritating thing was that almost every article we read concluded that historical-criticism only took you so far, yet we barey touched on the bits that might take you further. Even more irritating was that they were treated in an almost disdainful way, simply because they weren’t historical-criticism. I knew beforehand that the NT lecturers at New College are pretty much wedded to historical-critical methods and that it can do no wrong, but I can’t help but think that, for a research establishment whose academic approaches ought to be pretty much up-to-date, Biblical Interpretation was done a bit of a disservice. That said, to cover some of these other methods are a course in themselves – and I’m very glad I did it last year.

Doctrine of Creation was interesting but pretty heavy going, as most systematics courses tend to be. Not sure that it contributed as much to my dissertation background as I had hoped it might. Still, once I get into that I’ll probably find stuff that is useful.

Anyway, revision time now and I suspect that that time will disappear even more quickly and the exams will arrive all too soon.

Oct 132008

This time last year I was struggling with Schleiermacher. Today’s Biblical Interpretation class was dealing with another chunk of Schleiermacher and shock! horror! I actually more or less understood it. I’d like to think that it’s because I’m more knowledgeable but I suspect it was an easier read than the last one. That’s not to say that this reading was easy. I certainly struggled to get my head round it. But from the discussion in class today it seemed that my understanding of it was pretty close.

Schleiermacher is considered the ‘father of modern theology’. He was writing at a time when the enlightenment was in full swing and rationalism was questioning many of the foundations of religion and faith. Scleiermacher’s intention was to ‘rescue’ Christian faith from this barrage of criticism by moving it outwith the realms of reason and placing it firmly in the realms of ‘feeling’ and experience. In many respects he succeeds but opens many cans of worms on the way.

The one we were dealing with today was the status of scripture. In a nutshell (and probably doing him a huge disservice) Scleiermacher would prefer to have only those parts of scripture which were a reliable witness to the person and teaching of Jesus. Everything else is ‘padding’ or simply not useful. He even goes so far as to suggest that the Old Testament should be relegated to an appendix of the New Testament. After all, why bother with the foreshadowing of the Messiah when we have the real thing now attested to in scripture? And why bother with the doings of the early church when it’s Jesus that really matters?

Some of his arguments are very persuasive but I’m not sure I could swallow the entire package he comes up with. I do like his focus on faith being an awareness of utter dependency on God. I also like his assertion that the crucial element of faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And I get his inspirational role for the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure I’d be just so happy to dismiss the large parts of scripture he seems to. But that’s not through any misplaced sense of bibliolatry. I do like his argument that scripture has authority because we, as a faithful people give it that status rather than having its own authority simply because of what it is. In other words, the gospel message is in our Bible because it is true rather than it being true because it is in our Bible. A subtle but often misunderstood distinction.

Thinking back on last year I think I detect a major change since then. Then, I was still learning (and I still am) but I think I was still in ‘assimilation mode’. By that I mean that I was still gathering information and knowledge but still with no sense of shape to it. Since this summer past I think I now have a better understanding of my own faith and theology. It’s still rough round the edges and still needs a lot of work but it’s now taking shape enough to be able to take someone like Schleiermacher and see how he fits. And probably more importantly, have a better understanding of why he might not. That seems to have been a while in the making, but it’s no trivial task and it’s one that’ll never be finished. But it does make a lot of the hard brainwork seem that much more worthwhile now. (Just don’t get me started on the subject of anti-intellectualism, or at least an apparent unwillingness to engage with difficult subjects.)