30 June 2010

Vanhoozer's Decahedral

In the July/August 2010 Modern Reformation, Kevin J. Vanhoozer contributes a short article where he lays down "a ten-point checklist for fledgling theological interpreters of Scripture." It basically articulates a way of reading the Bible as Scripture—as God's self-communication—in a canonical and ecclesial context (pp. 16–19).

This is nothing new, of course. But it's still unwelcome among large swaths of religious academia. I'll just reprint the theses here; Vanhoozer provides commentary under each one in the article. Here's how he describes his decahedral: "The ten theses are arranged in five parts: the first term in each pair is properly theological, focusing on some aspect of God's communicative agency; the second draws out its implications for hermeneutics and biblical interpretation." Without further adieu:

  1. The nature and function of the Bible are insufficiently grasped unless and until we see the Bible as an element in the economy of triune discourse.
  2. An appreciation of the theological nature of the Bible entails a rejection of a methodological atheism that treats the texts as having a "natural history" only.
  3. The message of the Bible is "finally" about the loving power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16), the definitive or final gospel Word of God that comes to brightest light in the Word's final form.
  4. Because God acts in space-time (Israel, Jesus Christ, and the church), theological interpretation requires thick descriptions that plumb the height and depth of history, not only its length.
  5. Theological interpreters view the historical events recounted in Scripture as ingredients in a unified story ordered by an economy of triune providence.
  6. The Old Testament testifies to the same drama of redemption as the New Testament, hence the church rightly reads both testaments together, two parts of a single authoritative script.
  7. The Spirit who speaks with magisterial authority in the Scriptures speaks with ministerial authority in church tradition.
  8. In an era marked by the conflict of interpretations, there is good reason provisionally to acknowledge the superiority of catholic interpretation.
  9. The end of biblical interpretation is not simply communication—the sharing of information—but communion, a sharing in the light, life, and love of God.
  10. The church is that community where good habits of theological interpretation are best formed and where the fruit of these habits are best exhibited.
Vanhoozer sums it up:
Scholars know deep down that they can and should do better than stay within the confines of their specializations: "For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the interpretive good I want, but the historical-criticism or proof-texting I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but interpretive habits that have been drilled into me. Wretched reader that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of secondary literature?" Thanks be to God, there is a way forward: the way, truth, and life of collaboration in Christ, where sainthood and scholarship coexist, and where theological exegesis and exegetical theology are mutually supportive and equally important.
Now, I'll admit to being blinded by a slight infatuation with Vanhoozer, especially after reading books like Is There Meaning in This Text? I've not much to say here by way of criticism. I'm hoping some others can pick that up, not least the "apocalyptic" bunch floating around out there, as I'm not quite sure what view, if any, they might have with respect to hermeneutics (if "they" even have a "view"). I'd also like to see some discussion about how Vanhoozer's implicit criticisms here cut to the quick of a lot of modern confessional Reformed exegesis and theology.

Also, this touches upon what I've grown increasingly comfortable saying publicly as of late: Theology done without an eye on (i.e., in service of) the church is useless. But on second thought, it might be best to break off this subsequent and tangential discussion from this post and deal with it later. For now, I'll leave the Decahedral to stand alone for the reader to digest.


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