Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Theology au latte

Over at Coffee Conversations, both Kevin Johnson and Tim Enloe have taken exception to my comments.

As usual, Johnson’s remarks combine faux-innocence with the intellectual substance of cotton candy. This is pity because Johnson has proven himself capable, on exceptional occasion, of marshalling an argument. For example, he recently presented a perfectly intelligent explanation of why he would not consider converting to Catholicism. But that was a rare moment of lucidity. Would that he applied himself more often.

By contrast, Enloe offers a reply which, while hardly adequate, does deserve an honest answer:

<< For Mr. Hays’s information, I *have* read some Poythress, at least, and I *do* recognize the sophistication of his exegetical theory. In fact I applaud it and wish more Internet exegetes would exhibit such sophistication in their handling of Scripture. At least in controversy with us, guys like Svendsen and White certainly haven’t exhibited that kind of sophistication.

I’ve also studied in a formal class context (surprise to the Ivory Tower Academics!) various portions of such works as Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and I *do* recognize that there is a lot to be said (sometimes) for understanding the inner workings of Greek. As well, I read a variety of scholarship on epistemological and historical issues, not just things produced by one school, so I don’t quite understand what Hays’s problem is with the fact that I chose to write a summary blog entry about an article by Rodney Clapp. >>

I chose the examples I did because Carson, Thiselton, and Poythress have written on both the theoretical and applied sides of exegetical theology. On the one hand, they have shown themselves to be quite conversant with contemporary hermeneutical theories, in response to which they’ve formed a highly self-reflective understanding of what they’re doing and why.

On the other hand, they have also done exegesis, in commentaries and monographs. Hence, it is possible for us to compare their theory with their practice.

And this brings me to my primary comparison. For it is possible to compare their exegetical style, informed as it is, by all these hermeneutical sensitivities, with Svendsen’s style of exegesis.

So, to answer Enloe’s question with a question, what is the fundamental difference between the way in which Svendsen does exegesis and the way that these other three do exegesis? What’s the basic difference between the way that Svendsen exegetes a passage of Scripture and Poythress exegetes a passage from Revelation, or Thiselton from 1 Corinthians, or Carson from Matthew, or John, or 2 Corinthians, or Philippians?

I don’t see any difference in methodology. Sometimes Svendsen is more popular, at other times more technical—but the same could be said of Carson or Poythress.

I would like, just for once, to see Enloe get beyond the vague, McCarthyite innuendo and lay out some specific, and I do mean specific—examples involving a direct comparison and contrast between Svendsen’s exegetical style and one or more of the three.

Is Enloe able to do this? Has he already done it? If he has never done it before, or if he is either unable or unwilling to do so now, then what, exactly, furnishes the concrete, inductive data on which he bases his invidious impression of Svendsen?

And if, in fact, he cannot document, by direct comparative study, how Svendsen’s approach to Scripture is essentially different from the tools which these other scholars bring to bear, then he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, never did, and has no right to keep demeaning Svendsen’s methods and assumptions.

And I use Svendsen as an example, not merely because Enloe continues to hold up Svendsen as an example—an example of all that is bad—but because Svendsen is quite representative of mainstream exegetical theology.

For that matter, there is no difference, excepting his presuppositional commitment to inerrancy, between the way he exegetes Scripture and a Catholic commentator like Ray Brown or Joe Fitzmyer does it. For that matter, N. T. Wright reaches into the very same toolbox as Eric Svendsen. Their divergence is not over the grammatico-historical method.

What is at issue, then, is the elementary and elemental question of whether or not the Bible is an open book. This was foundational to the Protestant Reformation. Can we, by acquainting ourselves with as much as has survived of the civilizations in which God revealed the Bible, enjoy, to that degree, the same access to the meaning of Scripture as the original audience enjoyed?

Put another way, wasn’t the Bible written to be understood? Doesn’t it mean whatever it was meant to mean for the implied reader and the target audience? Or does he deny the adequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation?

What supplies the interpretive grid? Original intent, synchronic with the historical audience and authorship or Scripture? Or post-biblical tradition, diachronic with church history?

To take a comparison, when we interpret Dante, do we limit ourselves to Dante’s past and present, to Dante’s 14C Florence and Dante’s education and Dante’s literary allusions, or do we interpret him in light of Hubble and Einstein?

Surely the question answers itself. We interpret Dante by what comes before, not what comes after. And the same historical threshold applies to Scripture, for Scripture is the record of historical revelation with a historical point of origin in the 2nd millennium BC and chronological cut-off in the 1C AD.


  1. Steve said, "I would like, just for once, to see Enloe get beyond the vague, McCarthyite innuendo and lay out some specific, and I do mean specific—examples involving a direct comparison and contrast between Svendsen’s exegetical style and one or more of the three."

    This is the sort of question folks have been asking him to do for a few years now. Show us specific examples of your charges. Show us how White's or Svendsen's exegetical interpretation is wrong by offering your own. Lay it out. That would be a wonderful place to re-start...well...depending on word count.


  2. Svendsen's blog post which references Tim McGrew on foundationalism splendidly betrays Enloe for the amateur that he is (and this observation is equally if not more applicable to KJ). The pretension from their end (both antecedent and consequent to Svendsen's post) is merely an attempt to shield this embarrassing fact.

    This is something that has been evident to many before now, of course, but certainly now everyone can see the bluster for what it truly is - confused ramblings from uneducated and [shamefully] pretentious men who merely possess: Internet access, unrestrained temerity, and a number of axes to grind.

    A wonderful combination!