Friday, 20 December 2013

Pain and Promise: Thoughts on Historical and Figural Interpretation

                The misuse of Scripture by the historical critical perspective has been well documented. Whether it is the silliness of the Jesus Seminar, or trying to prove that Adam and Eve once existed as historical people, these interpretive experiments have often been adventures in missing the point of the canonical Scripture. The central interpretive purpose of the Christian church should be to see Jesus Christ as the “golden thread which runs through the whole of the Scripture” (Gertrude Hove). 

For theologian Ephraim Radner this implies a “deliberate setting aside of certain historical presumptions” for the sake of seeing Jesus Christ in the text. When parts of a text identify characteristics of Jesus, we are called to see the text as a description of Jesus Christ. When a texts’ “narrative whole resonates with the grande themes of Jesus own life” we are called to see Jesus Christ. This way of thinking about Scripture rests on the presupposition that God is ordering “the Bible according to his own creation and recreation of human history” (Hope Among The Fragments, 98-99). It should show us that Christ’s suffering, his broken body, is calling us to suffer for one another as his Church (Colossians 1:24). 

In our modern context the problem that sometimes occurs with this Christological reading of Scripture is that we jump straight to our new life in Christ without recognizes the reality of suffering that still exists in a world that is not yet. We assume that reading Christ into the whole of the Scripture means that we can ignore the pain and brokenness of a Hebrew people, and say “well things were pretty bad before Jesus, but now that we have been made new we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” We assume that because were in Christ things will be so much better, thing will be so much happier, everything will be “so radically new” as Brian Walsh poignantly suggests in his most recent Advent blog post.

 A lot of this is due to the influence of the “principalities and powers” that surround us. The empire wants to numb us so we don’t feel the pain of our own lives, and the lives of those around us (so will continue to operate without question in the system it has designed). This is where a historical look at Scripture can reveal the pain of the people in that text, and relay to us our own pain that we so much want to resist. In Walter Brueggeman’s “Unity and Dynamic in Isaiah” he critiques the father of modern canonical interpretation Brevard Child’s for jumping to quickly from the Judgment of early Isaiah to the promises of God in later Isaiah. For Brueggeman the Judgment or social critique of early Isaiah leaves room for an embrace of pain in the middle of the book and slow movement toward God’s promises. Child’s is moving too quickly from the old to the new without recognizing the pain that is involved. It is here where a historical look at the people in Scripture can keep us in the reality of our brokenness as we “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). While Radner sees the over emphasis of historical critical tools as “an almost gnostic yearning for release from a world that is to be cut loose from God” (Hope Among The Fragments, 108) Walsh and Brueggeman see an overly spiritualized view of Scripture as its own gnostic denial of pain in the Christian life.            

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