If you could read Scripture through the lens of only ONE scholar . . . .

. . . . who would it be and why?  In other words, what single scholar most captures the essence and meaning of the biblical text; who is asking the right questions, or giving the right answers?  Whose methodological, theological, or historical presuppositions and conclusions do you most share?  Put most simply . . . . for you, who most gets it right?

 My answer?  No surprise: Walter Brueggemann.

Here is a list of why:
* his reading of the difficult and troublesome texts, as well as his view on the characterization of God in the biblical text, are unabashedly honest.

* his desire to maintain tensions within the text rather than to smooth them out is not only postmodern, it is biblical, and again, honest.

* his emphasis on the Jewishness of the text is spot-on; this represents another tension – the ability to hold together the Jewishness of the text with the ‘Christian-ness’ of the text (see his OT theology).

*his attempts to make the Hebrew Bible relevant for contemporary communities of faith is to be applauded; from discussing the ‘scandalous’ character of God to how one may pray the lament psalms, his seeking to bring the Hebrew Bible into the life of Christian faithful is wonderfully motivating and enriching.

How about you?

29 thoughts on “If you could read Scripture through the lens of only ONE scholar . . . .

    • steph says:

      Seriously I’d have to go with NT Wrong – easily one of the most broadly learned and intellectually sophisticated of anyone on the internet and no doubt superior to all in published print.

  1. John Anderson says:

    Michael: Thanks, I look forward to your thoughtful answer.

    Aaron: Ha! Great sugestion! Just these little things that make me think, and I’m always curious who others are reading and why.

    Nick: How about the converse: the Bible is postmodern.

    In terms of defining postmodernism, a good book to look at is A.K.M. Adam, What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

    Characteristics of postmodern interpretation that Adam identifies:
    -antifoundational
    -antitotalizing
    -demystifying
    -incredulity toward metanarratives
    -complexity between text and reader

    Examples of postmodern approaches he identifies:
    -reader response
    -poststructuralist
    -some rhetorical criticism
    -psychoanalytic criticism
    -feminist/womanist studies
    -postcolonial criticism
    -liberationist theology

    Basically, anything NOT historical-critical.

    Hope this is helpful.

    BTW, Nick and Aaron, I’m looking forward to your answers!

    • Roy "Eli" Garton says:

      I would take issue with some aspects of your description of Postmodernism, John. My brief foray into Postmodernism under Stanley Grenz – who while still alive was a major authority on Postmodernism – has led me to understand this phenomenon as an epistemological lens (which varies by according numerous demographics) which renegotiates the parameters of all human interpretative endeavors, which would include historical-critical methods. Thus, the HCM can still be meaningfully applied in a postmodern context. It’s just that postmodern historical-critical interpreters must represent their findings in a responsible way; specifically, such interpreters must cast their assertions as being within the realm of possibility, or at best probability.

      Incidentally, not to be difficult here, but postmodern interpreters would also take issue with espousing any scholar (including Brueggemann) as getting it “right.”🙂

  2. John Anderson says:

    Nick: Umm, yes, you are correct. I’m not meaning to say there is only one for me either. And Brueggemann by no means gets it all right, nor do I agree with him entirely on all matters. His approximations, though, come closest to how I see the biblical text. THAT is the question I’m asking . . . . it is an imaginative exercise, not a realistic one seeking a statement of fact.

    Roy: To clarify, you mean Adam’s description of postmodernism, not mine. To be fair, though, I do think you are right that the historical-critical method cannot be said to be NOT postmodern; much of it deals also with how we do things, yes, and postmodernism expects a certain level of reserve in the assertiveness with which one holds her/his conclusions.

    Second, the description I offer of postmodernism above, drawn from Adams, is a very cursory overview, and is of course by no means meant to be exhaustive.

    And third, regarding your final paragraph, I would respond in a two-fold manner: 1) similar to what I say to Nick, this is meant to be an imaginative exercise [note the word “if”], not a statement of epistemological reality; 2) more germane, my description above does not say “who gets it right,” it says “who most gets it right.” You know me well enough to know I disagree with Brueggemann on some aspects of his interpretation of Genesis, for example. But he is asking the right questions, and giving some satisfying answers.

    Use your imagination . . . . I know you have one, I’ve read your work (wink!). Throw a Garton hypothesis this-a-way!

    • Roy "Eli" Garton says:

      John: You’re right, I should have been more precise on two details: first, the description I was reacting to was not Adam’s five characteristics (although I am interested in a more detailed definition of “demystifying,” since it is so close to the Modern term “demythologizing.”); and second, I should have included the word “most” in my concluding paragraph. Now concerning the former, I meant to take issue with what appears to be your application of Adam’s characteristics to “anything . . . historical-critical.” Regarding the latter, however, I still think my observation holds true: the postmodern epistemology, if consistently applied, does not typically permit one to judge what is “right,” which is what one would have to do in order to determine “who most gets it right.” Indeed, a consistent postmodern answer, or so I would think, would most likely be “ME.” My logic is as follows: since I cannot know what is categorically right, I can only be aware that what I think is right is constructed by me. In short, from a postmodern perspective, the scholar “who most gets it right” is me, for I am the one who is determining what is right for me . . . even though I know I cannot get it foundationally right, or at least if I did there would be no way of knowing it.

      I guess what I’m trying to say, in my convoluted way (remind you of somebody, John?), is that I need your question to be revised in order to give any answer other than “me.” I would have to be answering the question “From your limited reading, whom have you stumbled across who most appears to share your biblical presuppositions and interpretative paradigms?” In answering that question, John, I would have to say that so far it appears that I’m one of a kind.🙂 Various diverse scholars — e.g., Bruggemann, Thomas Romer, Nogalski, Calum Carmichael, David Christensen, Altar, among many others (Are you hurt that I did not list you, John? J/K) — display individual presuppositions and/or interpretative methodologies with which I identify, but none have arisen to claim the coveted prize of my endorsement yet! In fact, now that I think of it, at this stage of my career, I can hardly imagine anyone actually wanting me to say that they’ve gotten it mostly right!🙂

  3. Adam Couturier says:

    Roland Murphy would probably be my choice. He has deeply impacted the way that I read the wisdom literature (although, I find his take on S of S difficult to accept), and most often my views align with his.

  4. John Anderson says:

    Doug: I look forward to your response.

    Adam: Can you give me a thumbnail sketch on Murphy’s view of Song of Songs (which, incidentally, contains my favorite verse in all of the Hebrew Bible to say aloud in Hebrew . . . Songs 1:1 — beautiful alliteration throughout).

  5. Adam Couturier says:

    First off, Murphy’s view is highly nuanced and there is so much there that needs to be commended. Murphy treats S of S as a collection of Love Poems, which can find its comparison with other love poems within the ANE, and primarily he feels that this book speaks to the blessing of human love.

    My trouble with Murphy’s take on S of S revolves around its treatment as Wisdom Literature. While Murphy does not consider S of S to be a wisdom book (I am not certain that it is either), he links the concept of wisdom together with eros. I am just not that convinced of the necessity of this approach. However, I need to spend more time with the S of S, before my semester resumes, and maybe another read of his Hermenia commentary will convince me. (It has been several years since I went through it, and some of my thoughts on wisdom have changed since I initially read it.).

  6. John Anderson says:

    Roy: Leave it to you to drain all the fun out of a simple exercise, buddy!

    You’re misreading the question I’m posing on two fronts:

    1) I very clearly say I am not on board with everything Brueggemann says and concludes. But, as a matter of percentages, he’s the closest. Again, this isn’t a matter of reality, just an imaginative question. Having read your work, I know that you cite others (as you should), so I find it unacceptable that you are unable to name someone. I’m not asking for your wholesale assent, but you have surely read someone with whom you can empathize.

    2) More germane, your riffing on the definition of “postmodernism” is of little real value in relation to the question at hand; postmodernism figures no where in the actual question itself and only arises in my discussion of Brueggemann as a reason I myself am attracted to Brueggemann’s work. Further, Nick’s question about postmodernism above and my response does not govern the question being asked here. Nick, I take it, was simply asking for clarification about Brueggemann and postmodernism. It has nothing to do with the question I pose. You could just as well select Julius Wellhausen (which I have a sneaking suspicion is the answer your rhetoric about postmodernity is masking–wink)!

    • Roy "Eli" Garton says:

      Who’s not having fun, John?! I know I am.🙂 So you caught me in my dodge of your initial question . . . well done. But in all honesty, it was your reply to Nick that most caught my attention. I just wanted to dispell the notion that postmodern epistemology precludes historical critical endeavors.

      To be even more brutally honest, were it not for your comment to Nick, I probably wouldn’t have posted a comment . . . if only for the simple fact that I haven’t gravitated to any particular scholar’s work in the way you describe. True, as all scholars must do, I deal with the extant secondary literature on any given topic, but I rarely do so with any interest toward the scholar who produced it. I read the research, critique it, make an assessment, then move on. The most I do is try to keep in mind when a scholar was writing; this allows me to be aware of the contextual proclivities which may be influencing a scholar’s presuppositions. To do otherwise (i.e., to assess how closely a scholar works to my own paradigms), I suggest, lends one toward favoritism of a particular scholar’s work, which I try to avoid. One shouldn’t accept what Von Rad says — or “Wellhausen” (No fair, bringing up an old inside joke with no context, John!) — simply because he’s Von Rad. I’m sure you would agree, John. Now please don’t get me wrong, here: I’m not saying that this is what you’re endorsing; nor do I mean to imply that you feel this way toward Brueggemann. Rather, I’m just expressing one the reasons why I struggle to answer you primary question . . . even if you do find my not answering it to be “unacceptable.”

      Regardless, John, sorry about muddy-ing up the waters of a truly imaginative discussion. Fortunately, it appears that your other readers will carry this post to success.🙂

  7. Doug Chaplin says:

    Well, I’ve spent some time thinking (my thoughts are somewhat distracted at the moment since the front page of my blog seems to have been hacked – and I haven’t worked out how to fix it). Some 15 years ago, I would have answered Tom Wright, because of his ability to move from wood to individual tree to wood again. Since then he seems to me to have become more combative, more careless and more conservative.

    I think that leaves me with Sanders, who I think is not only a wonderfully innovative and creative thinker, but one who can write English, and make thinking exciting.

  8. ben says:

    Interesting exercise John. It seems to be come up with a list of the most important elements of interpretation for you and then try to put a face to that list. For me, I would say that Walter Moberly best fits my concerns for biblical interpretation. Here’s my reasoning: 1) his careful and theologically oriented reading of texts, 2) his concern for interpreting the Bible not for its own sake, but for the church, 3) his concern to interpret the whole Christian Bible, and 4) his willingness to utilize historical critical insights but not be afraid to challenge a “consensus” if he feels it’s warranted. All these are very high on my list of important aspects of biblical interpretation.

  9. Rob Reid says:

    Excellent topic: My vote…. (drum roll): Warren Carter. I suppose its good that I start my doctoral program in 15 days and he will likely be my advisor🙂 But, really, I’m not just kissing butt, I would want to read the text through his lenses… so I suppose after several years of doctoral seminars and working with him, I will have a pretty good chance at getting close to his “lens.”

  10. John Anderson says:

    Doug: I am a big fan of Sanders. I met with him when we were both at Duke. Great guy, and quite funny. His work on the historical Jesus and covenantal nomism has very much influenced me.

    Rob: Hmmm, I thought I knew you better. I had you down for Marcion. I’ll change it to Gabler, since Roy already claimed Wellhausen (wink).

    Ben: Thanks for the contribution. I am looking forward to reading the Moberly volume soon.

    Rob: Good pick. I am familiar with Carter’s work on Matthew primarily, but his stuff on ’empire’ and the NT writings is great. You’re in good hands.

  11. mike says:

    hey, you’ve got a great blog here!

    brueggemann is a great choice, one i could easily make as well. i might have to go in another direction – jeffrey niehaus (i think that’s spelled correctly). he has consistently tried to integrate biblical backgrounds with meaningful biblical theology (as opposed to making the jump “FROM” backgrounds “TO” theology). his latest book, for example, is “ancient near eastern themes in biblical theology” (’08).

    if i picked a NT scholar, it would be gordon fee or david garland (must have at least 1 baptist!). i think they are prime examples of NT scholars who a) have a thorough knowledge of backgrounds, b)understand the impact of the hebrew bible on the NT, and c) make the move from exegesis to relevant theology. they’re sort of old school, but that’s fine by me.

    alright i’ll stop typing, though the caffeine coursing through my nephesh is trying not to let me

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