Old Testament Theology Thursday (Crenshaw Edition)

This week’s installment comes from one of my former teachers at Duke, James Crenshaw (read my wonderful interview with him HERE). In his A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence, Crenshaw writes the following:

“The fundamental assumption lying behind divine testing is that God lacks a certain kind of knowledge, that is, precisely how men and women will act in trying circumstances. OF course, such ignorance arises from human freedom, which is itself a gift from the transcendent one. Therefore, the divine act of self-limitation has created the necessity for such testing. On the other hand, humans can use adversity as a crucible within which character is shaped. This is why the psalmist we have quoted above [Ps 26:2] openly invited God to pose a test, confident that he would emerge victorious. This devout believer actually welcomed the refining fire, for he was certain that the test would be fair. Not all instances of divine testing were of this order” (2-3).

Old Testament Theology Thursday (Eichrodt Edition)

This week’s installment of OT Theology Thursday is an oldie but a goodie (though I don’t agree with him on much): Walther Eichrodt, arguably the key figure to put OT theology back on the map in the early part of the twentieth century.

“The concept in which Israelite thought gave definitive expresion to the binding of the pepole to God and by means of which they established firmly from the start the particularity of their knowledge of him was the covenant. That the basis of the relationship with God can be regarded as embodied in a covenant from mosaic times has of course been sharply contested. Nevertheless, it can be demonstrated that the covenant-union between [YHWH] and Israel is an original element in all sources, despite their being in part in very fragmentary form. Indeed this is still true even of those passages where the word berit has disappeared altogether. The whole course of early Israelite history, in which the religious sense of solidarity is bound up with the Sinai tradition, affords further evidence of this” (36).

For Eichrodt, the center (die Mitte) of the Old Testament is the (Mosaic) covenant. In his view, this theme is so pervasive that one can take a cross-section of Israelite faith and belief at any time in its history and discern therein the importance of covenant. While I am at heart a covenant theologian (though my recent reading of Fretheim–see HERE–is tempering that a bit), I register serious disagreement with Eichrodt on this matter. First, the assumption that Israelite faith is consistent over time, and thus that it along with the covenant concept does not evolve, is problematic. Recent forays into the history of Israelite religion testify to its dynamic character. Second, to assert that anything, including covenant, is the center of the OT presumes too much unity. More recently scholars such as Erhard Gerstenberger (Theologies of the Old Testament), Walter Brueggemann, and others have noted the diversity of theologies (plural) in the Old Testament. No one concept rules the day. Regarding covenant specifically, it is hardly in evidence in the Wisdom Literature, thus straining Eichrodt’s argument that it is the consistent center of the entire OT. Relatedly, Eichrodt’s concept of the covenant is univocal. What about the Abrahamic or Davidic covenants? (Eichrodt understands the Abrahamic covenant as a later retrojection of the Mosaic covenant, meant to ground the covenant concept in the earliest period of Israel’s history). But why the exclusive focus on the Mosaic covenant to the detriment of these other covenants?

Eichrodt’s contribution to Old Testament theology is an important one, though one that has not stood the test of time it seems. Much of his writing bears troubling witness and hints to the time and place of his writing: Germany in the 1930s. But despite these significant issues, he remains an important voice in the conversation history, and story of Old Testament theology.

Creation Theology in the Old Testament: A Neglected Issue

I’ve just begun reading my friend Terry Fretheim’s volume God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon 2005). I’ve just finished the introduction (that’s still pages numbered with Roman numerals!) and I confess I find myself in entire agreement with Fretheim’s sentiments about the centrality of creation in the OT. I am, admittedly, a covenantal theologian; whereas Eichrodt emphasized the Mosaic covenant, I see the Ancestral covenant (Gen 12:1-3 and parallels in 26:2-5 and 28:13-15) as central. Or, to put it another way, I operate with a latent sense of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) as the organizing principle for the canon. While I wouldn’t say I have a conventional understanding of what that entails in comparison with others (at its most basic, I see Gen 12:1-3 as a blessing for Israel that ultimately has cosmic implications; see Moberly, Theology of the Book of Genesis and Gruneberg, Abraham, Blessing and the Nations on this point most recently, as well as a brief diddy in my forthcoming book), that is often the lens through which I read the biblical text. I have always understood creation as a part of this process . . . creation as a part of Heilsgeschichte. Those familiar with von Rad’s theology will see well where I am influenced by him. Yet upon reading just these first 10 pages in Fretheim’s volume, I have realized the need to refine my position. Or, to put it another way . . . Fretheim is spot on.

For Fretheim, creation is typically put in the service of salvation history; creation is subservient to it. Fretheim writes:

“Yet, the question remains as to the point at which this experience and Israel’s reflections upon it drew creation into its most basic confession of faith or was integrated with other key dimensions of the faith. It has probably been most common to suggest that Israel’s experience of redemption in the exodus events constituted the initial core of its faith, into which various other dimensions of the faith were grafted over time (such as creation.) To put it too baldly: [YHWH] is redeemer, therefore [YHWH] must be creator. An inference is then often drawn; namely, creation was theologically dependent upon redemption, or even subordinated to redemption, in Israel’s reflection and witness” (xv).

Fretheim challenges this conviction within scholarship in this way:

“That the Bible begins with Genesis, not Exodus, with creation, not redemption, is of immeasurable importance for understanding all that follows. At least from the perspective of the present shape of the biblical witness, creation is as basic and integral to Israelite faith and its confession as is the first article of the creed to Christians” (xiv).

He also cites two other seminal scholars on creation in the OT who, in my estimation, are precisely right. First, Rolf Knierim:

“[YHWH] is not the God of creation because he is the God of the humans or of human history. He is the God of the humans and of human history because He is the God of creation. . . . The most universal aspect of [YHWH’s] dominion i snot human history. It is the creation and sustenance of the world. This aspect is at the same time the most fundamental because creation does not depend on history or existence, but history and existence depond on and are measured against creation.”

and second Rolf Rendtorff:

“The Hebrew Bible begins with creation. Old Testament Theologies usually do not. How is that? The answer is obvious: because of the theology of the respective authors of Old Testament theologies.”

Let me be clear . . . Fretheim is not proposing to replace one proposed center–salvation history–with another, that being creation. He is seeking to show the primacy and centrality and undergirding nature of creation in the Old Testament’s theological vision of world and God. Creation provides the why of God’s engagement with and concern for creation, a concern that will pervade the entire OT. Again, this is how I have most often understood the issue: God’s purposes in and through Abraham and his family (Gen 12:1-3 and parallels) are a part of the divine desire to reclaim creation and all of its components, human and non-human. After the constant starts, restarts, and false starts in Gen 1-11, God chooses another mechanism, a covenant with Abraham, to bring about this same task. And while I have thought about it this way, Fretheim has already sharpened my thinking on the topic . . . and for that I am grateful. If the next 300 pages are as good as the first 10, then this will be a truly incredible and transforming book.

UPDATE: I’ve now read chapter 1, “Theological Perspectives.” Being well-acquainted with Fretheim’s The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, I was aware of the basic content of this chapter. But again, Fretheim is exactly spot on! He isolates three points of reference for creation: 1. originating creation (the beginning); 2. continuing creation (the task of creation is an ongoing one, both preserving and innovative); 3. completing creation (new creation). His statement that Genesis and Revelation form a creation inclusio around the entire Bible is a major and worthwhile point.

But most worthwhile in this chapter is the section on ‘Creation, Redemption, and Salvation.’ Redemption/salvation he sees is not an end but rather the means toward which God continues to work toward new creation.

He closes out the chapter by discussing–quite familiar to those who have read The Suffering of God–his idea of the God/creation relationship as one of relatedness. His discussion here, however, put an even sharper edge on the topic than his treatment in The Suffering of God. As I said above, I am at bottom a covenant theologian (though Fretheim is pressing me to rethink a more appropriate label, given that I do take into account the place and role of creation alongside covenant; neither one obliterates the other), but Fretheim’s notice that God’s relatedness precedes covenant in the flow of the biblical text is, while seemingly innocuous enough, a major point with some significant impact. I continue to think through the implications of this. It does not decimate the notion of covenant as a vital interpretive category in comprehending the biblical text, but it does force one to nuance how that label is employed.

Terry Fretheim is one of only two biblical scholars (the other, of course, being Walter Brueggemann) who are, in my view, ‘just so dang right about everything’!

Old Testament Theology Thursday! (Childs Edition)

Today is a goodie from the late Brevard Childs in his little book Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Fortress Press, 1985):

The initial point to be made is that the canonical approach to Old Testament thoelogy is unequivocal in asserting that the object of theological reflection is the canonical writing of the Old Testament, that is, the Hebrew scriptures which are the received traditions of Israel. The materials for theological reflection are not the events or experiences behind the text, or apart fro mthe construal in scripture by a communty of faith and practice. however, because the biblical text continually bears witness to events and reactions in the life of Israel, the literature cannot be isolated from its ostensive reference (6).

I am appreciative for what Childs says here: the emphasis is most fruitfully placed on the canonical text. Where I disagree with Childs–and where I continue to be unsatisfied with his canonical methodology–is in his confidence that the larger canon intentionally serves as the hermeneutical lens through which one must interpret various texts. For instance, elsewhere in this tiny volume he argues about a topic near and dear to my heart–the ethically problematic tales of the patriarchs–suggesting that in the biblical canon the emphasis is not on their ethical infelicities but instead on the grace of God in choosing such figures and remaining steadfast to them. While I don’t disagree with the idea that God’s grace is in evidence (abundance!) in the ancestral narratives, I am quite hesitant to suggest with any sort of confidence that these later texts (for instance, Psalm 105, among others) are intentionally reinterpreting the Genesis texts. Why could the opposite trajectory not be equally, if not more, authoritative? Could the Genesis texts be offering a comment on Psalm 105 et. al.? I have never been convinced that the way one adjudicates the direction of interpretation and influence is anything but arbitrary. But in the end, I am deeply appreciative for Childs’ emphasis on the importance of the final form of the text as the locus of Israel’s theological reflection and thus the necessary starting point for the interpreter’s theological reflection as well.

Thoughts?

Old Testament Theology Thursday!

Many bloggers have series that they run each week. This marks my attempt to begin such a series (and to utilize some alliteration!), where each week I will offer a particularly interesting, significant, or thought-provoking comment on the nature of Old Testament theology. This inaugural edition comes from (surprise, surprise) Walter Brueggemann:

“I shall insist, as consistently as I can, that the God of Old Testament theology as such lives in, with, and under the rhetorical enterprise of this text, and nowhere else and in no other way.  This rhetorical enterprise operates with ontological assumptions, but these assumptions are open to dispute and revision in the ongoing rhetorical enterprise of Israel” (Theology of the Old Testament, 66)

Thoughts? Discuss!

Walter Brueggemann Defends His Method for OT Theology

In 1998 a volume was written with a veritable who’s who of Hebrew Bible studies taking part, all to honor Walter Brueggemann.  This volume, God in the Fray (Fortress Press, read my review HERE), concludes with a brief essay by Brueggemann himself as he reflects upon what he has tried to do in his OT theology.  I found this part particularly interesting:

“I have increasingly found thematic approaches to biblical theology wanting, not only because they are inescapably reductionist, but because they are characteristically boring and fail to communicate the open-ended vitality of the text.  It is for that reason that I decided, early on, to focus not on substantive themes but on verbal processes that allow for dynamism, contradiction, tension, ambiguity, and incongruity–all those habits that belong peculiarly to interactionism.  What I hope I have offered is an interactionist model of theological e xposition congruent with this believing community that is endlessly engaged with God, a God who is available for the extremities of praise and complaint, which are Israel’s characteristic modes of speech in this conflictual engagement.  The importance of this move from theme(s) to processes cannot be overstated for me, because the interactive process seems crucial both to the Subject of Old Testament theology and to the pluralistic, deprivileged context of our own work” (310).

AND

“The gains that I suggest are commensurate with what will surely emerge as points of contention and continued dispute. I do not imagine that I have been able to see things convincingly through to the end.  So I am glad to acknowledge at least four points where the argument is vulnerable, though other such points will surface in our discussion.  I regard these as vulnerable points because they propose fresh perspectives for which we lack adequate categories.  I incline to think that the vulnerability is only because things are not carried thorugh, not because they are wrongheaded.  It remains to be seen, of course, whether that judgment turns out to be acceptable to my colleagues” (313-314).

AND LASTLY, (almost as though he were anticipating Waltke) . . .

“There is now an important insistence . . . that Old Testament theology must be deeply and exclusively linked to the New Testament because, in Childs’s terms, the two testaments are ‘two witnesses to Jesus Christ.’ . . . A student of the Old Testament, however, cannot help but notice the disjucntion and disconnection from one testament to the other, so that the theological claims of the Old Testament do not obviously or readily or smoothly or without problem move to the New Testament.  Indeed, if we are to claim some kind of continuity–as any Christian reading surely must–it is a continuity that is deeply hidden and endlessly problematic.  For that reason, and given the intensely and consistently iconoclastic propensity of the Old Testament text, it may be suggested that the Old Testament stands as a critical principle over against any easy claims of New Testament faith, so that the God of Israel is not easily reduced to or encompassed by Christian claims.  After all of the adjustments from the faith of Israel to the faith of the church there is yet a deep ‘otherwise,’ which is uncontained and undomesticated, that must be acknolwedged” (317-318).

Thoughts?

Bruce Waltke on Ideology and Methodology in Biblical Theology

(see HERE for my post describing Waltke’s critique of Brueggemann’s theology)

I am extremely interested in the question of how one constructs an OT theology.  What method(s) should be used?  Is it a history of religions approach a la Eichrodt?  A history of traditions similar to von Rad?  A canonical approach akin to Childs?  A metaphorical/rhetorical theology such as Brueggemann?  Because of this interest, I was eager to crack open my new copy of Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007) and look at his method a bit.  Here’s what I found . . .

Waltke sees three doctrines as vital and operative for biblical theology (39):
1) Revelation
2) Inspiration
3) Illumination of the Scriptures by the Spirit of God

These three doctrines lead to “four ideological and methodological stances”:
1) Biblical theology is a branch of theology, not of history
2) The Bible is authoritative and infallible for faith
3 The locus of revelation for theological reflection is text, not event
4) The Bible is a unity

Concerning this second set of four, I am in total agreement with Waltke on #1 (see HERE for an earlier post on the topic).  On #2 I would press a bit, namely because of his opening two sentences in that section: “The Bible is from God, and God does not lie or mislead.  Therefore, the Bible is a revelation that is authoritative and infallible for our faith and practice” (41).  If this is the case, I don’t see how he can glean a portrait of God that is consistent, let alone one that sees God as consistent.  Those familiar with my own scholarship will also know I would equivocate on the concept of God being beyond using deception.  I am, however, in good company; J.J.M. Roberts, for instance, has a formative article entitled “Does God Lie?” . . . and I have surveyed a host of literature on the topic in the opening chapter of my dissertation.  Again, I do not see how Waltke can hold the entire biblical text is authoritative but not be aware of places, such as in the Deuteronomistic History, or Jeremiah, or many other places, where God is involved in some way with duplicity.  Perhaps that is why he has to fault Brueggemann for his exegesis!  On #3 I am also largely in agreement.  See the post linked to in #1 for clarification.  And I also agree with Waltke on #4.

What are your thoughts on Waltke’s systematization of the task of biblical/OT theology?  And how would you construct an OT theology?

Bruce Waltke on Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament

Today I received two volumes from Zondervan (thanks Andrew Rogers!); one was Bruce Waltke’s 2007 An Old Testament Theology.  I still remember hearing at SBL 2008 in Boston that Waltke really pressed and challenged Brueggemann’s massive Theology of the Old Testament.  And ever since SBL , when I sat in on a panel discussion on Waltke’s volume of which Brueggemann was a respondent (and a hilarious one at that!) I have been quite anxious to see what it is Waltke says about Brueggemann. 

Here are some of the more interesting and thought-provoking quotations from Waltke; I would love for Brueggemann to respond in print:

“The Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann has many strengths, not least of which is his magisterial survey of the discipline, demonstrating his profound scholarship.  his style is eloquent with flashes of brilliance, but he hinders his communication by unnecessary abstractions and neologisms.  His theology is salted with insights into the importance of rhetoric and with applications of the biblical faith to current social issues, but he spoils his applications by his flawed epistemology . . . ” (69)

AND

“With regard to epistemology . . . Brueggemann embraces what he calls a ‘post-liberal, non-foundational approach.’  By this he means that he rejects both historical criticism and the orthodox confessions of the church.  He complains that the ‘practical effect of this [historical criticism] enterprise was to relativize the revelatory claims of the text and treat it like any other book.’  By defeault, however, Brueggemann’s own reasoning, unaided by the Spirit, becomes his final frame of reference for knowing.  Without recognizing the work of the Spirit in his epistemology: ‘the authority of the [biblical] witness is grounded in nothing more and nothing less than the willingness of the text community to credit, believe, trust, and take seriously this testimony.’  In other words, he relativizes the authority of Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ and his apostles in the New Testament solely to the reader’s response” (69).

AND

“In addition to shifting the authority of the text away from a Spirit-empowered testimony to the willingness of the community, Brueggemann also shifts it away to the interpreter.  Since there is no interest-free interpretation, whether canonical or critical, he argues, the interpreter must ‘stay engaged in an adjudicating process.’  However, by that deft move he shifts authority away from the text to the interpreter” (70).

AND

“Brueggemann’s conceptualization o fthe biblical theologian’s task is rooted in his conviction that the biblical testimonies about I AM contradict each other. . . . In Brueggemann’s view the task of the theologian is to expose and reflect theologically upon competing claims that God is good and that God is not good.  . . . Brueggemann draws the heretical conclusion from these contradictory witnesses that there is an internal contradiction in God himself.  Is it too harsh to recall that the Serpent also denied that God is good and that Cain could not affirm that God was just?  (71).”

AND LASTLY . . .

“Brueggemann draws his heretical theology from his flawed exegesis: he bases his understanding of the core testimony on adjectives and verbs, not on the accredited method of determining the meaning of words in their literary and historical contexts.  In his method of interpretation, the reader’s response always trumps the author’s intention.  . . . Brueggemann’s reading does not take account of the a priori rights of the canonical writer and lacks sympathy with I AM’s repugnance of unbelief and sin.  In short, his theology fails because his exegesis is inadequate” (72).

Harsh critique, indeed.  I tend to agree with Brueggemann, still, that God is far more complex and indeed conflicted.  I would say Waltke’s exegesis is inadequate, not Brueggemann’s, in this regard.  Those who have read my work will be well aware of why I think this to be the case.  Yet I also agree strongly with Waltke that biblical scholarship–here, theology–should have some relevance and import for the church (see HERE and HERE).  I disagree with Waltke, however, because I see this as exactly what Brueggemann is doing.  Brueggemann is, rightly, all about pressing communities of faith to wrestle with the complexities of the text, and especially, of God.

So, your thoughts?

IVP Academic Interviews John Goldingay about His Three Volume OT Theology

(I have reproduced the following from the current IVP Academic newsletter.  Also, I will be reviewing all three volumes of Goldingay’s OT theology here in the coming months!).

Reid: Well, as you note in your preface, you’ve been saved from the embarrassment of not completing the third volume of your Old testament Theology!  For our readers who are not so familiar with your project, would you explain briefly how this third volume relates to the previous two?

Goldingay: I think we shoudl explain what I thought might embarrass me–I was aware of the warning in James about announcing what you plan to do today and tomorrow when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring!  The subtitle of the third volume is Israel’s Life. So it’s about the life God invited and challenged Israel to live.  The difference from the other volumes is that it focuses more on us, on our response to God.  In light of what God did for us (volume one) and who God is (volume two), it concerns itself with Francis Schaeffer’s question, “How should we then live?”

Reid: Some readers will want to know how you went about your writing of these three volumes.  With a detailed map of where you were headed?  With an array of books spread out around you?  With a goal of so many pages per day?

Goldingay: I originally imagined I would write the kind of theology that has a chapter on God and a chapter on Israel and a chapter on humanity and so on, but I realized that this wouldn’t take seriously the way the Old Testament itself does theology; the New Testament is the same in this respect.  It works by telling Israel’s story.  Indeed, telling Israel’s story is where it starts.  So I decided that the first volume needed to be on the theological implications of that story.  Then there could be a volume on theological topics in that more general sense, and then a third volume on life with God.  So I had no detailed maps, and no array of books really, because I wanted to let the Old Testament itself set the agenda.  So I started reading it!  And set myself to writing seven hundred words a day.  Then when I had done my own reading and thinking and writing, I went to the books.  That’s the way I tell students to write their papers, too.

Reid: What are some notable discoveries you made in the course of writing these volumes?

Goldingay: Last night in class we were looking at the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and it reminded me fo the way the Old TEstament uses narrative to discuss tricky theological issues such as the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  We get in a mess when we try to “resolve” that kind of question in conceptual terms, but narrative makes it possible to walk around the question and look at it from various angles without pretending to “solve” it.  That’s in volume one.  In connection with volume two, I kept reflecting on the fact that the Old Testament’s default way of speaking about forgiveness is as God “carrying” our sin. That’s really profound, and it helps us see how God was relating to Israel through the Old Testament story and into the New Testament story, to see what God was doing on the cross, and to see how God keeps relating to us.  In volume three, when I began I was aware of the way our categories such as ethics and worship aren’t biblical ones, and I was pleased with the idea of thinking in terms of life with God, life with one another and life as selves.

Reid: You say, “The Torah . . . . is a vision rather than a law code or even a program for reform.”  In effect, our focus should not be on how Torah’s laws were implemented in Israel but on the “understanding of God, the world, the social order and morality” they embody.  Could you talk a bit about that?

Goldingay: I guess a major thing here is that I got quite angry at the way we assume in our culture–our Christian culture–that we have a proper understanding of marriage, family, work, worship, local community, nation and so on, and that these pre-Christian Israelites were so primitive in their understanding, whereas actually we are in a mess in all these areas and the Old Testament has so much to teach us.

Reid: You draw a striking contrast between the inwardness of Western spirituality and our sense of the self, and the “sense of outwardness, external expression, noise and activity” that characterizes spiritual life in the Old Testament.  Do we need a change of course under the tuteledge of the Old Testament?

Goldingay: I don’t see much basis or support for our “inward” approach in the Old Testament or the New Testament. But both Testaments also indicate that God puts up with us living in a way that reflects our needs, and with us relating to God in the way we need to because of what we are.  But once again, the Scriptures offer us whole new mind-expanding, life-expanding possibilities.

Reid: David Plotz summed up his reading of the Old Testament in Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible. A recent reviewer likened the book “to watching a frat boy try to make spaghetti for the first time without a recipe.” I think many Christians today would resonate with some of Plotz’s unmediated experience.  What kind of recipe does your Old Testament Theology offer these frat boys?

Goldingay: One thing that comes home to me more and more is that we think the Bible’s story is about us.  Actually it’s about God.  Thus when people in the Bible do gross things, remember that this is showing us how God perseveres with us anyway, not offering us examples to avoid–still less examples to follow!  Related to this is the fact I have hinted at, that Christians are inclined to think that we have things basically right and therefore that the Bible is to be expected to confirm what we think, whereas actually, when the Bible says something very different from what we think, that is when life starts getting interesting.

Reid: Some evangelicals have recently been having heated discussions about the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament’s use of the Old Testament.  In that context, do you think a Matthew or Paul knew what you know–or think you know–about the Old Testament’s theology? And does it matter?

Goldingay: I wonder if there are two issues here–one about theology, one about interpretation. Spurgeon said the Bible is like a lion.  So Matthew and Paul are looking at the lion from different angles, and so am I.  We will all describe the lion in different ways.  O course the church has decided that their ways were among the right ones, with Mark, Luke, and so on.  Mine might be different from theirs, as theirs are different from each other’s, though I might still be offering a true angle on the lion.  The interpretation issue is that Matthew and Paul aren’t trying to do exegesis of the Old Testament.  They aren’t trying to understand it in its own right.  They are trying to see what insight it offers on Jesus, on the church and so on.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I am trying to do something different.  I am trying to get at its own agenda so as to let it rework ours.  There is a related issue raised by current discussion of “theological interpretation of Scripture.” For many people this means reading the Scriptures in light of the church’s doctrinal tradition: the creeds and so on. That isn’t necessarily in itself wrong, but it has proved really dangerous because it means subordinating the Scriptures to the church and not taking any notice of the Scriptures’ own agenda.

Reid: Have there been any responses to your first two volumes, that have surprised, challenged, gratified, or even amused you?

Goldingay: I loved Stephen Lennox’s comment that “reading John Goldingay on the Old Testament is like listening to a lover talk about his beloved.” I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful observation.

Reid: But he also says, “Goldingay has precious little good to say about the church.  By my reckoning, most of his comments about it in the second volume are negative.” He thinks this is “understandable, but it is not defensible” (Books & Culture, July/August 2009). How do you respond?

Goldingay: Well, he goes on to explain that the reason it is not defensible is that it doesn’t fit with what the New Testament says about the church theologically.  I of course accept what the New Testament says about the church theologically.  I am reflecting the fact that we as the church don’t live up to what the New Testament says about us.

Reid: You are quoted as being “fanatically and fervently enthusiastic about every aspect of studying the Old Testament and its significance for the church today.” Why do you think so many preachers don’t seem to share that enthusiasm?

Goldingay: It is the effect of biblical criticism and of dispensationalism.

Reid: Well, that’s an equitable distribution of blame! Are you relieved to be done with this project?  Will you miss it?

Goldingay: No.  I don’t think I think in either of those terms.

What is the Best Way to do Old Testament Theology? A Survey of Four Perspectives

(See my earlier post HERE on the topic of OT theology as [a]historical discipline).

As I am writing my dissertation on an Old Testament theology related topic, and as I prepare to do some TA work Bill Bellinger’s OT theology seminar this Fall, I find myself continually returning to a question on method.  The question, for me, is less what is/constitutes OT theology and more how is one to do/construct an OT theology.  One can learn very much, I feel, by attending to the history of research on the topic.  Reflecting on this question, I will here survey four responses briefly, those of Eichrodt, von Rad, Childs, and Brueggemann.

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (2 vols.), 1930s
Eichrodt’s theology is systematic in its organization, grouped into three parts: God and world, God and man, God and people.  OT theology for him is an historical (though not chronological), and scientific (though not confessional) exercise.  He sees the task of OT theology as being “to construct a complete picture of the OT realm of belief” (I, 25).  Eichrodt does this by what he calls a “double aspect,” emphasizing 1) comparative material from ancient Near Eastern religions; 2) a forward looking trajectory to the NT and Jesus as fulfillment of OT precursors.  Eichrodt takes a cross-section approach, arguing one can ‘cut’ at any given point in Israel’s historical narrative and there discern the unifed structure of OT belief.  His approach is thus, in this way, synchronic, and it assumes a basic unified structure to OT thought over time.  The conceptual center Eichrodt identifies as the central organizing principle of the OT is the Mosaic covenant, the encounter between YHWH and Israel with formative implications.  Other covenants, such as the Abrahamic or Davidic, are merely later retrojections of this primal covenant concept. 

Problems with Eichrodt’s View
1) Too much unity.  Eichrodt does not take into account adequately the posibility of development over time (as does von Rad, below).  By assuming a continuity across the entire history of OT thought, there is no emphasis on the reshaping and reappropriation of, say, Exodus traditions that are now well known in scholarship.

2) Covenant as the center.  Related to #1 above, there is simply too much unity.  Eichrodt’s covenant is univocal.  What about the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Noachide covenants?  Is it adequate to call them retrojections?  This emphasis on unity has also been challenged by the advent of bi-polar OT theologies or even a great multiplicity of theologies, as Erhard Gerstenberger argues for in his Theologies of the Old Testament.

3) Supersessionism. Writing in Germany in the 1930s, such rhetoric may be understood.  But it is still inexcusable.  While his NT trajectory may be defensible based upon the simple fact this is an Old Testament theology (though I am still not so forgiving), his rhetoric is not.  Not only is his theology full of critiques and jabs at Judaism, which has developed into a degenerate faith, but he also goes so far as to call Judaism a “torso.”  I cannot accept this.

Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (2 vols.), 1950-60s
Von Rad rejects Eichrodt’s systematic way of doing OT theology because he believes the OT’s own way of doing theology is non-systematic.  He proposes a diachronic model, namely tradition history.  He argues that ancient Israel’s faith traditions developed and grew over time.  As a result, there is no unifying center to the OT; one can and should rather speak of theologies.  The task of the OT theologian is to identify and trace out the various traditions and their development.  Israel’s faith, then, is grounded in a theology of history with its starting point being YHWH’s action in history.  Toward this end, von Rad begins with what he calls the kleine Credo, tiny statements of faith that narrate the basic picture of OT salvation history.  The two kleine Credo he emphasizes are Deut 26:5-10. and Josh 24:2f.  These creedal statements narrate the same events: ancestral promise, exodus, land.  Sinai is absent in these creeds and thus has a separate development.  The importance of doing theology in this way for von Rad is that it honors the order of events as ancient Israel has set them out.  Reactualization (or, the making pertinent and continual reshaping and updating of a tradition in each successive generation) is seminal for von Rad.

Problems with von Rad
1) Too much diversity.

2) Heilsgeschichte seems to function as the implicit center for von Rad.

3) Is OT theology the same thing as history of traditions?

4) Wisdom literature does not fit nicely into his theology; it is not about salvation history.

5) The credo theory is little held to anymore today.  Rather than being small statements of faith out of which ancient Israel’s historical narratives grew and developed, they can just as well (and are likely better viewed as) later, distillations of an already expansive narrative.

Brevard Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 1985.
Childs’ opening chapter on methodology is worth the price of this volume alone.  Literally.  In it, Childs notes several problems with prior attempts at OT theology: 1) is one’s task to write an OT theology, a history of Israelite religions, or both?; 2) an overemphasis on variety and growth has led to an inability to see any sort of coherence; 3) OT theology has failed to engage the question of how concrete communities of faith have heard and appropriated these texts; 4) the relation of OT theology to Judaism and the NT remains ill-defined.  As a result of these points, he says the field is at a stalemate.  As a way forward Childs advances the canonical approach, whose basis is the received traditions of Israel located in the Hebrew Bible, and not the (reconstructured) events or experiences lying behind the text.  Childs argues that canonization represents the final step in a process of hermeneutical activity that establishes the scope of what is and is not authoritative literature.  The final form of the text, for Childs, still preserves many elements of ancient Israel’s earlier theological thought and its development.  It is now given a new interpretive context, though, in its place in the canon.  Now, Childs is quite inconsistent across all his volumes over what constitutes canon (see Brueggemann on this).  Here, canon seems to mean an exercise in intertextuality (very Midrashic!) in which Scripture interprets Scripture.  Therefore, tradition-historical exercises like those of von Rad are absent and inconsequential for Childs; according to him, they are not only reconstructions but also lie outside the bounds of  Israel’s faith.

Problems with Childs
1) Which/whose canon?  There is no single canon for Christianity; the canon varies by faith community.  How is one to adjudicate what canonical shape of the text is or is not authoritative?

2) What is meant by canon?  Childs is inconsistent across his works on what he means by canon.  In Introduction to the OT as Scripture, it means the literary shape of the book.  In OT Theology in a Canonical Context, it means an intertextual exercise.  In his earlier Exodus commentary in the OTL series, it is an exercise in reception history. 

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. 1997.
Brueggemann is writing after what Leo Perdue has called The Collapse of History (noting the move away from history for a variety of reasons in OT theology/study in general).  Brueggemann’s Theology is itself postmodern, perhaps the first truly postmodern OT theology we have.  Methodologically, Brueggemann’s work may be described as a “theology of metaphor” or a “theology of rhetoric” in that he intentionally brackets out discussions of history and focuses upon what the text says and how the text says it.  Towards this end, he employs the image of a courtroom to talk about the witness of the OT, focusing upon Israel’s solicited testimony, counter testimony, unsolicited testimony, and lastly, embodied testimony.  Given this methodological stance, Brueggemann is very happy–indeed, interested and purposeful in–maintaining the tensions of the text.  He notes, in good postmodern fashion, the plurality of interpretive strategies and possibilities that pervade OT study.  At bottom, though, Brueggemann seems very much to be a covenant theologian and reads the text through this lens.

Problems with Brueggemann
1) Is OT theology entirely ahistorical?  Can it be?

2) Does the image of a courtroom cause an unintended problem by fostering, unintentionally, a sense of ‘legalism’ in the OT?

3) Does a truly postmodern OT theology lead, again, to too much diversity?

Reflection
I take a little from everyone.  Each has difficulties, which I note, but also areas that are to be commended.  Here is what I glean:

From Eichrodt . . . . an appreciation of the covenantal concept as central from the OT and Israel’s faith.

From von Rad . . . . an agreement with his focus on reactualization and development of the traditions, as well as emphasizing that one must honor them in the order preserved by ancient Israel.

From Childs . . . . the realization that the final form of the text is the beginning place (the raw material, perhaps) for OT theology, and that the final form preserves therein earlier stages of Israel’s faith development.

From Brueggemann . . . . an appreciation for the emphasis on rhetoric as a place of focus (contra Childs’ wholly intertextual approach in the volume discussed above) and not seeking an easy smoothing out of the tensions in the text but rather allowing them–even those concerning God’s character–to stand and have meaning.

What are your thoughts on Eichrodt?  Von Rad?  Childs?  Brueggemann?  What do you take from each?  And, most importantly, how do you (or, how should we) do OT theology?