Biblical Theology?: Losing Sight of the Exegetical Trees for the Redemptive-Historical Forest

  1. In redemptive-historical exegesis there is a tendency to see a biblical-theological forest behind every exegetical tree. Redemptive-historical interpretation, especially when sensitive to exegetical echoes and backgrounds in a given text, is prone to overinterpretation, hearing echoes where none are sounded. For instance, in his sweeping book on the temple motif (and hardly the mission of the church), Greg Beale detects the influence of temple theology in Colossians 1 and 2 (Beale, Temple, 267-68). However, the primarily metaphor used to described the church and Christ in Colossians is that of the human body (cf. 1.18; 2.9-10, 19; 3.15). Here is a case of seeing the “forest” instead of the “tree,” the biblical-theological temple instead of the exegetical body. In fact, Paul’s concern in the letter is not so much the church’s expanding mission of temple construction and expansion as it is recognition of the thoroughly human and physical nature of the church. The reason for this is that Paul wants to correct the body-belittling acetic practices of the Colossians, which is rooted in their dualistic, deficient view of creation and Christ (2.16-23). Paul selects the body metaphor to drive home the point which is made in the Christ poem, creation is good and so is the body because Christ is the agent of all creation. Therefore, enjoy freedom in what you eat and drink, treat your body with honor, and do not enforce ascetic measures on others. Consider the “body” of Christ and glorify him for his creation, ecclesiastical and literal. Therefore, we must be cautious when we import valid biblical-theological themes invalidly into a text. The influence of a given themes must be weighed carefully against the immediate context of the letter, allowing for the appropriate exegetical constraints.

  1. There is a tendency to mark and meditate on the trees of the redemptive-historical forest instead of considering the exegetical tree in front of you. When detecting echoes and allusions in a given text, authorial intent is often derived by piecemealing an OT background from several disparate books. While this is certainly the case in some instances, there is a tendency to assimilate an OT composite that may not have been intended by the author. This attempt to be exegetically rigorous may in fact, be more reflective of modernist interpretive methods and not authorial intention. Moreover, the attempt to “do bibilical theology” may end up being more theology than biblical as “backgrounds” are given more wieght than the historical “foregrounds” of the given text.

Freakonomics and Faith

What do Freakonomics, Morphic Fields, and the Church have in common? Steven Levitt, author of the best-selling Freakonomics and Rupert Sheldrake, author of the Dogs That Know Thier Owners Are Coming Home and The New Science of Life, are both experts in their fields. Sheldrake and Levitt have centered thier careers on something that seminary students, pastors and theologians do well to heed.

An expert in developmental biology and pioneer of the concept of “morphic fields,” Sheldrake has devoted his scientific research to understanding the quotidian, “the everyday mysteries of life.” Developing scientific theories to explain such matters as why amuptees can feel sensations in their amputated limbs, why birds seem to always find thier way home, and why dogs can anticpate thier owners arrival, Sheldrake has devoted his work to the suff of everyday life. Whether or not we agree with his unorthodox methods and unusual claims, we must admire his attention to the details of life, his preoccupation with the normal.

Stephen Levitt, recent recipeint of the is attempting to explaing the “hidden side of everything” through economics. He wrestles with matters like, ‘What Makes A Perfect Parent’ and ‘Why Drug Dealers Still Live With Thier Moms’? Levitt’s analysis is certinaly thought-provoking and , at times, right on. An outstanding intellectual, Levitt has not settled for the ivory tower. Instead, like Sheldrake, he has devoted his capacities and insights to the stuff of everyday life.

Seminary students, pastors and theologians would do well to imitate the “rogue” attempts to translate academics into “everything”. When was the last time you tried to understand your pet or your parenting from a theological perspective? Beyond what developmental biology and freakonomics can offer, practical theology, integrating life with faith, sparks not only the intellect, but also the soul.

Morning by morning

Blazing color fills the air from changing leaves to the morning sunrise- red, yellow, orange and everything in between. The diversity is lovely. That we would feel the same way about the diversity of colors on flesh. It’s 6.39, the coffee just finished brewing. Ok, I’m back now, watching the steam rise from that ceramic mug, hearing the whir of Owen’s swing as it rocks him into shameless slumber. Mornings are good, especially when I take the time to soak them in. Nothing attempted or completed today will be worthwhile, truly satisfying, if I hurry through my morning. Morning sets the tone for afternoon and evening. It invites me to put my trust in the Lord my God to which I have to respond. Sometimes rejection or avoidance, other times wrestling, and hopefully, most often, acceptance.
The morning is a time of quiet. If I pause long enough to notice, I can carry some of that with me through the day. Quiet, something underrated in our day. Something we all secretly hunger for but are afraid of. Afraid of who we will see in the silence of our own thoughts. Who is it that we have really become over and against who we perceive ourselves to be? The disappearance of self. Calvin has said that there are two kinds of knowledge, the knowledge of God and knowledge of self. We are deficient on both accounts, not because of opportunity, our land is filled with that, but out of self-determined ignorance. We would rather be knowledgeable about what other insecure, self-determined ignorant people think about us.
The morning also offers peace, a peace which is not guaranteed by the quiet, nor by the morning. The context of a quiet morning can lead to an encounter of the grandest kind, an encounter with the morning-maker, the Creator of souls and bodies run ragged. If we are still enough, we can hear his voice, the one who spoke and the waters and flowed, the ground bloomed and the sky shone. It’s like we can reach back from the turbulence of John’s Apocalypse to the peace of the Garden. He sits with us when we sit, watches the steam billow from our coffee cup- even more amazing, he holds the coffee and water particles together for our enjoyment, the chair we sit in to ponder his presence, the lungs we breathe with to experience it all. He’s always been good. The morning invites us to see his goodness and to participate in his peace. The morning offers us this transport, from Revelation to Genesis, but only because it is subject to the Priest of Peace. Of course, not all mornings are such because the King of Peace has not yet returned to rule over the mornings of the new creation, but that will come. An endless age of mornings awaits us, and beckons us each day, to quell our fears and worries in the quiet and peace of the good and grand Creator.

This Morning I thought I lost my Thesis but instead I lost my faith

This morning I thought I lost my thesis, but instead I lost my faith. After some massive file transfers and syncing my new PDA/phone with the laptop, somehow, my thesis work was lost, stripped of footnotes and restored into a new file. For a while I thought I had lost some pretty valuable work I had done yesterday. I groaned out loud, searched the harddrive frantically, occasionally considering the rather self-reliant way I was going about “restoration”. This flustery faith-forgetting activity pushed we away from the object of my faith, Christ. Instead of pausing, acknowlegding God’s sovereignty and asking for his help, I plowed into thesis restoration and recovery without an ounce of faith. So many things in life are done that way. Of course, you cant really pray without ceasing but you can constantly live trusting God. Little things like this event this morning can undermine my trust in ways bigger than I think. This kind of do it yourself, don’t pray or trust God activity tends to snowball and before you know it you missed half a dozen devotions, are cold-hearted in worship, and cant figure out why. The small things matter. They are opportunities to trust in the Lord our God, to show off his sufficiency in thesis loss or restoration, having something or having nothing. I want to give Him glory for slowing me down enough to think about this and to ask, God, that you would help me trust you in the small things more, give me soul-stirring trust and intimacy with you, even when I think I’ve lost my thesis. Continue the work of restoration in my life, of restoring me to the image of my Creator. Don’t let me lose my faith over such petty things or at all. Increase my faith, Father.