Exploring Church History

Reflections on History and Theology

Category: History of Biblical Interpretation (page 1 of 2)

Summer Reading List

As summer is fast approaching, here are the books on my shelf waiting to be read!

Irena Backus, Leibniz, Protestant Theologian

1. Irena Backus, Leibniz: Protestant Theologian

Though best known for his philosophy, Backus offers a different perspective by examining Leibniz’s theology. Backus works through the relationship of Leibniz’s Lutheran theology and his philosophy, leading up to the Enlightenment.

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The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment

I’m pleased to announce that The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Since the days of the Enlightenment, one of the most significant aspects of interpreting the Bible has been the question of how God accommodated his revelation to humanity. Since God is infinite and humans are finite, God had to somehow communicate with his creatures in a way they could understand. Ever since the time of Augustine, accommodation has been a crucial doctrine for interpreters of the Bible who also seek to understand the Bible’s authority, and it remains so today. However, the contemporary discussion of the doctrine is hampered by an ignorance of its history and how a seventy-five-year debate reshaped accommodation for the modern era. My book aims to redress this misunderstanding.

In this book I set out to fill a lacuna in the history of biblical interpretation. To date, there is no work on the doctrine of accommodation during the Enlightenment. Given that eighteenth-century Germany witnessed the greatest concentrated discussion of accommodation, all in the context of historical criticism, this void in the history of biblical interpretation is quite unfortunate. My book meets this need by examining the accommodation debate of 1761–1835 in conjunction with the German Enlightenment and the rise of historical criticism.

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Grammatical-Historical Exegesis in Historical Perspective

In his book Edwards the Exegete (see my review here), Doug Sweeney gives the following brief but illuminating description of the shift that took place with the rise of “grammatical-historical exegesis,” which holds sway in liberal-theological and many evangelical circles today:

As a host of theologians have bemoaned in recent years, Christians lost something crucial in the triumph of grammatical-historical exegesis and its rather new conception of the literal sense of Scripture. They lost their old conviction that the Bible hangs together by the power of the Spirit. Thus they lost their old facility for interpreting the scope and larger meanings of the canon. . . . Ancient history, not the knowledge and love of God has now become the holy grail of exegesis.[1]

In contrast, Sweeney suggests that Edwards, who was interpreting Scripture “on the edge of the Enlightenment,” can offer something that responds to this shift: “a learned and creative model of biblical exposition that is critical and edifying, historical and spiritual.”[2] Edwards is certainly not the only exegete to offer something. One could look to several biblical interpreters in church history and find examples of exegesis aimed at both the knowledge and the love of God. Edwards, however, is a particularly interesting example because he lived during a transition into more critical methods of reading the Bible, and yet while he found the new learning fascinating, he still read Scripture in ways that resonated with exegesis for centuries preceding him.

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Take Him or Leave Him: A Review of Patrick Gray’s Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

Partick Gray, Paul as a Problem in History and CultureHave you ever wanted to know what people really think of you? What are they saying when you leave the room? What words are whispered when they think no one is listening?  Well, if you are Paul, here is your chance.

Patrick Gray provides us with an interesting take on an important issue. Paul as a Problem in History and Culture (Baker Academic, 2016; source: publisher) reads like a behind-the-scenes look at everyone who ever said something bad about Paul. The work is a thorough analysis of the who’s who of Paul’s critics.

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Recasting Sola Scriptura: Allen and Swain’s Reformed Catholicity

Allen and Swain - Reformed CatholicityIn my review of Mark Noll’s book, In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492–1783, I described Noll’s discussion of how American colonists transformed the sola scriptura principle of “the Bible supreme” into “the Bible only.” That story recounts some negative consequences of such a shift and also raises certain theological questions beyond the purview of Noll’s book. In Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2015), Michael Allen and Scott Swain make a similar observation about Protestants, but they look at it from the viewpoint of theologians, pointing to dangers with sola scripture from a Reformed point of view and addressing some of the very theological issues raised in Noll’s book (though not interacting with his work directly).

What exactly do they mean by the term catholicity? They explain that they understand catholicity not in the narrower sense of Roman Catholic but in the early-church sense of the church catholic, or the church universal. As J. Todd Billings describes in his afterword to the book, this approach to theology is catholic in the sense that “it gives a Trinitarian (Nicene) account that holds to the cosmic centrality of Jesus Christ as the mediator between Creator and creation (Chalcedonian)” (152). Those who appreciate the discipline of church history can likewise appreciate their desire to root their modern theological program in the theology of the ancient church councils.

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A Review of Mark Noll, In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life

Mark Noll - In the Beginning Was the WordLiving in what some call a post-Christian society, one might expect the Bible to have receded from public life by this time. While it might still have some influence in small enclaves of believers, it would rarely be seen in the public discourse. And to some degree this is true. Yet even in recent presidential campaigns and inaugural addresses, the Bible still shows up. Its lingering influence points to a long, complex history of the Bible’s place in American public life.

Eminent religious historian Mark Noll traces the early part of this history in his book In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492–1783 (Oxford University Press, 2016; source: publisher). So much could be said about the Bible in America, and Noll seeks to narrow his discussion by focusing on how the Bible influenced public life—that is, “to show how such influences shaped the history of Scripture for political, imperial, and national purposes” (5).

As one expects from Noll, he provides a very readable account of how Americans used the Bible in public discourse. Inevitably, he must be selective, and many aspects of the history of biblical interpretation stand beyond the scope of the volume (e.g., exploring debates over principles of exegesis, examining shifts in the commentarial tradition). But his selections form a coherent tale that illuminates the shifts within the increasingly sticky relationship between the Bible and politics. Noll gives us an overarching view of the story of the Bible in American public life and provides insightful historical analysis along the way.

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Sweeney’s “Edwards the Exegete” and “the Real Jonathan Edwards”

Edwards the ExegeteDouglas Sweeney - Edwards the Exegete represents a crowning achievement of a dozen years of studying Jonathan Edwards. Doug Sweeney, who was my doctoral advisor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and who runs a helpful blog on Edwards, has done Edwards scholars and followers a tremendous service in this volume, pulling back the curtain on a foundational aspect of Edwards’ life and thought that has generally been ignored. As Sweeney puts it succinctly, “We fail to comprehend Edwards’ life, thought, and ministry when viewing them apart from his biblical exegesis” (ix).

This monograph offers readers the first synthesis of Edwards’ exegesis across his entire corpus. Other volumes have explored aspects of Edwards’ corpus—particularly Stephen Stein’s fine introductions to Edwards’ biblical manuscripts printed in Yale University Press’s Works of Jonathan Edwards—or examined Edwards’ approach to particular parts of the canon. But Sweeney offers a truly groundbreaking study in analyzing the whole, based on a remarkable mastery of the primary and secondary literature on Edwards and his world, visible in the length and detail of the book’s notes.

As indicated by the volume title, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2015; source: publisher), Sweeney aims to present Edwards in his broader exegetical and cultural context without outright commending or denigrating Edwards as a biblical exegete. He admits, “I am not an Edwardsean,” and he instead seeks to approach the topic “as a historian, . . . transport[ing] thoughtful readers into Edwards’ biblical world, helping them understand and sympathize with Edwards’ exegesis, from the inside out, before resuming critical distance and evaluating his work from a late-modern perspective” (ix). He accomplishes this goal well.

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Biblical Hermeneutics: Craig G. Bartholomew and Johann Georg Hamann

Craig G. Bartholomew, Introducing Biblical HermeneuticsIt is always nice to see a discussion of Johann Georg Hamann. Craig G. Bartholomew’s address is no different. I was leafing through Bartholomew’s latest Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture, when I was pleasantly surprised to see a short treatment of the “Magus of the North.” People may be familiar with Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, a text that I have assigned this semester. Bartholomew’s latest is a thorough hermeneutic.

Bartholomew situates his treatment of Hamann in his chapter on the relationship between philosophy and hermeneutics. His task is not one of originality. Rather, Bartholomew seeks to highlight a neglected but significant voice in philosophy and hermeneutics. Thus, Bartholomew includes much information that can be found elsewhere, including John R. Betz’s After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamann and my posts.

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Peace on Earth: Reflections from Jonathan Edwards

Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
~ Luke 2:14

In a sermon on this text, Jonathan Edwards reflected on how Christ brings peace on earth. As the following excerpts from his sermon (available in this volume) show, Edwards celebrated the incarnation of God in Jesus and the peaceful effects of his coming to earth, which brought peace between man and God, peace within man, and peace between men:[1]

 

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Johann Georg Hamann on Eros and Sexual Holiness Continued

Hamann, Essay of a Sibyl on MarriagePicking up where we left off (see the previous post), we continue our discussion of Hamann’s wedding present to Johann Friedrich Hartknoch and Albertine Toussaint.  The unconventional gift was a short work interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the guise of a sibyl. Hartknoch, being Hamann’s publisher, found the gift worth publishing in 1775. We first took a look at how Hamann understood the relationship between God and Eros. Now we turn to the issues of the image of God and marriage.

 

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“Wondrous as Love, and Mysterious as Marriage!”: Johann Georg Hamann on Eros and Sexual Holiness

Hamann, Essay of a Sibyl on MarriageIn the first of a two-part series, I will discuss Johann Georg Hamann’s Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775) and his theology of sexual holiness.

Wedding gifts run the gamut from fine china to kitchen appliances, from cheese domes to French presses. I am not sure what one gets someone in eighteenth–century Prussia, but what Johann Georg Hamann gifted Johann Friedrich Hartknoch is as good as any. In the early hours of August 26, 1774 Hamann was awaken by Hartknoch and his bride, Albertine Toussaint. Overjoyed by their visit and recent good news, Hamann welcomed his guests with a promise of an essay to commemorate their nuptials.

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Gerald McDermott’s Review of “Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms”

JEC@TEDS LogoProfessor Gerald McDermott, a leading Edwards scholar and co-author with Michael McClymond of the monumental The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2011), has posted a gracious guest review of my book, Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms, at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School website.

Check it out at this link: http://jecteds.org/blog/2014/09/23/jonathan-edwards-the-psalms-and-the-history-of-redemption/.

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“Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms” Now Available

Jonathan Edwards and the PsalmsIt’s a pleasure to announce that my book, Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms: A Redemptive-Historical Vision of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2014), is now available from major online retailers. I’m grateful to the many people who have helped bring this book to publication.

To give you a sense of what I discuss in the book, here’s a brief description from the jacket cover:

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The Real Luther: A Review of Timothy J. Wengert’s Reading the Bible with Martin Luther

Timothy Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther

Our reading of the past can often be obscured by various factors. We all come with presuppositions and theological convictions. Other times our methodology causes us to arrive at conclusions different than others. The list goes on. Timothy J. Wengert advances a more simple reason why we misinterpret history.

For Wengert, our misunderstanding of someone like Martin Luther is due to the simple fact that we are not reading his writings. Our preconceptions of what Luther should say, or our assumptions of what he said, replace the act of reading his works and discovering what he actually said.

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Lessons in Biblical Interpretation from the Early Church

Michael Graves - Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture in the Early ChurchFor evangelical Christians, reading the Bible represents one of the most basic aspects of the Christian life. As heirs of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, evangelicals elevate Scripture above all other authorities.

Yet even Martin Luther never intended that Christians should read the Bible alone. Luther owed much in his biblical interpretation to Augustine, and he cast the Reformation movement as standing in continuity with the early church.

Michael Graves, Armerding Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, echoes Luther’s sentiment that Christians can gain much by interpreting Scripture in the light of earlier biblical interpreters in The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What the Early Church Can Teach Us (Eerdmans, 2014). In this volume, Graves guides readers into the ancient world of early Christianity by exploring the intersection of biblical inspiration and biblical interpretation. For the early church fathers, what are the “entailments” of affirming the doctrine of inspiration, as they all did?

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