Posts for Nov, 2007.

11/30/2007 5:51:00 AM

Postmodern Biblical Theology

Posted Friday, November 30, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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I came across this quote the other day while doing research for another topic. This quotation is fascinating for its honesty. Apparently, Clines used to be an evangelical scholar.

"I want to propose a model for biblical interpretation that accepts the realities of our pluralist context... First comes the    recognition that texts do not have determinate meanings... The second axis for my framework is provided by the idea of interpretative communities... There is no objective standard by which we can know whether one interpretation or other is right; we can only tell whether it has been accepted... There are no determinate meanings and there are no universally agreed upon legitimate interpretations.

What are biblical scholars then to be doing with themselves?... Biblical interpretators have to give up the goal of determinate and universally acceptable interpretations, and devote themselves to interpretations they can sell--in whatever mode is called for by the communities they choose to serve. I call this "customised" interpretation."

The quote is by David Clines, "Possibilities and Priorities of Biblical Interpretation in an International Perspective" Biblical Interpretation 1:1 (1993) 67-87. I found the quotation given in Craig Bartholomew "Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation" in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed Kevin Vanhoozer, page 605.  

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11/25/2007 2:47:00 PM

Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Posted Sunday, November 25, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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The second session I went to at SBL was dramatically different from the first. This was the “Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture.” The specific topic under discussion was “Christ in/and the Old Testament”. It was moderated by Christopher Seitz and consisted of ten minute presentation by Kathryn Greene-Mccreight (St John's Episcopal Church), Robert Wall (Seattle Pacific University), John Goldingay (Fuller Theological Seminary), Christopher Wright (Langham Partnership International), and Murray Rae (University of Otago) followed by forty five minutes of discussion. In my opinion the presentations themselves were not that interesting, as the panelists simply repeated key basic ideas from their work, and ten minutes was not enough time to give much that was interesting. But when the questions started coming in the discussion became much more interesting. There was a fairly strong divide on the panel between those more in tune with theological interpretation of Scripture (Seitz, Greene-Mccreight, Wall, and Rae) and those opposed (Goldingay and Wright).


There seemed to be two main issues getting discussed. One was a metaphor that had been made by Wright in his presentation. He said that when he was on a train to Edinburgh, he was heading towards Edinburgh but the scenery was not Edinburgh. Similarly, while the OT is christotelic, heading towards Christ, Christ is not found in every OT text. When one looks back, the scenery makes sense as going towards Edinburgh, but that is only a small glimpse and only in hindsight. In response, Murray noted that the voice of Jesus is waiting for us Edinburgh and we shouldn’t be too concerned about the scenery, and Greene-Mccreight said that we are in Edinburgh, not on the train anymore. Wright later said that we need to read the OT not just in light of the Gospel but also in light of Revelation: The first advent is not the end of the story. So, in a sense, (my spin here) we are in not Edinburgh yet, but we passed a key via point on the way to Edinburgh. There was discussion about how to preach OT stories, with Goldingay and Wright wanting us to focus on what God was saying through those texts to the Israelites, while the other panelist wanted to see more of a Christocentric perspective. Wright noted that Luke 24 says that Jesus began with the Scriptures, not himself, when he talked with his disciples.


The other major topic was the role of the rule of faith. Goldingay bluntly stated that “the rule of faith is a disaster”. No beating around the bush here! He didn’t explicate much what he meant, but it seems that he didn’t want later meaings being read as the meaning of the earlier text. He explicitly said he wanted to stay with the meaning/significance bifurcation, not what the text means today. Seitz said that we should get rid of the terminology of the rule of faith since all it does is cause confusion and that in his ears the rule of faith does not mean creed. Greene-Mccreight said that the rule of faith was useful for ruling out false interpretations like Mormonism, which is a mistake (after saying this she apparently realized she was at SBL and one does not say things like this at SBL and so backtracked a little bit to tone down her rejection of Mormonism). All in all, this was a fascinating discussion and I only wish that all the SBL sessions could be so interesting.


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11/24/2007 7:22:00 AM

Allegory and the Ban

Posted Saturday, November 24, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: None
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The third and fifth papers of the SBL war session were not as helpful, so I will not discuss them here, but I will talk about the fourth. This was entitled “Allegorical Interpretation of the Ban and the Plain Sense of the Text: Reading the Herem Law for Ethics” and given by Jerome Creach. He sought to read the herem laws theologically, i.e., through a theological lens. He ended up following Moberly’s reading of the herem laws, who read them in light of the Shema. Moberly argues that the herem laws were metaphorical laws to show how one is to love Yahweh with all of one’s heart. These nations are not the actual nations, but are representative for various internal evil tendencies. The Rahab and Gibeonite stories are indicative of this, as they are not exterminated. The other panelists were not impressed with Creach, and all of them said that we should not try to play exegetical games with the text, but instead recognize its inherent violence and deal with them as they are. Deal with them for most of the panelists mean reject the text.

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11/24/2007 7:18:00 AM

Scarcity and War

Posted Saturday, November 24, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: 3
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The second paper at the SBL war session was by Hector Avalos, a secular humanist who is also a professor of religious studies (at Iowa State University). He argued against two current approaches to religious violence. One is essentialism (as Ellens had just argued for). This view says that religion in its pure form is not violent, but only a deviant or fundamentalist form. Avalos argued against it by saying that the “true view” is unverifiable and a faith based view, so it is not acceptable. This desire for verifiability was the key weapon in his arsenal and got used on a variety of occasions, showing that he was apparently a logical positivist: the only things that exist are those that can be proved by reason. The other view to explain religious violence is anti-colonialism: the colonized are fighting back against those who colonized them. But Avalos pointed out that Islam colonized the west before the west colonized Islam, and hence this colonial explanation does not work in all cases. So Avalos’ proposal is scarcity: all conflict is caused by scarcity of something. This is certainly nothing new and fairly obviously explains most wars. But his contribution is to use the idea to explain religious conflict: religion creates scarcities and hence creates war. It creates scarcities in the following ways: Scripture (not all writing is inspired), sacred space (one geographical location more important because of religious reason), election (one group or person more special), and salvation (not all are saved). Or for another way of looking at it, verifiability is scarce, so violence is resorted to in order to determine solution. He then discussed five ways to deal with violent ancient texts: accept, reject, relativize, reinterpret, and allegorize. He rejects all of these because they are unverifiable and not subject to reason. His solution? Make the scarce plentiful: give everyone water, for example. He did not explain how this would work in religion, but presumably it would mean that we should make plentiful the scarce by removing any kind of scarcity: either make all divine (make all ground sacred, make everyone saved, make every writing inspired) or remove the idea of religion altogether, which is the route he has taken personally. During the question and answer time he said that verifiability is the key: if the problem is water shortage, we can verify that there is a water shortage. But if it is salvation, we cannot verify that, so we might be fighting over something that does not exist. One question posed to him he did not answer well: what if there is a scarcity that should be present, such as the scarcity of A’s in a class? Should the teacher just give all A’s? He simply said that the teacher would need to discuss that with his student, a virtual non-answer.

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11/22/2007 5:22:00 PM

The Psychology of War

SBL 2007 Harold Ellens

Posted Thursday, November 22, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: None
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The third conference I attended was SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), which meets concurrently with AAR (American Academy of Religion). This is a very broad ranging conference with thousands of people attending from a variety of religions, primarily Christian but also Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu, with a few atheists thrown in for good measure. There are such sessions as Buddhist Philosophy Group, African Biblical Hermeneutics, Greek Bible, LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics, Q, Mormon Studies Consultation, Book of Acts, Use of Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation, and Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible: Inter-Species Sex and Other Relations.


The first session I went to was Warfare in Ancient Israel. My introduction to SBL was immediate as the first speaker got up and almost immediately said just war was inhuman, monstrous, and satanic and that Yahweh was psychotic because he acted in the human realm on the belief that it was the battle ground of a cosmic struggle against an evil god, a cosmic struggle which actually does not exist. The second speaker then got up and started talking about how monotheism is inherently violent and the only way past it is to reject it, which led him to secular humanism. Welcome to SBL!


The first speaker, J. Harold Ellens, argued strongly against any idea of just war theory and rejected the biblical god. What was needed was a new conception of God, as the loving and nonviolent god. The biblical model of war is “obscene”. One point he made was that war works best when it dehumanizes the enemy, such as the derogatory nicknames given to the enemy (Japs, Huns, etc.). When this kind of dehumanizing is removed, war is then less effective.  His solution? National models that absorb insults instead of using violence, and more statesmen than politicians. But when nations do have to go to war as a necessary evil, then they need to be on a crusade. They should seek to terminate oppression, and as Clausewitz said war is only ethical when it is total war and the very will to fight of the enemy is targeted. Ellens gave several commendable examples, one of which is Sherman’s march to the sea. As one of the questions afterwards noted, there is quite the contrast between the beginning and end of this presentation by Ellens.

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11/21/2007 3:09:00 PM

The Collapse of the Just War Theory in the Twentieth Century

ETS 2007: Craig Carter

Posted Wednesday, November 21, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: 1
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The one paper from ETS which I am going to write about was certainly not the best paper which I heard, but it is the most relevant to my research. The paper was given by Craig Carter and was entitled "The Collapse of the Just War Theory in the Twentieth Century". His main point was that the wars of the past 100 years have shown that just war rules cannot be put into practice. It is not that they are mistaken and can be tweaked, or that people are sinful and sinned, but that the rules themselves are self-contradictory and simply cannot be followed, even by a theoretically perfect person. Just war theory always ends up excusing murder. Carter claimed that the fire-bombing and A-bomb of WW2 were a time of transition for the west. They had the option of losing or sinking to the level of the Nazis ethically, and they chose the latter. This choice led to a subsequent devaluing of human life, as exemplified by the increase of abortion in later years and other assaults on human life. He gave the intriguing parallel scenario: if Hitler had developed the A-bomb and dropped it on London, we would call him a butcher for it. But we do not have the same reaction when the West dropped an A-bomb on Japan.  

He said that in order for him to follow a just war theory, the following two criteria would need to be met:
1. Differentiate between two kinds of killing.
2. Must be able to put theory into practice

Also, the following would need to happen.
1. Education in church on just war and just war principles.
2. Ban certain weapons (chemical, nuclear) which cannot discriminate between civilian and military targets
3. Decide when surrender is appropriate
4. Conditional patriotism
5. Absolute prohibition of murder
6. Reject consequencalist thinking

The questions followed two lines of thought. The first had to do with the hypothetical situation of Hitler. He was pushed on whether these two situations (Hitler on London and US on Japan) were the same ethically. He said yes. Then he was questioned whether motive had any role: wouldn't Hitler be more wrong because he sought to kill while the US sought to save lives? He said no, while motives are important, both acts as acts are equally wrong.
The second line of questioning had to do with a parallel situation: If people run stop signs, should we be ban those too? He simply didn't get the question, and so there was little interaction with it. I think that actually a better parallel would be that since people run stop signs driving is inherently unsafe and so we should ban driving.
The one major problem I have with the presentation is the one problem I have with any pacifist position I have encountered so far: love for neighbor. What do I do when my neighbor is being oppressed or a genocide is being committed next door?
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11/20/2007 9:13:00 PM



Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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The blogging has been quiet recently becaue I have been enjoying myself in sunny San Diego for the annual conferences and we just back got this morning at 1:00 in the morning, going from the sun to possible snow tomorrow here in Chicago. My family went with me, but they spent time in Disneyland and the zoo while I bought books and listened to papers. I think I got the better end of the deal, but they don't agree with me. We did spend one day as a family at Legoland, where I bought a lego set (jousting knights) to put in my cubicle in the library. I plan on discussing several of the papers over the next few days. Hope you enjoy them. Even if you don't, it is very helpful for me to write them down. If you have any feedback I would be happy to hear it. Or read it.
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11/11/2007 11:53:00 AM

Faithful Intepretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World

A. K. M. Adam

Posted Sunday, November 11, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and TheologyHermeneutics   Comments: None
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How does a postmodern read the Bible? A. K. M. Adam has given us a very helpful view for how a postmodern can read the Bible and use it in their life. The largest step which Adam makes (in my opinion) is that he moves away from determinate meaning and away from an overarching universal criterion for interpretation. But he does not thereby move to  complete relativism, since he says that some interpretations are only possible while others probable. The way that he draws this line is to bring in local criteria. For example, if he gave a bizarre interpretation of a particular text, then those around him would censure him in various ways, either directly or through ignoring him. Hence, this will define what can be a possible or a probable interpretation. But even with a bizarre interpretation he says that there would be some who would probably accept it, and then presumably it would be a valid view among that local group. He says that we should welcome a variety of interpretations because it reflects the diversity of creation: we should not try to stifle interpretations that are different than ours, because that just is a blatant power play, but we should glory in these various interpretations. Quoting Stephen Fowl, he says that texts do not have ideologies, but we bring our ideologies to the text. Hence, Matthew is not anti-Semitic for Adam because it cannot be anything. He does not like the imitation idea from Jesus and Paul, especially Paul, because he sees the command to imitate him as another power play. In its place he proposes the idea of repitition, where we repeat what others have done, but adjusted to our own context. Somewhat predictably, he ends the book with a strong defense of homosexuality in the church.

While the book is a fascinating and easy read, there are several unanswered questions for me. The first I will call the "stop sign" problem. Adam discusses the stop sign several times in the book. He notes that drivers stop at an octagonal red sign only because of a local concept: because in this culture that kind of sign signifies that one needs to stop. But if the sign was different and written in Chinese, then the American would not be held culpable for not understanding the sign. But then Adam adds that they would be held culpable for denying the  underlying command exists. This seems to go against Adam's whole thesis: the red stop sign might need to be translated, but the idea behind it is absolute for all. So why can't there be an ultimate meaning for a biblical text? The closest that Adam gets to explaining this is that the Bible is a literary text and different from a stop sign, which is more simple. But I think that there is more of a parallel between these two types than Adam grants. He could state that the stop sign is a single incident, which is different than the complex literature which we find in the Bible. But there is no text without a context: there is no abstract stop sign without contextual clues.

The other problem is what I call the "Nazi problem". The Nazi's are the whipping boy of ethical discussions, but they do provide a nice example because virtually everyone says they acted in a wrong manner. The problem is what happens when the local criteria are wrong, as in the Third Reich. An interpreter could present a strongly anti-Semitic viewpoint and be encouraged by his community and pass the local criteria. How does the local criteria function work when it is broken? Adam never addresses this issue in the book, and I think that this problem is the Achilles heel of any pure community or local model. One possible way around it is to say that the interpreter should have moved away from purely German criteria and brought in more criteria from other countries. But this moves us ever closer to universal criteria, which is exactly what Adam tries to avoid.  When he talks about his bizarre interpretation, he says that it would be accepted by some, so presumably the interpretation is valid as long as some accept it, so it cannot be rejected simply because it does not conform to a larger circle than the local circle. Presumably Adam would also respond to this charge with a call to ethics: the Nazi reading is not an ethical reading. But this simply creates another problem: What is an ethical reading? The Nazis certainly thought that they were being ethical, and if we say that they were wrong then we are simply executing a power play, in postmodern terms. I simply do not see any way that an indeterminate view of meaning can handle the Nazi problem.

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11/8/2007 9:48:00 PM

Forthcoming Commentaries

Posted Thursday, November 08, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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I came across this web site by accident today. It is a list of all the upcoming commentaries on the Bible, and it is simply an impressive list. Seriously, do we really need this many commentaries? There are some excellent commentaries coming out in the future, though.  Read more of Forthcoming Commentaries

11/8/2007 2:33:00 PM

Honor your father and your mother

Posted Thursday, November 08, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament   Comments: 2
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In our Deuteronomy class today Dan Block reminded us that Deuteronomy was primarily addressed to the head of the household. This has a variety of implications, but one that he pointed out was that this means the command to honor father and mother is not directed to children. This command is addressed to adult children, not to young children (although there is certainly a principle involved that is relevant). But the command is primarily for those of us who are older: we are the ones commanded to honor our parents. We have a difficul time with this in North America, as all too often what happens is that when the parents get old we just put them in a nursing home and dread visiting them. Instead, we need to honor them throughout our whole life, and as Christians we need to set the example in this area.
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11/6/2007 5:45:00 PM

Hebrew Sudoku

Posted Tuesday, November 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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Just in case you want to practice your Hebrew script, here is your opportunity ! This uses the first nine letters of the Hebrew script as numbers and allows you to play Sudoku. You can also practice your paleo-Hebrew, as the letters from the Lachish letters is also available. Great fun!
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11/2/2007 5:16:00 AM

Is There A Meaning in This Text

Kevin Vanhoozer

Posted Friday, November 02, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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Hermeneutics is a very important issue for us today in light of the rise of postmodernism. I got the feeling from the Christian attacks on modernism over the years that if modernism would just be shown to be false, then Christianity would be the victor. Instead, what we get is modernism dying and postmodernism rising to take its place, with Christianity still on the sidelines. How does the Christian respond to postmodernism? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it relevant? From what I hear, postmodernism is already passe in the French university system where it had its "point of birth". But I think that it is still alive and well here in the States and it has points to teach us. For the uninitiated, Vanhoozer's work is an excllent place to start. I've written a short review here, but clink the link to slog through a more detailed critique of the work.

 Vanhoozer divides the book into two: the first part is a study of modernism and postmodernism, while the second is a constructive study of how he thinks the author, the text and the reader should be viewed. If you want a helpful starting point for the thought of Derrida or the flaws of postmodern thinking, this is a good place to read. Here are just a few of the helpful thoughts from the book.

1. While Vanhoozer rejects postmodernism as a system, he accepts part of the postmodern critique, especially in the area of certainty. He says that Cartesian certainty is neither possible nor Christian. Hence, we should be more humble and tenative in our claims. But he says that while certainty is impossible, we can still be reasonably sure about claims to live by them.

2. He argues for a basic level of theological interpretation, in which one's theological beliefs affect one's reading of the text. The key point here is theism: whether one is a theist or not will dictate where you find meaning or if you think there is meaning at all. If you kill off God, you end up killing the human author of any work of literature and locate the meaning in the reader. He actually argues for a trinitarian reader, but I do not find myself as convinced of that, although that might just be due to my own inability of a reader of Vanhoozer's argument.

3. In contrast to the emphasis of Hirsch (and most of evangelicalism) on authorial intention, he places the focus on authorial action, a model that I think works better. This is built on the ideas of speech act theory. So we look not at what the author intended, trying to get behind the text and into the psychology of the author, but we look at the action of the author in what the author actually did.

Should you read this book? Well, it depends. It is the book about hermeneutics today. If you want to be a part of the discussion at all, you need to read it. Everyone quotes it and refers to it in some way when the topic is discussed. But, it is quite the book to get through. I only got through it on my second try and I had to read it for a class. It is dense writing and it is a big book. But it is so big because he takes his conversation partners so seriously.  

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