Thursday, August 30, 2007

Scholarship and Faith

I must confess that I do wonder about some "Christian" scholarship now days. I was reading Dodd's commentary on the Epistles of John this morning, and it just fed my soul. I read contemporary commentaries and I almost never feel that way. I remember reading Alfred Plummer's ICC commentary on 2 Cor. He kept referring to Jesus as 'the Master'. Reading through it, you got the feeling this was a man who actually took serious the Scriptures and actually loved Jesus.
Which brings me to my point: Are we actually serving people [Christians] by writing commentaries that hide our faith? Have we secularised commentaries so that it's strictly business? Exegetical business? Are we compromising on our faith by merely reporting on the analytical details or "the text"? G.B. Caird wrote hymns and songs, and by reading his commentaries you always get the feeling that he's telling you all the necessary details but he's also sharing his soul, and encouraging us to love GOD. Plummer's ICC commentary still managed to deal with the details and give you a glimpse at his relationship with GOD. Does the NIGTC, NICNT, WBC, or even BEC series ever give you this feeling? That these scholars actually love GOD and are teaching us the Scriptures because they believe in them and were trying to live by them?
Or is this too much to ask in a series, and we want to remain palatable and nice to the rest of the world? Do we do theology like Paul did theology? Giving glory to GOD as we teach and preach the gospel in our writing about GOD's word?
Witherington says:

Paul is a pastoral theologian who lives what he preaches and believes what he says. Experience, not just understanding, is the basis of expression in so much of what he says. However uncomfortable some of us may be with this, it is still an essential feature to understanding Paul’s theology. Nor should we overlook how much worship and Christian experience was the matrix out of which much Christian theological reflection came…

Ben Witherington, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Eerdmans, 2006) pg. 237

Think on these things...

7 comments:

Mike said...

I find Peter O'Brien's commentaries to be good in this regard.

And Gordon Fee's 1 Corinthians and Philippians volumes are wonderfully pastoral.

Josh McManaway said...

Hi Sean

I think one can write commentaries from a strictly historical-critical standpoint and still be a Christian. There are times when it is appropriate to mention faith, and there are times when dealing with Christianity as an object of study is appropriate as well. At least, it is in my most humble opinion (which really amounts to nothing).

-Josh

Sean said...

Josh, I think you can write commentaries from a strict "exegetical business" only perspective. My point is more, WHY? I suspect some are ashamed to let rip into doxology like Paul would. Plummer's ICC on 2 Cor is still a model, as is Dodd on the Epistles of John. Wonderfully engaging and critical, yet still "christian" in the sense of feeding your soul and encouraging your heart, mind and strength to actually love GOD.

Those are the kind of commentaries I want to write one day...

Josh McManaway said...

Well, I suppose to answer the why...some people (Christians included) are interested in studying Christianity as a religious phenomenon that occured in the 1st Century. They want to study the texts, cultures, etc, without having to appeal to a metaphysical faith.

I think we can both agree that there is an element within Christian faith that is metaphysical and not subject to being "proven". It's personal, a gift, something that one has to ultimately have himself. This isn't something that can be discussed in the academy (nor do I think it would be appropriate for it to be discussed).

I don't think Christians who write strictly from an academic standpoint are ashamed. Paul wasn't writing academic works. Paul was writing within the sphere of Christian belief, so doxologies are appropriate. I would say that both academic works and works written that include confessional statements are of value (also, works containing confessional statements can be academic, but the reverse doesn't happen).

Sean said...

But this is exactly my point. I'm very interested in studying Christianity as a religious phenomena in the 1st century. I'm very interested in studying the texts, cultures, worldviews etc. but I can't see how you can do that as a Christian and not appeal to the reality of GOD, and not actually engage that.

I'm not talking about all scholarship or every academic series. Just noting that Plummer in the ICC series, which is massively critical, and Dodd in the Moffat series managed to feed one's soul through the exegesis, as well as do all the technical stuff.

I'm asking why isn't there more of this powerful combination, where we can see the text taking effect in the scholars life, not just seeing the fruits of academic research. Even the new Pillar NT commentary fails in this regard, though I've not read them all...

What commentary series today, offers serious exegesis with serious theological and devotional elements? NOt that it always has to combine these. But if every once and a whily, a commentary would mention how the text has shaped or challenged the author's life, that would make it more helpful and IMHP, more Christian friendly...

But maybe I'm asking to much, and will just have to write the series myself! I WISH!

Eddie said...

I don't think you are asking too much, i think you are asking for what the we need. We engage the text not as as something simply to interpret, but as something from the first to be lead by.

Eddie said...

I mean "led". Whoops