Do Theology in the First and Second Person

“Second, the best way to stay focused on the subject matter of theology is to stay focused on Scripture. John Calvin viewed his Institutesas help for aspiring disciples “to find the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.” It’s no coincidence that the most important figures in the history of theology—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth—also wrote biblical commentaries. Roman Catholics enthusiastically agree. When Benedict XVI called Scripture the “soul of theology,” he echoed Vatican II’s claim that “the study of the sacred page” is the very soul of theology (in Dei Verbum).
Given the fragmentation of theological studies in the modern university, I fear that you may find it challenging to establish your biblical bona fides. Some biblical scholars insist on reading the Bible like any other text, and some theologians think that doing theology is a matter of compiling “proof texts” that establish doctrines. There are better ways of reading the Bible theologically.
C. S. Lewis’s distinction between looking at a beam of light and looking along it clarifies what’s at stake. Those who look atthe biblical text analyze it from a critical distance. They see the text, but not necessarily what it’s talking about. In contrast, those who look alongthe text enter into its strange new world. Looking along the text is the best way to resist what Hans Frei calls the “great reversal” in hermeneutics that took place in the eighteenth century, namely, the exchange of the biblical narrative as our framework for understanding the world for some other story (e.g., neo-Darwinism, existentialism, process philosophy—their name is Legion).
The Bible is not an object to examine under this or that hermeneutical microscope. God addresses us in Scripture and requires our response, and that means we do theology in the first and second person (cf. Martin Buber’s I and Thou). Scripture is not a textbook but the Church’s holy script, and understanding it involves reading all the books in the Old and New Testaments as parts of an overarching story. It’s more than narrative, it’s drama: story made flesh, in which readers today have speaking parts. Karl Barth spoke of exploring the “strange new world of the Bible,” and that’s an apt image. The theologian is a kind of cartographer of this new world, this new life, this “theodrama”: the story made flesh of God’s two-handed outreach to the world.”
This excellent letter lays out Vanhoozer’s understanding of the theological task in a clear, wise, and humble way. Much ground is covered here in an unassuming manner.
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