Monday, January 14, 2008

Perriman responds to my review of his book

The following comes from private e-mail correspondence with Andrew about his book, Otherways, which I reviewed recently here. I asked for his permission to publish the following honest response as a separate blog to facilitate discussion, especially as a couple of commentators to my review were quite negatively disposed towards his project. And he makes a couple of good points below, especially about the necessary dialogue between scripture and tradition which many of us, in practice, reduce to tradition's monologue.

"Thanks. It's a great review.

The point about valuing tradition is well taken. I guess in the back of my mind there is always a more respectful dialogue with tradition going on that doesn't always show up in the written polemic. And it's not as though there's a shortage of people out there willing to defend traditional formulations of theology! But I think what the parable is trying to address is simply the problem of over-familiarity. For there to be a genuine dialogue between scripture and tradition scripture must be seen for what it really is, independent of tradition as far as possible - otherwise it's a dialogue heavily weighted in favour of tradition.

My problem with the trinitarian statement has to do more with the problem it creates for reading the New Testament, because inevitably it gives the impression that deep down this is how scripture constructs its understanding of God. I think that's what I was getting at by the distinction between 'theologically necessary' and 'normative'. It may arise out of our reading of scripture, but all sorts of problems arise, it seems to me, if we then reverse the process and allow our reading of scripture to be shaped by our later theological formulations.

The other problem, of course, is that my outlook as a New Testament theologian is much too narrow! I need to catch up on some historical theology. I'll also look out for Bockmuehl's book.

I hope this doesn't sound too defensive. I am delighted with the review and really appreciate you taking a publication of this nature seriously."


At 1/14/2008 5:46 PM, Anonymous Andrew Perriman said...

Phil, not having read a great deal of Barth I find your argument really quite puzzling. Where does this pre-existent 'gospel' come from that somehow transcends the actual stories about Jesus?

Or how do you explain or justify the significant differences that exist between Billy Graham's version of the 'Gospel' and Jesus' announcement of good news to Israel? My problem is that very often when people read the Gospels, they think that Jesus is Billy Graham.

It seems to me that we have to reserve the right to critique tradition in the light of our understanding of the text - at least to the extent that if we see a discontinuity between Jesus' gospel and Billy Graham's gospel, or between New Testament language about Father, Son and Holy Spirit and later trinitarian formulations, we seek to make sense of it historically and contextually, not misrepresent the text.

And I really don't get this peculiar neo-platonic hermeneutic that says that scripture points to some reality other than itself. Why should I accept this? Why can't I just say that scripture says what it says? I suspect that the underlying issue here is not so much whether we privilege scripture or tradition but whether we read the Bible as historical narrative or, to use your metaphor, as a collection of signposts to some form of abstract and transcendent truth.

Each area of discourse needs to be seen in the light of the other. It won't do to have a one way street going from Scripture to Tradition.

Well, yes, that's exactly my point. But you seem to be arguing that we cannot properly read scripture except through the grid of tradition:

This distinction between Gospel and text means that theological exegesis requires the paths in the forest, it requires tradition, for without the creedal summaries of the Church... we wouldn't know why we are reading and what we are reading for.

That sounds to me like a one-way street going from tradition to scripture.

At 1/14/2008 5:51 PM, Anonymous Steven's Inner Catholic said...

I'm not familiar enough with all of Perriman's arguments re: the Bible and Tradition, but it seems wrong to elevate the Bible over tradition since in some senses Tradition (with a big 'T') has priority over scripture.

I mean this in the Orthodox sense whereby Scripture is viewed as one stream of revelation within the broader stream of Holy Tradition.

Even if one does not accept this way of viewing scripture, I don't see how once can easily separate "scripture" from "tradition", since they are inseparably dependent upon each other.

At 1/14/2008 6:39 PM, Anonymous Andrew Perriman said...

Steven, I accept that for all sorts of different reasons, not all of them good ones, it is difficult to separate scripture and tradition. But do we have the right to force an interpretation on scripture out of deference to tradition? What is the price that we pay as a matter of theological or exegetical integrity if we insist on doing that?

Why shouldn't the community of Jesus' followers in principle come to the collective conclusion at some point on the basis of careful reading of scripture that, well, it looks as though tradition got this or that point a bit wrong? Does putting a capital 'T' in front of it really make it inviolable?

Suppose in years to come a general consensus emerged that the traditional doctrine of the Second Coming actually offers a rather misleading account of the idea of Christ's parousia in the New Testament. Are we really not allowed to modify the tradition in the light of that (I hasten to add hypothetical) consensus?

At 1/14/2008 10:13 PM, Anonymous Eric W said...

As I suggested in my comment in your earlier post on the book, I don't think Scripture can so easily be separated from Tradition, because in a sense Scripture IS Tradition.

I am nearly finished with Hengel's The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon, and have read most of McDonald's The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, And Authority and some of McDonald & Sanders The Canon Debate and find that one cannot extricate or separate the New Testament and the early Church from the LXX (in its larger version - i.e., including the Apocrypha), which raises the issue of what is Scripture for the Church and who makes such decisions. If one decides on the 39-book Masoretic-based Protestant canon, one has already let a certain Tradition guide one's steps in the forest and/or determine where the path must lie. And if one isn't willing to throw open the question of what is or is not Scripture, then one really hasn't let go of Tradition, since one is still clinging to a Tradition re: what is Scripture.

My 2 cents.

At 1/15/2008 12:52 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Robinson said...

I think the problem is that, as with understanding any text, the text on its own is not enough. Without a reliable hermenuetic the text can be made to say anything (e.g. Marcion). Christians have generally interpreted the Heb/LXX and NT according the message of God's salvation through the death and resurection of Christ. if you cannot at least relate your hermenuetic to that tradition (which goes back beyond the formation fo the New Testament). Grammatico-historical exegesis is fine in its own way, but it isn't what the writers of the NT would have expected. Now i dont know anyone who advocates we should use Second Temple Judaism hermenuetics today. This is why Enns is right about using a 'Cristotelic' hermenuetic, even if he is wrong ( i think he is) to use the incarnation as an analogy. Tradition is our only objective tool to unlock the meaning of scripture (as opposed to the subjective leading of the Spirit) and it is only when tradition is inconsistent or demonstrably mistaken that we have liberty to go beyond it. maybe.

At 1/15/2008 2:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is incredibly confusing. I wish someone would explain what you are really talking about.

At 1/15/2008 3:41 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Andrew: {{Where does this pre-existent 'gospel' come from that somehow transcends the actual stories about Jesus?}}

Phil hasn't replied yet, but I think he made it clear enough in principle that he means the historical events to which the "actual stories" are witnesses; and also the intentions and actions of God, to which the historical events point as witnesses.

That being said, while I agree with Phil that tradition in the sense of some kind of systematic understanding of the witness of Scripture to the character, characteristics and actions of God in conjunction with history (with Israel and the nations, as Jesus), is a necessary task; I think I also understand and agree with you, to be saying that tradition even in this sense must not be considered inerrant/infallible (unless there are good theological reasons for believing so, which is a whole other debate). Otherwise we won't be in a position to correct misunderstandings about the witnessing(s) given in the Scriptures; we'll be locked into a halakhah that is wrongly giving us the rule of the road.


At 1/15/2008 3:47 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Sorry, Anon. Technical theology is being occurred. {g}

We're discussing why, and to what extent, we should respect commentary on what the Judeo-Christian scriptures mean.


At 1/15/2008 7:57 PM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

This is a rather long quote, but I'm writing an essay on the subject so please forgive me if I seem over-keen. Barth says things far more eloquently than I, so here's a quote on the nature of the Gospel as a reality other than the text which has implications for how we read the text. The word "one" is important, given the diversity of the texts of the Bible. I find the quote beautiful, so I hope it can ease the aching bones Mr Tilling mentioned in his most recent post:

“The object of theological science in all its disciplines is the work and word of God in all their fullness, but in their fullness they are also the one work and word of God. This work and word are Jesus Christ, the one who was crowned as king of the Jews and Saviour of the world, who represents the one God among men and and man before the one God. He is the one servant and Lord who was expected, who arrived, and is now truly expected. Oriented to him who is its starting point and its goal, theological knowledge becomes a knowledge that articulates the unity of the manifold.”

As such,

“The intellectus fidei is engaged in gathering, although it abstains from equalizing, stereotyping, or identifying. While it gives every point of the circumference its special due, it brings together all parts from their own individual centers to their common center. ... In the theological act of knowledge, seeing is doubtless an attentive and exact gaze toward one or another special form of the object; as such, it is also sight that views one form together with the others. What is decisive is that it is an insight into the one object which presents itself now in this, now in that, form, or an insight into one particular form which has become a form of the one object. In the act of theological knowledge, every view, insight, and vision is attentively and accurately concentrated on this or that form. But also a syn-opsis, a seeing together of different forms, takes place. And finally, above all, each form is discovered to be a form of the one object. This is the sense of biblical exegesis, as well as the stocktaking and analysis known as Church history, or the history of dogmatics or theology.” Barth, Evangelical Theology, 88—89; orig. 98—99.

At 1/16/2008 2:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger Jason Pratt said...
Sorry, Anon. Technical theology is being occurred. {g}

Thanks for clearing it up...I thought it was babble.


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