Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book Review: The Bible and Epistemology

Thanks to Paternoster for a review copy of Parry, Robin, and Mary Healy, eds. The Bible and Epistemology: Biblical Soundings on the Knowledge of God. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007.

In the midst of what the editors understand as a 'renewal of Christian epistemological reflection' there 'lies a curious black hole. The unaccountable void to which we refer lied in the world of biblical studies' (xi).

While not attempting to cover all of the ground, this small volume of essays makes a helpful contribution to plugging up that aforementioned hole. In the first part, a team of scholars (both Catholic and Protestant) examine epistemology in Deuteronomy (chapter 1), the Prophetic literature (chapter 2), the Psalms (chapter 3), Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (chapter 4), Luke-Acts (chapter 5), the Johannine literature (chapter 6), and Paul (chapter 7). Part 2 discusses theological and philosophical issues, reflecting on the principles of biblical epistemology (chapter 8), and biblical epistemology as it engages philosophical trends (chapter 9).

Interestingly, a number of features repeat themselves in almost all of the chapters in part 1, namely they all perceive biblical epistemology in relational terms. Knowledge of God comes through relationship with God, through self-involved commitment to God. In other words, rather than mastering the object of knowledge in a disinterested manner, as in popular caricatures of modernity, biblical epistemology proceeds on the basis of 'the risk of self-engagement which is the sine qua non of personal knowledge' (Mary Healy in her essay on epistemology in Paul, 144). A number of the biblical scholars point out how this relational understanding of epistemology, through its participatory nature, rejoins ethics with knowledge, driven asunder in many forms of modernity. And Barthians (among others) will rejoice at the emphasis, seen in the analysis of the biblical texts in part 1, placed on the necessity of the divine initiative in all knowledge, of the self-revelation of God that makes the knowledge of God possible.

Writing a doctorate on relational Christology, I was unsurprised by Mary Healy's proposals in her chapter on Paul, and gladdened to see the subject formulated in a relational manner with such clarity. While her confessional bias was at times acutely felt, her judicious treatment on Paul was especially helpful. I was also struck by the boldness amongst the contributors to contrast biblical epistemology with that found in modernity. All the while modernity held sway, it was as if many theologians, apart from a notable few, were scared to admit the differences between the two epistemologies (exemplified in a remarkably consistent way throughout the biblical texts on the one hand, and modernity on the other). Now that theologians have been emboldened by the supposed demise of modernity, or at least the modernity-critical thrust within late or post modernity, it is refreshing to see more honesty about the discrepancy between the bible and modernity in terms of epistemology. Indeed, the developing affection for relational and interdisciplinary models of knowledge in late modernity allows the biblical texts to be engaged with fresh appreciation, a task in which this book revels.

I end this short review with a passage that grabbed me at an existential level. I read it and heard the point with unusual force.

'We need to be constantly reminded ... that theological knowing is inseperable from the life of obedience and faith. It is fostered through worship and prayer – those practices by which we submit ourselves to the Word and Spirit of God – and is borne of humility before the Word' (Murray Rae, 163)



At 5/27/2008 10:52 PM, Anonymous TJ said...

Great book review, Mr.Tillinch. Magnificent post! You are my number one Englishman!

At 5/28/2008 12:53 AM, Anonymous T said...

It seems that a lot of theology is moving in the relational direction. I'm reminded also of the relational doctrines of God as are fashionable in the growing postconservative mood.

At 5/28/2008 8:50 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'Knowledge of God comes through relationship with God, through self-involved commitment to God.'

So Satan doesn't know that alleged God even exists?

At 5/28/2008 8:11 PM, Anonymous TJ said...

Mr. Tillinch & Crowd!

I want to apologize my previous homoerotic asslicking comment! Truth to tell, I didn't even read the review. Now that I did... -Well, how should I put this? I'm sure that even Dr. Jim could do better. But he didn't! So I had to do what I did.

I leave you people to enjoy yourselves! You don't deserve me. (Thomas, 93)

At 5/29/2008 4:08 AM, Anonymous T said...

Steven, this is not me defending the thesis of the book (which I have not read), but I don't think your comment reflects an understanding of "knowledge" as it was conceived either by the writers of Scripture or by early Christians.

At 5/29/2008 8:59 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

TJ, "I want to apologize my previous homoerotic asslicking comment"

No apology needed. It was much appreciated! Made a nice change from your usual offerings! Of course, you were back to form in your second comment. You git.

Hi Steven, Thanks for your comment.
If your question is taken to pose a difficulty for a relational epistemology, then I suggest that it contains some problematic premises. But you are clever enough to figure them, without me having to point them out!

At 5/30/2008 7:28 AM, Anonymous brainofdtrain said...

Thanks for this review Chris. This looks like a book i've been seeking for some time. I was actually thinking about the relationship epistemology has to the bible earlier this evening. I'm excited to read this now.

At 5/31/2008 11:42 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

You will enjoy it.

At 6/01/2008 2:25 PM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

How do you "relate to God?" Have a lot in common do you?

Well I guess one has the Bible, and the Gospels, the words of Jesus in particular, some of which anyone can relate to. Though all the words of Jesus extracted from the Gospels only amount to a couple thousand, and they are subject to interpretation.

How a person relates to so few words of Jesus is thus problematical to say the least.

When I relate to someone it's via a conversation where we can each immediately see and hear and speak with one another, or, exchange Youtube videos, or baring that, send letters back and forth.

But in Jesus's case we are reading second hand writings of only a few thousand words written over two thousand years ago and spoken to a different culture and subject to interpretation by people who don't agree on their interpretation.

I can "relate" to such a situation only if the "relation" in this case is "difficult" to say the least.

Yeah, keep working on that Christian epistemology thingy. Even Chris noticed in his review what an obvious part the "confessional stance" of the author plays in such cases.

I might add that there's a huge range of ways people claim to "relate" to God, even considering just the Christian God alone.


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