I just got home from the first day of the Trinity Institute’s conference “Reading Scripture through other eyes.” Thanks to Brad Pohlman and Franklin Wilson of Luther Memorial who provided the downlink and invited my participation again this year.
The conference speakers today were Walter Brueggeman, emeritus professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA and Sister Teresa Okure of the West African Catholic Institute. I enjoy the conference because it is one of the few opportunities I have to engage theological scholarship in community, even if a large part of that community is virtual. Brueggeman and Okure both asked hard questions in their talks. Brueggeman gave an overview of the development of biblical interpretation in the last five hundred years, making use of Paul Ricoeur’s concepts of “pre-critical,” “critical,” and “post-critical” interpretations, the latter involving what Ricoeur called a “second naivete.”
He also stressed the important developments in biblical interpretation in the past thirty years, mentioning the rise of rhetorical criticism, ideology critique (including liberation theology, feminism, and post-colonialism), and the growing appreciation of Jewish approaches. He challenged us to ask questions of the text that let the text come close to people’s experience, and said in the panel discussion that truth claims have to be tested in the presence of pain. He pointed out Freud’s discovery that the self is “thick, layered, and conflicted,” making the connection between Freud’s use of image and story to help people understand themselves, with the traditional methods of Jewish interpreters who explained a story by telling another story. He extended Freud’s insight to the text and to God. The text of scripture is “thick, layered, and conflicted” and reveals a God who is “thick, layered, and conflicted.” Human beings, he observed, are created in the image of that God.
Okure sought to distinguish between the cultural contexts in which scripture was written and in which it is interpreted and the transcendent truth of the gospel. She spoke passionately both about her particular cultural context in Nigeria, and about her institutional context in the Roman Catholic Church.
Much of the discussion following the presentations, both in the panel conversation, and in our group at Luther Memorial, focused on questions of truth, including the truth of Jesus Christ. There’s an account of today’s proceedings here. More on the Trinity Institute here.
Although we were a relatively small group today, our conversation was lively and deep. To hear scholars struggling with important issues like the cultural contexts of reading scripture, and trying to articulate the relationship between the truths in scripture and the limitations of the human cultures in which scripture was written is exhilarating. There was also a provocative discussion about the role of the preacher/pastor and the community as a hermeneutical community, a community that interprets scripture.
We also heard Steed Davidson’s wonderful sermon on “Reading out loud.” He was working with Acts 8, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. He pointed the importance of Philip as guide, not as teacher, and asked who was more transformed by the experience, who was baptized, since the Greek isn’t clear.
One of the things I want to do at Grace in the coming months and years is some serious bible study and this conference gave me more impetus to do that.