So, this isn’t your standard blog post, but hey, this is the Internet, and you, dear reader, are reading it for free. So it’ll have to do, ok? Whaddaya expect, a 3300-word treatise on Bishop Paul Moore? Or a brilliant and deeply researched take on the aims of the architects of the 1979 prayer book? Or a profound reflection about faith and hunting, written by a guy who must be some kind of Georgian cross between Wendell Berry and Frederick Buechner?
Well, ok. You probably do expect that. There’s been a high bar set around here.
But today is Friday. We all need a break, and you’re going to get more of a news tidbit and a hoorah for a seminar I just got back from last week. The Cranmer Institute (TCI) in Dallas hosted me and sixteen other folks for an invigorating forty-eight hours of intensive discussion about Christ in the Old Testament, led by Dr. Christopher Seitz (Executive Director of TCI and Senior Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Wycliffe-Toronto) and Dr. Michael Cover (Assistant Professor of New Testament at Marquette, and a Covenant contributor). We were an interesting mix: seventeen participants from around the U.S. and Canada, working parochial clergy and grad students in Bible and theology from top programs (Duke, UVA, Boston College, Wycliffe, SMU), people from TEC, ACNA, the Anglican Church of Canada, and even a stray Methodist who somehow wandered into our ranks.
It was, to use a technical term, a blast. Dr. Seitz and Dr. Cover put together a pretty fantastic heavy-duty syllabus, covering a range of primary sources (biblical and patristic texts) and major contemporary interlocutors in what’s become an increasingly energetic but, at times, confusing debate about the theological exegesis of Scripture. Just to name a few names we kept coming back to: John Behr, Richard Hays, Jason Byassee, Brevard Childs, Christopher Seitz, Ephraim Radner, Frances Young, Gary Anderson, and Jon Levenson.
We agreed that the term “theological exegesis of Scripture” in present-day discussion names a placeholder, a desideratum, something many want to recover, but not an agreed upon definition or method. Still to this day, if you go to an SBL meeting or pick up a volume of the Anchor Bible commentary, you often get a kind of “just the facts, ma’am” historical-critical take on the OT, wherein the goal seems to be to analyze the biblical text from a purportedly “objective” historical and scientific standpoint. The whole enterprise of “theological exegesis” is looked upon with some suspicion and bewilderment. This has been seen by many as problematic at least since Karl Barth, though today we have a proliferation of theological commentaries: the Brazos commentary series, the WJK Belief commentaries, the Eerdmans Two Horizons commentaries, and the list goes on.
But what ties this project together? Can we read the Old Testament allegorically and christologically? If so, what are the controls? How to relate “history” and “theology?” Jesus Christ and the “discrete witness of the Old Testament?” Should we read with eschatological Pauline freedom (Hays), or recall instead that “we are not prophets or apostles” (Childs)? What place should we give to the literal sense of the text and to the incarnate history of Israel (God’s “beloved son,” in Levenson’s terms)? What does it mean to say that we have a two Testament Bible, rather than (in Seitz’s colorful words) a two-stage booster rocket, with the OT to blast us off and NT as the payload? And how do working preachers and teachers actually preach and teach this to a crowd (whether in the pew or the classroom) that instinctively holds to a Whig view of history and tends to think that Marcion was onto something?
Well, these are good questions, right? And we argued about them non-stop for what seemed like not nearly enough time, but just long enough to peer a bit further down to the bottom of some very deep wells. And we did so not just in our cliques of academics over here and clergy over there, but together, as a roomful of people with a common heart for the Church and her Gospel mission, who came together not just to read and argue but also to pray, worship, hear Scripture read and preached, and to build one another up.
You should think about coming next year. All this rich discussion, and (get this) it’s almost free. Keep an eye out for applications and spread the word, ok? This scholar-priest, for his part, came away energized and hopeful about what God’s up to in our little Anglican/Episcopal corner of the kingdom.
The featured image of Christ Pantokrator (2010) shows the fourteenth-century dome of an Orthodox church in Arges, Romania. It is licensed under Creative Commons.