Continued Conversation with D. Christopher Spinks

D. Christopher Spinks has graciously responded to my previous post with one of his own that engages with me and Dr. Greg Cary, a professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

First, I need to thank him for a great conversation! I hope we are enacting, in some sense, his fourth "hue." Second, some admissions. He is right about the Watson correction, I thought his interaction lasted farther into the paragraph, and now I see that I was mistaken. He is also right to correct my use of "pre-critical" rather than "pre-modern." I actually agree with him that interpreters before modernism were still critical -- I wrote too hastily. Finally, I did not catch his second "l" in "faith-full," it was not a purposeful omission. Thanks to Dr. Spinks for drawing my attention to these errors.

Third, some quick explanations on my post in conversation with his (quotations are from his post):
My problem with the way it’s all set up is that Seth continues to work with the theology/biblical studies dichotomy and creates four concoctions with various amounts of each ingredient.
I was not clear enough as to the dichotomy I wanted to push in my post. I wanted to push the historical-critical paradigm vs. theology dichotomy, not biblical studies vs. theology. I do in fact think biblical studies and theology need to be combined, hopefully removing the distinction to some extent. By laying out the four options in terms of mixing "scientific exegesis" and "theology," I meant the historical-critical paradigm and theology. I see those two as being unmixable as they now stand due to the basic tenants of the historical-critical paradigm. As some argue, I do not see the problem with the historical-critical paradigm being that its practitioners have "naturalistic" or "positivistic" presuppositions; rather, I think the whole method is inherently naturalistic and positivistic. When Christians do "history," how do they do it aside from using the principles of doubt, analogy, and cause and effect? I know Wolfhart Pannenberg and N.T. Wright offer some alternative proposals, but much "faith-full" biblical scholarship assumes that it can add the historical-critical paradigm (sans its atheism) to its study of the Bible, as long as it bring the right presuppositions (theism). The purpose of my four options was to help make clear how different people navigate the interaction of the historical-critical paradigm and theology. I meant to be descriptive in the categories, not prescriptive.
Seth is pressing interesting and important points, but I see them as beholden to the categories and language established by a couple hundred years of the predominance of a particular methodology, namely historical criticism, and the division of disciplines that came out of that methodological hegemony.
I agree that it is hard to discuss these matters without appealing to historical-critical categories. My discussion about the proper mixture of historical-criticism and theology came from Spinks's claim (I think) that theological interpretation is both modern and postmodern (hence my original guess as putting him in the HC+ model). In his final section, "Transcending Polarities," he says, "Theological interpretation has a distinct dependence on certain postmodern perspectives" and later "theological interpretation, as featured here . . . does not, however, wholly find its rooting in postmodernity. It still maintains certain ties to traditionally modern styles of reading." I interpreted "postmodernity" here as a position that allows faith (theology) into exegesis and "modern styles of reading" as the historical-critical paradigm -- thus some sort of mixture of the two.

Fourth, I would like to interact on some intriguing points he made that were not directly related to my post:
For theological interpretation, scientific exegesis is neither an end in itself, nor something to be abandoned, nor an ingredient in a programmatic recipe; but rather, it is a tool sometimes used to assist the body of readers who read for broadly theological reasons. Theological interpretation, thus, puts scientific exegesis in its proper place.
I think these sentences put our discussion in sharpest contrast (as long as by "scientific exegesis" he means the historical-critical paradigm). I agree with the sentiment that wants to keep history connected to exegesis and in its proper place. The issue arises when we ask whether the historical-critical paradigm is helpful in this task. I would argue that theological interpretation needs an entirely new view of history, a different "historical paradigm" than the one given by the historical-critical paradigm. It is not enough for theological interpretation to have HC+God (nor God + HC) but instead needs something else. I do not believe God and any use of the historical-critical paradigm are compatible. I admit I do not yet have answers to what this "something else" may be, but that is something I hope to work on.
I conceptualize theological interpretation as a constellation of conversations (historical, theological, ethical, etc.) centered on the community’s reading(s) of its sacred text. No paradigm required.
This move away from "paradigm" language is a very helpful one for theological interpretation taken as a whole. Theological interpretation is not a method or a paradigm but something different. "Constellation" is a term worth exploring more regarding its ability to engage multiple conversations. The focus on the community (Body of Christ as Spinks calls it elsewhere) is also spot on. Theological interpretation is done for the church, with the church, and in the church. I would like to think that Spinks and I agree on much, disagreeing mainly upon the role of historical-criticism in the "historical" part of the "constellation" of theological interpretation.


Chris Spinks said...

Thanks for this, Seth. I think you and I are actually on the same page. We just happen to be focusing our polemics on different groups of people. I am most concerned to say to those who think postmodern perspectives are the work of the bogeyman that postmodern sensibilities are OK, in fact they are quite resonant with and have created space for theological interpretation. But, I say this knowing postmodern interpretation is no more the way forward for theological interpretation than any modern approach might be. I do not, however, engage proponents of the strict historical-critical paradigm you've described. It is a needed engagement and it looks like you positioning yourself to do it well. I just haven't done it. I have in mind a looser notion of historical criticism. You often use the phrase "historical-critical paradigm," and in the sense that it is a paradigm with its inherent naturalism and positivism as well as its principles of doubt and such, I think it should be abandoned. But in the sense that historical criticism is a set of tools one can use to understand the world of the Roman Empire in the first century, I think we would be crazy to avoid it. If we need to come up with a different name for these tools so as to differentiate from the mindset or "paradigm," I'm all game.

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