Daniel Treier begins his manual on theological interpretation of Scripture by tracing a brief history. Beginning with the reaction against historical criticism and the seminal work of Barth he traces the influence of Barth through his focus on the ‘subject’ of the text, the fact that “one must enter into or participate in its meaning” and reading “with more attention and love” (p. 16). He traces briefly traces this trend through such scholars as Brevard Childs, David Kelsey, Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, Stanley Hauerwas and Francis Watson (pp. 18-20). After discussing the attempt to recover theological interpretation in the evangelical (pp. 21-25) and Roman Catholic (pp. 25-33) traditions, Treier turns to a brief examination of the ‘Postmodern turn’ (pp. 33- 36). This section functions as both a brief history of and introduction to the issues surrounding this thing called theological interpretation of Scripture.
Now Treier turns to the first part of his introduction to theological hermeneutics by examining three common themes held among those who claim to do theological interpretation. The first of these is the attempt to recover ancient Christian practices (ch. 1: ‘Recovering the Past’). Treier notes that there is a resurgence of those trying to recover their Christian heritage by practicing in line with historical Christianity. He identifies three practices that are used in an attempt to recover this ancient Christian practice: 1) reading as piety (pp. 41-45); 2) reading about Christ (pp. 45-51); 3) reading for Christian practice, with a special emphasis on the fourfold sense of Scripture (pp. 51-55).
The second chapter deals with the concern of “Reading within the Rule(s).” This chapter is about the practice of interpretation within the context of Christian Doctrine. Treier briefly surveys the patristic Regula Fidei (‘rule of faith’). He then briefly introduces some of the modern attempts to follow this rule, looking particularly at Francis Watson who argues, contra those like James Barr and John Barton, that “Some division of labor is necessary between biblical studies and systematic theology, but the distinction is functional, not normative” (p. 67). He then finally turns to his case study of the imago Dei, looking particularly at Augustine’s trinitatrian interpretation of the creation event.
The third chapter deals with the final theme that most theological interpreters hold dear, the practice of “Reading with Others.” The the title of this chapter suggests its primary subject matter is communal interpretation, it could just as easily have been titled, “Reading Pietistically,” as a majority of the chapter deals with reading that informs ans is informed by Christian spirituality. Here Treier draws on the work of Lindbeck and Hauwerwas but especially upon Stephen Fowl to show the dialectic between spiritually guided exegesis and biblically guided spirituality.
Treier now turns in part two of his work to engage in three challenges which theological interpretation of Scripture faces. The first in chapter 4 is the idea of biblical theology. Treier very briefly traces the idea of biblical theology from J.P. Gabler, he then cites James Barr and points out the problems that biblical theology has faced. After citing two modern attempts to re-engage with biblical theology, the progressive revelation approach (a la Carson) and the canonical approach (a la Childs), he turns again to Watson who understands biblical theology as something that “bridges the between study of Scripture and systematic theology” (p. 117).
Chapter 5 addresses the question of how general hermeneutics should influence our reading of Scripture? Treier spends some time outlining the history of hermeneutics spending some time on thinkers such as Gadamer and Ricoeur. He notes that in the practice of theological hermeneutics appeal is often made to precedents such as Augustine, and he outlines his De doctrina christiana. Among the modern Christian thinkers Treier discuses, he seems to give most space to Thiselton, Zimmermann, and Vanhoozer. In the end, Treier discusses how we might connect general hermeneutics to the special hermeneutics of Scripture. He appears to appreciate Vanhoozer’s view of Scripture as drama for this practice.
Chapter 6, on interpretation and globalization, is one of the most interesting chapters in the book. Treier argues that “Theological interpretation of Sctipture, to the degree that it does not engage these complex phenomena [globalization], is a movement that may prove hard to sustain” (161). With this thought in view, he outlines some of the issues and trends within global Christianity that theological interpretation of Scripture needs to encounter. This is a very interesting chapter, with a number of footnotes, that this reader at least will follow up on.
In the concluding chapter, Treier attempts to situate theological interpretation within the other known practices of exegesis, systematic theology, historical theology, etc. He concludes by trying to point the way forward for theological interpretation, noting the nine theses put forward by the “Scripture Project” (see p. 200) as representative of the movement. He argues that “the ultimate interpretive interest of the church is to know God in a holistic sense” (204) to this end theological interpretation of Scripture is our “map” pointing the way forward.
Treier’s book is an excellent introduction to this slippery thing called “theological interpretation of Scripture.” It is, to my knowledge, the only comprehensive introduction to this subject written at this level. It’s use of the running examination of the imago Dei sometimes enlightens and sometimes confuses (though this may simply be the fault of the reader). In the end, this book functions as the mandatory starting point into this discussion. It is a book that I will refer to again and again to help point my way through the growing morass of literature that falls under the category “theological interpretation of Scripture.”