My education is beginning to turn towards this thing called “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” (TIS). So, as my reading and my studying turns in this direction, my blogging (as sparse as it may be) will begin to reflect this somewhat. For those who are, like me, new to this discipline, I found the following article very helpful:

S.A. Cummins, “The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recent Contributions by Stephen E. Fowl, Christopher R. Seitz and Francis Watson,” Currents in Biblical Research 2/2 (2004): 179-96.

Cummins reviews the works of Fowl, Seitz and Watson as representative of the Theological Interpretation movement. He looks at each of them in terms of 1) their reaction against historical-critical interpretation, 2) their Trinitarian framework, 3) their understanding of Scripture as a Two-Testament text, and 4) their understanding of Scripture and its importance for the Christian community.

Cummins begins by assessing each author’s views in regards to what he calls “a collective dissatisfaction with what is deemed to be impoverished and inadequate historical approaches to biblical interpretation” (181). He introduces Fowl’s understanding of “determinate,” “anti-determinate,” and “underdetermined” interpretation. Cummins suggests that in Fowl’s counter-proposal their should perhaps be more room for a more sufficient role for the biblical text including “the admittedly complex matter of its intentionality” (184). He seems to prefer Watson’s view which he summarizes as arguing that,

God is meaningfully and truthfully disclosed in Scripture: not just behind the text (via historical reconstructions of some ‘original’ context), nor merely before it (via interpreting communities and their variegated contemporary contexts), but in and through a written biblical text which mediates the Word, Jesus Christ (184). 

This last quote strikes me as an immensely helpful presentation of God’s revelation in the biblical texts.

Cummins then moves on to a look at the Trinitatrian Framework of Scripture in the thinking of the three scholars under review. In terms of proponents of TIS Cummins says, “all things begin, proceed and reach their end under the governance of the triune God” (185). It also becomes readily apparent that one’s view of the Trinity greatly affects one’s interpretation. The discussion here is nuanced but shows, in this readers view, how close these three scholars are on this issue. Ultimately, TIS involves “human participation in the triune divine life” (186) and a growing role for the Spirit in biblical interpretation.

In regards to the question of what to do with a Two-Testament canon, Theological Interpreters recignize that that the “biblical text transcends its context(s) of origin to adopt a complex role within the life of its primary reading community, the church” (188). Obviously, the most difficult aspect of a Two-Testament canon for the church, is the question of what to do with the OT. According to Cummins, Fowl tends to understand the role of the OT as of abiding importance for the church but, consanant with his tendency to see the believing community as the key to interpretation, how to accept the OT as Scripture “is an open question to be answered by the church on a context-specific basis” (188).

Seitz and Watson seem to have a different emphasis. For Watson the abiding importance of the OT arises in the centrality of Jesus. So that for the Christian, OT interpretation has its importance in its pointing to and setting up the preconditions for Christ. Seitz, however, nuances it differently. For him, reducing the OT’s importance to Christ reduces the OT to something less than it should be. For him it is important for the OT to maintain its “abiding witness.” So that both in itself as a revelation of God and as it extends towards Christ, the OT is important. The main way that he accomplishes this is through his ‘figural’ (or typological) readings.

Watson, Seitz and even Fowl, strike me as hitting key points, but emphasizing different sides of this apparently three sided coin.

Finally, Cummins turns to an examination of Scripture and its importance for the character and conduct of the Christian community. The main discussion, naturally, revolves around Fowl who has placed a great emphasis on interpreting within the Church community. An emphasis on the role of the Spirit and the role of the community (versus individuals) in the interpretation of Scripture is gaining higher and higher ground, especially in the work of Fowl. To this Seitz cautions against placing too high a role on the interpretive community and the Spirit’s role lest we devaluate “Scripture’s literal sense, and thereby any confidence that the church remained under God’s providential care” (192). Watson’s voice is sounded only at the end of this discussion to note that biblical interpretation is not an end in itself (which all practitioner’s of TIS would agree) but seeks an ecclesial embodiment of Scripture “so that the church may be a means of divine grace and address to the wider world” (193).

Cummins article is a very helpful interaction with three prominent proponents of a Theological Interpretation of Scripture. The categories that he examines are key for this movement but also key for Christianity in general. His closing comments of the helpfulness of this movement for Christian faith are helpfully encapsulated when he writes that “The recognition that Scripture, Spirit and the Christian community are bound up with one another, while weighted in different ways, stresses the importance of the ecclesial embodiment of Scripture within the wider world” (193).

Ultimately, however, Cummins is offering a summary of his readings of Fowl, Seitz and Watson, and I am offering my summary of Cummins. This strikes me too far removed from the source. So to that end, I append the works that Cummins interacts with in his article for further reading, some of which I have read, the rest of which are on my reading list. Enjoy.

Works by Fowl, Seitz and Watson

Stephen E. Fowl

“The Ethics of Interpretation, or What’s Left Over After the Elimination of Meaning,” in D.J. Clines, S.E. Fowl and S.E. Porter (eds), The Bible in Three Dimensions, JSOT Sup 87 (Sheffield: Sheffiled Academic Press, 1990): 379-98.

The Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul, JSNTSup 36 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991).

“The New Testament, Theology, and Ethics,” in Joel B. Green (ed.), Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994): 394-410.

“Who can Read Abraham’s Story?” JSNT 55 (1994): 77-95.

“Texts Don’t Have Ideaologies,” BibInt 3 (1995): 1-34.

“Christology and Ethics in Phil. 2.5-11,” in B. Dodd and R.P. Martin (eds.), Where Christology Began (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1998): 140-53.

Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1998).

“Learning to Narrate Our Lives in Christ,” in Chrstopher R. Seitz and Kathryn Greene-McCreight (eds), Theological Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 199): 339-54.

Review of Text and Truth: Redifining Biblical Theology, by Francis Watson, Modern Theology 15 (1999): 94-96.

Review of Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Modern Theology 16 (2000): 260-62.

“The Role of Authorial Intention of Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” in Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids,: eerdmans, 2000): 71-87.

With L. Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1991).

With L. Gregory Jones, “Scripture, Exegesis, and Discernment in Christian Ethics,” in Nancy Murphy, Brad J. Kallenberg and Mark Thiessen Nation (eds.), Virtues and Practices in the Christian Tradition: Ethics after MacIntyre (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997): 111-31.

Christopher R. Seitz

Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

“Christological Interpretation of Texts and Trinitarian Claims to Truth: An Engagement with Francis Watson’s Text and Truth,” SJT 52 (1999): 209-26.

Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture (Louisville, KY Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001).

“Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Scripture and Creed in Ecumenical Trust,” in Christopher R. Seitz (ed.) Nicene Christianity: THe Future for a New Ecumenism (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001): 19-34.

Francis Watson

Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Grad Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).

“A Response to Professor Rowland,” SJT 48 (1995): 518-22.

“Bible, Theology and the University: A Response to Philip Davies,” JSOT 71 (1996): 3-16.

Text and Truth: Redifining Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).

“The Scope of Hermeneutics,” in Colin E. Gunton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (Cambrdige: CUP, 1997): 65-80.

“A Response to John Riches,” BibInt 6 (1998): 235-42.

“Toward a Literal Reading of the Gospels,” in Richard Bauckham (ed.), The Gospel for All Christians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998): 195-217.

“The Old Testament as Christian Scripture: A Response to Professor Seitz,” SJT 52 (1999): 227-32.

“Trinity and Community: A Reading of John 17,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 1 (1999): 168-84.

“The Bible,” in John Webster (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: CUP, 2000): 57-71.

“The Triune Divine Identity: Reflections on Pauline God-Language, in Disagreement with J.D.G. Dunn,” JSNT 80 (2000): 99-124.

Gospel and Scripture: Rethinking Canonical Unity,” TynBul 52 (2001): 161-82.

“The Quest for the Real Jesus,” in Markus Bockmuehl (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge: CUP, 2001): 156-69.

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