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Theological Commentary: A Few Thoughts

1. Theological commentary is a practice of  commenting on Scripture. It is not an attempt to excavate the determinate meaning of the text, or make definitive statements about the text as such.

2. Theological commentary is theological. It is a practice of reading and interacting with Scripture from a distinctly Christian perspective that is fundamentally informed by Christian commitments to the triune God and the centrality of Jesus Christ.

3. Theological commentary is part of the church’s missional task. Commenting on Scripture is a way of holding Scripture “open” before oneself and the church as a whole, calling us into the story told therein. It is a way of situating ourselves within the story of God’s own trinitarian drama of salvation. As such theological commentary is a practice of attempting to find our place within God’s missional calling on his people.

4. Theological commentary is a discipline, the aim of which is to facilitate our own sanctification and transformation. There are many aims and ends of commenting on Scripture, but the immediate aim of theological commentary is to encounter the Word of God in the text of Scripture and in that encounter to be caught up more deeply into the communio that is the triune life of God.

5. Theological commentary is ecclesial in shape and practice. Commenting on Scripture theologically means doing so within the context of the church’s interpretive tradition and history. It likewise means doing so within the immediate communal setting of the local church which serves as the primary locus of testing and exploring claims and questions about Scripture.

6. Theological commentary is an offering to the church for consideration, dissection, correction, and edification. It is to be done in the mode of gifting, not in the mode of confrontation. Unlike the role of the preacher who is called to confront the church with the Word of God, theological commentary is a humble attempt to engage with the Word of God, not knowing how such engagement will turn out. It is prior to and grounds the practice of proclamation.

7. Theological commentary is not done rightly unless done in the context of doxology and prayer. The end of theological commentary is an ever-deepening union with the triune God through Christ. Such communion only occurs through being drawn, by the Spirit of Christ, into God’s life through the posture of worship.

8. Theological commentary is never finished in any sense whatsoever. In that Scripture participates in God’s economy of revelation and reconciliation, there is a plenitude to Scripture that precludes ever having come to the end of meditating on any and all of it. The depth of riches contained in Scripture can never be exhausted thought theological commentary or any other form of exegetical engagement with Scripture. Rather the Scriptures are penultimately inexhaustible, a place of living and dwelling that will never be fully explored prior to the consummation of all things in God.

6 Comments

  1. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this, Halden . . . I’ll take this as your response to my question on the Gospel of John.

    The interesting thing is that this is primarily how I read the Bible before I came to Multnomah. Not to denigrate the biblical languages and “exegesis,” because it certainly has its place; but I think “theological interpretation” should be the frame and attitude that brings shape to any and all “academic exegesis” — I can remember many friends from school who were so put off by the rather “cold” engagement of interpretation that they were learning, that they went the other extreme and became completely antagonistic toward it (the problem is, is that many of them went completely “anti-intellectual” — the conundrum of Fundamentalism.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Brad E. wrote:

    Thank you for this post. These rules should hang like grounding theses over, above, and before every work of interpretation, exegesis, or theological engagement of the Bible. Just wonderful.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I think #8 is my favorite, and cuts right at the heart of the received tradition of exegesis. I like the language of ‘plenitude of scripture’ in the best sense of its instrumentality and pointedness to the WORD, that it is — and thus its “plenitude.”

    Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  4. Matt Shafer wrote:

    I like your point about theology being done in the context of prayer and doxology. I think that’s desperately needed (by myself as much as by anyone else in particular). It also strikes me as being analogous to N. T. Wright’s idea in “The Last Word” that scripture should be read in the context of liturgy.

    Monday, February 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink
  5. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    In that Scripture participates in God’s economy of revelation and reconciliation, there is a plenitude to Scripture that precludes ever having come to the end of meditating on any and all of it.

    I think the in that is really important. It locates the profundity of scripture in its referent and not in the inherent ambidguity of language itself. If I’ve understood this correctly, it means that we can be commited to some form of determinate meaning while still being able to transcend that meaning when it is read as part of the larger economy of salvation. The Psalms retain their “historical” or perhaps literal sense. Nevertheless, they also speak of Christ. He is ontologically present in a way that allows us to respect both the sensus literalis and the sensus spiritualis. Or something like that :)

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  6. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    John Calvin offered two criteria by which to judge excellence in biblical interpretation: lucid brevity. Childs expands on this with the following considerations:

    1. Does the commentator do justice to the coercion of the biblical text, or does the author’s private agenda overshadow the text itself?

    2. Does the creative imagination of the commentator lead the reader back to the biblical text or away from it?

    3. Does the interpretation reflect the needed patience and empathy to wrestle with the elements of the Bible that at first seem strange, distant, and even offensive to modern sensibilities?

    4. Has the commentator learned enough from the history of interpretation to retain a sense of modesty regarding his or her efforts and a critical respect for those who have illuminated the way in the past?

    Friday, February 6, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink

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