Ever since I first encountered biblical studies I’ve been immersed in discussions about whether or not a “canonical” approach to the Bible is to be preferred over some other sort of approach. One of the difficulties with this discussion relates to a lack of clarity about what such an approach might be. Canonical approaches range from the simple assertion that Scripture should be read a whole, for the church to methodological statements about how the actual literary shape of the canon functions to shape a particular theological reading of Scripture. Therein lies some of the numinousness that surround issues of how we determine methods of theological interpretation.
My one thought at this point, as an apreciator of methods that tend to go under the label “canonical” is that if a canonical approach is understood as positing the shape of the Christian canon as a sort of regulating principle that constitutes a stable universe of coherence and meaning, then I’m not sure it works. I’m wary of such and overdetermined approach to the biblical text in that such macro-level sytheses seem to inevitably require the flattening out of dissonances within the scriptural canon.
Brueggemann makes reference to this in his critique of Childs in his recent book, A Pathway of Interpretation in which he tries to distinguish his own approach from the “canonical” and the “critical”, styling himself as lying somewhere between them, attempting to allow discordant texts to seriously confront the reader in their otherness and intrusiveness (contra the critical) without positing an overarching closure to the message of the Scripture as a whole which determine our readings of particular texts (the canonical). I don’t know if Bruegemann’s critique of Childs really has the traction he thinks it does, and I think the problem with Brueggemann’s position is that he seems to only want to find discordant voices all over the place, having an over-developed suspicion of any genuine unity to the canon. But there still remains the problem of positing the shape of the canon as a sort of ordering principle which predetermines proper readings of scriptural texts. There seems to be just as much an ideological danger in such an approach as that as in old-style historical criticism. I can’t say for sure if this is really a problem with Childs’ canonical approach, but I do see this danger in many of the thinkers that have received and self-applied the label of canonical methodology. Maybe others can shed more light or thought on this.