Tag Archives: method

Salvation at Stake

Today we wrap-up a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history.


The final essay in we will look at in this series is a chapter from Brad Gregory’s Salvation at Stake. This final essay represents the strongest set of arguments against a form of historiography dominated by what have variously been called, “the new historicism,” “the linguistic turn” or most simply, post-structuralism.

In the introduction to Salvation at Stake, Gregory describes his two-fold purpose: 1)

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Brad Gregory holds the Dorothy G. Griffin Chair in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

present an account of Christian martyrdom from the perspective of four traditions and 2) make a methodological contribution to how historians approach the early modern period. (2) For the purposes of comparing this essay to the others from this week, our focus will be on the section titled “On Understanding Early Modern Christianity.” Here Gregory addresses how poststructuralist theory “alleges a radical disjunction between representations and realities, rendering truth claims unverifiable.” (9) The “insights” of post-structuralism have “taught” us that the martyrs who died for their religious beliefs, in fact held views that are mere constructions. Post-structuralism has also “taught” us that these martyr’s beliefs were nothing but “strategies of domination” and that the literature which reported martyrdom was nothing but propaganda and political power-plays.

In light of these “lessons” Gregory calls us to declare a postmortem for poststructuralism “so that we may avoid its dead end.” (10) Instead we should take these martyrs and their storytellers on their own terms. (10) Instead of deconstructing early modern accounts we ought to be reconstructing these accounts. (11) When we do this we will have come up with an account which (hopefully) the subjects of study would have recognized as their own.

In order to reconstruct plausible accounts Gregory has to address two issues. First, that all claims, including religious claims, are embeded within social relationships, institutions, and other cultural expectations. Second, that people often act for covert interests and rationalize their actions. The second issue can be addressed without adopting a hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutic of suspicion should be avoided because it “destroys the very possibility of understanding historical difference” and “undermines the sincerity and integrity of people whose actions fall beyond the boundaries of behavior enacted ‘in good faith.’”(14) Instead of a hermeneutic of suspicion we ought to adopt a hermeneutic of charity, taking sources at their own words unless there are reasons to believe that the source is being deceptive. In the case of martyrological sources, one can maintain a fine balance between suspicion and charity by checking martyological literature against literature produced by opponents. Surprisingly, both kinds of accounts tend to be very similar in what they report. Thus, it seems as though a hermeneutic of charity can give us adequate details of events as they are reported.

Analysis

Out of the five essays we have examined this was the essay that I resonated the most with. I find myself agreeing with much of what Gregory has to say; especially as it concerns the problems of post-structuralism or “the linguistic turn.” The method he proposes does a good job of guarding against some of the realities that post-structuralism brings up, namely subjectivity and covert motives. His method does not dismiss these realities, however he refuses to let historiography be put into bondage by these realities. Instead he leverages these two points to develop an even more objective account of historical events.

In addition to the fact that this method has some payoff regarding research I believe that it also has another strength: it displays Christian virtue. By this I mean, that this method attempts to refrain from reading false motives into its subjects. In a sense you could say that this method attempts refuses to bear false witness against its neighbor and thus keeps 9th commandment. Also, one might think that this method is in line with Paul’s description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13: love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. For these two simple reasons I am drawn to Brad Gregory’s method over the method of the other authors we have examined thus far.

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Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic

Today we continue a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history. In the next few days we will take a look at all sorts of views regarding how to do history. These views range from critical realist accounts all the way to post-structuralist accounts and even some feminist accounts.


“Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic” is a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde confession. In the same man there exists two persons. The first is a “historian and polemicist of literary theory, who could speak with passion, without noticeable impediment about literature as a political instrument.” (59) This man could murder a piece of literature and expose show how literary texts are devious acts of power. The second is a man who simply enjoyed the pleasures of reading good literature. One might imagine that the second man is Dr. Jekyll, a polite, composed, model citizen and that the first man is Mr. Hyde, a ruthless villain, robbing people of the pleasures of life. Although many non-academics might see things this way, the fact is that in the academy – specifically literature departments – the second man is the one who is paraded as a model to be emulated and the first is deemed to barbarous to roam the halls of the elite institutions of academia. Such a man is called “non-literary.”

In explaining his experience of living as a literary critic and a lover of literature Frank

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Frank Lentricchia

Lentricchia exposes some of the absurdities of the sort of literary criticism practiced by various approaches to the study of literature, including (but not explicitly named) the New Historicism. He explains that at one point he was convinced that as a literary critic he could “be an agent of social transformation, an activist who would show his students that, in its form and style, literature had a strategic role to play in the world’s various arrangements of power” and that all literature was “either in opposition to or in complicit with the power in place.” (60) However, Lentricchia eventually came to believe that this sort of approach to literature, which is standard in literature departments is misguided. He now believes that literary criticism is “a form of Xeroxing.” (64) Literary critics a live in an echo-chamber, when they speak of the imperialism, homophobia, sexism, etc. hidden in a literary text, they are simply voicing their own ideological concerns. Instead of being concerned with the “power plays” supposedly voiced in literary texts, Lentricchia now contents himself with simply trying to “describe what is on the page.” (67) And thus, it seems that for now Lentricchia’s Mr. Hyde, the lover of literature, has eclipsed Dr. Jekyll, the literary critic.

Analysis

This essay does a fine job of exposing the fact that literary criticism can serve as a form of political activism. The literary critic, by exposing the supposed ideologies present in great works of literature, believes she can shape and mold her audience towards pursuing a better world. There is something noble about this. However, Lentricchia, rightly in my mind, exposes the fact that in their desire to make the world a better place, some critics can read things into texts that are not actually there simply because the critic is driven by a particular agenda. This is what he calls “Xeroxing.”

The act of “Xeroxing” is a danger that is not just present for the literary critic but the historian as well. Its too easy to read sexism or racism, issues which a historian is right to be concerned with, into historical texts which are neither sexist or racist. “John Calvin did not allow women to take the pulpit in Geneva, therefore he is a sexist.” “Peter Martyr Vermigli never attempted to teach outside of Europe, therefore he is euro-centric.” These are potential examples of “Xeroxing” in the discipline church history. Lentricchia is right, we should attempt to allow our “texts” speak for themselves instead of imposing our own judgements upon “texts” for issues that “texts” are not even concerned with.


See, Frank Lentricchia, “Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic,” Lingua Franca 6/6 (September/October 1996): 59-67.

Pannenberg on History and Truth for Method

Having given a brief overview of Chapter 1 of ST1 I would now like to highlight two key themes in this section of Pannenberg’s work. These two themes also play a key role in the rest of ST1. These themes are 1) truth and 2) history.

History

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First regarding the theme of “history.” In the Foreword to ST1 Pannenberg mentions the reluctance of some theologians to focus on the historical nature of Christian doctrine. Yet Pannenberg believes that Christian doctrine rests on “the historical revelation of God in the historical figure of Jesus Christ and on the precise evaluation, by historical interpretation alone, of the testimony that early Christian proclamation gives to this figure.” Pannenberg’s focus on the importance of history is evident throughout ST1 but it becomes especially important in his discussion of the truth of Dogmatics. In section 1.2 Pannenberg says that “all the NT authors bear witness in their different ways to the act of God in Jesus of Nazareth.” Christian faith rests upon the confession of Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him which we come to know through the historical witness of the NT authors. His emphasis on history is also seen in his detailed discussions of the history of Dogmatics. He often goes into long details outlining the history behind a certain doctrinal position. Here he shows the importance of the fact that doctrine does not just materialize, rather is has a history which develops and eventually matures.

Truth

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Now regarding the theme of “truth.” Pannenberg stresses that Dogmatics attempts to articulate the truth of God. As it relates various themes of doctrine, the goal is to present these themes in light of the reality of who God is. Theology which does not attempt to be grounded in the truth of God is not theology in the true sense of the word. Any sort of theology which simply attempts to find coherence with other Christian doctrine or with the world, yet fails to be done in relation to the object of theology cannot be called true theology. The fact that his theology pursues truth is also displayed in the fact that Pannenberg explains that there is a difference between human theology which copy and imitation of that which is true divine archetypal theology. Pannenberg’s emphasis on truth as a theological category is also evident in his discussion about the truth of dogma in which he lays out various theories of truth and argues that coherence and consensus are not enough to establish the truth of Christian dogma.

Theologie Totale

In here new book God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay on the Trinity Sarah Coakley outlines a new method for doing systematic theology. While I don’t have a really grasp on it yet, I am trying. Thankfully Coakley outlines 9 points which are of utmost importance to this new method. I will probably end up commenting on this method in the future, but for now I leave you with the 9 Hallmarks of Theologie Totale:

  1. Privileging Contemplation – Contemplation is not simply foundational, its the creative source of life to which we must constantly return.
  2. Theology in via – It involves an ongoing journey of purgative transformation and change.
  3. The Counterpoint of philosophy, science, and theologie totale – Theology does not subsume secular philosophy or science, grace and nature remain theoretically demarcated.
  4. Orthodoxy as goal – Orthodoxy seems a bit complicated for Coakley, it seems to be more about Orthopraxy than getting our dogmatic statements “correct.”
  5. Theologie totale as socially located but not socially reduced – in my mind this is the most distinctive aspect, it pays attention to social location and sociological finding without reducing all things to mere sociological causes.
  6. Theologie totale and the expansion of the classical systematic loci – this method uses all the classical systematic loci, but not in the same ordering. It also adds new loci as needed, for instance: race and class.
  7. Theologie totale and aestheic expression – it pays attention to the various mediums through which religious ruth is expressed non-verbally, e.g. music, liturgy, icons, art, poetry
  8. The overcoming of false divides – it overcomes the divide between  academic/pastoral,  liberal/conservative, systematic/philosophical
  9. Desire as the constellation theological category of theologie totale – at the heart of her systematics is an examination of the relation of divine and human desires, this is why the entire systematic collection will be called “On Desiring God.”

How To Read the Bible (I’m Not Being Snarky!)

The last post in this series of posts on hermeneutics was titled: How to Read Your Bible (or How You Actually Read the Bible), I must admit that that the title was a bit snarky. You probably thought I was going to tell you about ways to read your bible but I fooled you and showed you how you actually read your Bible. I’m sorry about that. This time I will actually outline a few methods for reading the Bible. There are at least three rather obvious places where we can find meaning in the text of the Bible. When you read you probably find yourself engaging in trying to find meaning in all three” locations” Here are the three:

  1. Behind the Text
  2. In the Text
  3. In front of the Text

Behind the Text

  • This way of approaching the texts attempts to locate the meaning especially in history. This has been the dominant approach in biblical studies for centuries. When reading this way the reader attempts to isolate the historically intended, correct meaning of the text. It attempts to inquire into the historical situation/background of the text. It places a majority of its emphasis on what is going on during the actual writing of the text. This type of reading makes use of other discipleins like “Historical Criticism,” “Extracannonical Jewish Text Studies,” and “Classics.” The key word for this type of reading is “History.”

In the Text

  • In the text methods (obviously) attempt to focus on the text itself, its form, its structure, its consistency, etc.  Many times this sort of reading will make use of other disciplines like “rhetorical criticsm” or “Genre Analysis” or “Linguistics.” The in the text reading” is where we might locate the blooming discipline of “new testatment use of the old.” This discipline fits into this way of reading scripture because it focuses on how some texts make use of other texts. This type of reading (new testament use of the old) makes use of intercannonical liteary themes. Thus it limits itself to the study of the text itself. The key word for this type of reading is “Literature.”

In Front of the Text

  • This way of reading scripture takes very seriously the questions, “who is doing the reading?” This method emphasizes the fact that the reader is not an empty receptacle for meaning, rather as the reader engages with the text, the reader contributes (baggage) to his/her reading of the text. In-front-of-the-text readings do not pretend to be neutral, rather they recognize that all our readings come from a particular vantage point, that is, there is no “view from nowhere.” This way of reading scripture makes use of other disciplines like “Feminist Criticism,” “African American Criticism,” and “Latino/a Criticism.” Interpretation for the sake of Christian Ethics might also fall into this sort of reading, namely because Christian Ethics is about the response of the reader and his/her understanding of the text. The key word for this type of reading is “Response.”

This was just a really short outline of three ways we approach scripture. Although professional scholars usually engage primarily in one of these methods (N.T. Wright would be considered “Behind the Text” and Walter Bruggeman would be considered “In the Text”) the truth is that when we read scripture we actually end up using all three methods. When reading a tough passage you probably have asked yourself:

  1. What did this passage mean to them 1000’s of years ago?
  2. What is the “big picture” truth?
  3. What does it mean for me today?

In a rough way these three questions parallel the three methods outlined above. So in one sense you are a biblical scholar engaging in complicated hermeneutical methods!

Strange Evangelical Theology

I while ago I had to read Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s In Christology: A Global Introduction for a class. In this book Karkkainen presents brief summaries of various theologian’s Christologies. The theologians he chooses to present run the spectrum of Christian Theology. Karkkainen covers some important historical Christologies, some western Christologies (Rahner/Barth), and some contextual Christologies (Latino/Evangelical/Feminist). Among these contextual theologies Karkainen presents Stanley Grenz as the typical evangelical theologian. He begins by noting that evangelical is an ambiguous term; indeed it is, however there are certain aspects/motifs of that are central to evangelical theology. For instance one might think of the primacy of scripture as one of these aspects. A second aspect that we find in evanelical theology is the belief that there should be some sort of personal response to doctrinal truths. A third aspect of evangelical theology that is important is its emphasis on Soteriology. Because Soteriology is central to evangelical theology, theologians like Grenz often approach topics like “the person of Christ” especially in relation to soteriological issues.

Although evangelical theology follows a pretty “traditional” way of doing theology, it can also have some interesting deviations. For instance one might think of Jonathan Edwards as the model for American Evangelicalism, however there are aspects of his theology that would make some evangelicals cringe. For instance his idealism and his panentheism would probably get him fired from many evangelical seminaries today. This is only one example of a “conservative” evangelical theologian having some strange aspects of his theology. Other Evangelical theologians are committed to strange things like physicalism (think Joel Green). Finally, Grenz himself also makes some strange claims within his theology… so I recommend that you read him yourself, or else I might butcher his position.

All this just goes to show that:

“Evangelical Theology” is a lot more complicated that most of us think.

There are a wide variety of positions out there. And some of those positions are quite strange. So the point is that its actually pretty hard to say what a “Typical Evangelical Theology” looks like, that is unless you look to Grudem! (BLAH!!!!)