Him We Proclaim, 5

May 26, 2008

Johnson brings Part I of this work to a close in chapter 5 as he describes the main challenges to apostolic preaching. As a conclusion and segue to Part II he presents a movement towards “accountable, credible Christ-centered hermeneutics” (151). This chapter was too long and complex to give a detailed review. There are too many huge, foundational questions that Johnson asks. This chapter alone could have been elaborated into several independent books.

In order to provide a general outline, I will just include the subheading and major points that are made. Johnson first explains some of the modern misgivings about apostolic preaching, biblical unity, interpretative accountability, and interpretative credibility. The historical movements that gave way to different approaches to Scripture are briefly discussed. He calls the question of context to be the central issue. Are the interpretations of passages in the Hebrew Bible that are loyal to authorial intent at odds with the apostle’s interpretation found in the New Testament? I say no. Johnson makes his case clear: 

I am arguing that if the New Testament itself affirms a symbolic-typological interpretation of an Old Testament feature (for example, that the multiethnic church “is” the Israel with whom God makes his covenant), we are on safer ground to follow the New Testament’s lead rather than clinging to a different, “literal” reading that might seem, in the abstract, to be more objectively verifiable (140).

I appreciate Johnson categorizing the different approaches to the question of context and including names such as Beale, Dodd, Kaiser, Longnecker, and Enns. In setting forth his approach, Johnson titles three questions to answer:

1) “if the text’s original context is no longer regarded as the single determinant of the text’s valid meaning, have all hermeneutic criteria external to the interpreter, to which our exegesis can he held accountable, been jettinsoned?”

2) “does the inclusion of later New Testament revelation and the whole completed canon of Scripture as interpretative contexts of equal or even greater relevance that text’s immediate literary context and life situation tend to ‘flatten out’ the landscape of biblical revelation and obscure its progressive character?”

3) “how should we evaluate those instances in which the text’s meaning in its original context seems incompatible with the meaning attributed to it by later apostolic usage in the broader canonical context?”

 I do not think that the Old Testament authors nor the New Testament apostles have a problem with a literary approach to the Hebrew Bible that is true to authorial intent and is thus Christotelic. I think that is exactly what the OT writers meant, and exactly what the NT interpreters understood. Doesn’t 1 Peter 1:10-12 confirm this? The text is sufficient to lead us to Jesus Christ and it is harmonious to apostolic preaching. I look forward to Johnson developing a hermeneutical paradigm from the apostles’ example.


Him We Proclaim, 4

May 13, 2008

After a break, I write again…

Chapter 4 of Him We Proclaim deals with the history of apostolic preaching in the church. Johnson explicitly states his thesis on pg. 98:

“Our hypothesis is that much of the debate throughout the history of the church over the question of whether and how the Old Testament, in particular, bears witness to Christ turns on disagreement over the weight to be accorded to various concentric circles of context in which a biblical text can be read.”

One of the major debates throughout the history of the church, and which will explode in the “Enlightenment,” is how biblical interpretation should be understood considering the manner in which the apostles interpreted the Old Testament. While historically the church would say that “Scripture is its own interpreter,” Enlightenment philosophers would look at the New Testament’s use of Old Testament Scripture as being uneducated, illogical, and incorrect.

Johnson breaks the history of biblical interpretation into three phases, and I’ll just give what I thought was particularly interesting from each summary:

Complication: From the Church Fathers through the Middle Ages

It’s important to understand that while the early Church Fathers are often criticized, particularly on the dawn of the “Middle Ages” which would witness the increasing corruption of the Catholic church, early biblical interpretation was generally text-driven and Christ-centered. Much of the interpretation often went too far to stress the allegorization of scripture and the three or even four-fold meaning of each text. However, early interpretation should not be written off as being without any benefit.

Chastening: The Reformation

Reformation hermeneutics focused on scripture’s ability to interpret itself, particularly with a personal, “private, invincible access to the mind of the Spirit” that would help with interpretation. This is not the extreme of private revelation as the final authority. I thought it was interesting that reformation hermeneutics reject that a large number of theologians adopting an interpretation of a text, or antiquity of an interpretation is a legitimate reason to accept a particular meaning of a text. Scripture is its own interpreter, and neither popularity nor antiquity take precedence over this (114).

Rejection: The Enlightenment and Historical-Critical Biblical Theology

This has already been mentioned, so I will just give a few more words to the matter. With the rise of “historical criticism” the Bible no longer was viewed as one book written by many authors who were inspired by the Divine Author, but instead Scripture was viewed as being written by a number of intellectually-inferior, conflicting, superstitious authors. Therefore, Scripture was rendered as more of a collection of folktales that the Word of God. Johnson puts it,

Once they had set aside the concept of a divine Author of Scripture, nothing stood in the way of their critiquing the biblical authors’ statements with regard to Ancient Near Eastern history, human origins, or a whole host of other issues (117).

This is just a snapshot of the history of Biblical interpretation in the church, but it reflects greatly that the modern Christian should 1) be respectful of the more ancient methods of understanding the text 2) understand that an evolutionary hermeneutic (that we are superior to our predecessors) is both arrogant and dangerous and 3) the incredible danger of setting aside God’s inspiration of Scripture for the sake of “academic pursuits.”

Him We Proclaim, 3

May 2, 2008

Johnson picks up from the three approaches he discussed in the previous chapter and writes, “…in principle these insights can be reconciled and incorporated into a more complex and richer homiletic…” (62). He turns to Paul’s theology of preaching encapsulated best in Colossians 1:24-27 to define preaching in all its dimensions. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating chapters that I have ever read in any book.

There are seven themes in this passage that Dr. Johnson pulls out to summarize Paul’s theology of apostolic preaching… 

     1) The purpose of his proclamation is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”

     2) He therefore is aware of the “identity and need” of his listeners.

     3) “His message has content to be communicated authoritatively and persuasively, and Paul encapsulates the entire content of his message in a single word–or, more precisely, a single person” ‘Him we proclaim’–the Christ who no indwells Gentiles” (64).

     4) The communication tasks of his preaching includes “teaching and admonishing.”

     5) Sufferings, afflictions, toil, and struggle are part of the price to paid by ministers of the gospel.

     6) There is a divine power that is at work through the preacher’s weakness.

     7) “This text introduces the motif of the preacher’s office, entailing authority and accountability, through the imagery or stewardship” (65).