- Biblical Theology in Outline: The Vitality of the Word of God
Biblical Theology in Outline is an adaptation of Theology of the Biblical Witness: An evolutionary approach. Münster (Germany): LIT-Verlag, 2002. The author is a systematic theologian who views his role as that of reflecting on the meaning of the Word of God for us today (239).
The foundational premise in the volume is that 'the Word of God is the living address of the living God to living people through the words, life and actions of a living community of believers' (4). It 'always responds to concrete human needs' in specific contexts (43–5). This is the essence of 'tradition' of which the Scriptures are a decisive and indispensable but not an exclusive part (5, 24, 64, 66). As such, biblical interpretation constitutes retrieving of the meaning of the Word of God from the ancient texts in order to speak afresh to new situations (5). This replicates the same process within the biblical texts as demonstrable by followingthe trajectories of six paradigms of salvation in the Bible through a millennium of biblical history (Part II) as the Word of God 'responded to changing situations of need' (2, cf. 231, 239). The paradigms studied include 'promises to the fathers of Israel', 'the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan', 'the king as God's representative on earth', 'priesthood and sacrifice', 'covenant, law and grace' and 'creation and new creation' (69–237).
In Part I, he delineates his approach to biblical interpretation. The first task is retrieving and entails identifying the 'participation of God' in new sets of problems and contexts 'through human hearts, minds and patterns of behaviour' (7) within the Bible. This is a task for Biblical Theology (239). The second task is 'responsible reading'. It assumes maturity and implies authority and responsibility on the part of the reader (16). It recognises that God has entrusted the biblical Scriptures themselves to our care [End Page 183] (17) for processing through the human spirit (19, 27). It starts from human faith experience (20) and includes the 'vulnerability and fallibility of human nature' (21).
A number of issues make this otherwise brilliant volume potentially controversial. There is undue dependence on 'provisional and problematic' (51, 57) source theory and documentary hypotheses (30) in 'retrieving the meaning of the Word of God from the ancient texts'. Despite claims to the contrary (38, 239), God's involvement in the production of 'human insight' in both Scripture and contemporary 'responsible reading' (cf. 33) is unclear. An open-ended Canon (37, 65) whose content is subject to the laws of 'emergence, evolution, deterioration and decay' (40–3, 63) leaves the impression that there is no ontological stability to its 'undercurrent of meaning' (37, 67), the 'dynamic vision of God's redemptive intentions which moves below the texts' (38) and their subsequent 're-interpretations' (39) or 'reformulations' (44, 45, 60, 62, 66).