Sunday, July 1, 2012

Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Theological Interpretation of Scripture: An Introduction and
Preliminary Evaluation. By Gregg R. Allison; Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From The Southern Baptist Journal Of Theology, Volume 14.2 (2010)Available at

     Dr Allison’s article focuses on a new brand of theological interpretation and exegesis knows as Theological Interpretation of Scripture, also known as TIS. This relatively new thinking is propagated by the likes of Joel Green, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Stephen Fowler. The focus of TIS is a system of types of theological understandings of Scripture that are based primarily on the simple reading of the Bible without the subconscious, (or possibly the conscious) preconceived understanding brought in by the reader. In-other-words, the interpreter does not bring their own confessional, theological, and/or doctrinal baggage along for the exegetical ride.

     The number of “families” (as these systems are called by Allison) can range, but seem at present to be limited to three primary systems. The first of these would be “Textual-theological” interpretations of Scripture, or T-TIS. This system adheres to the belief that the text of Scripture is the driving force in interpretive work. As an example, T-TIS proponents believe that the inspired text (Holy Spirit originated, man authored) is enough to gain a full exegetical conclusion. Everything necessary for salvation, empowerment, doctrinal understanding, etc. can be derived from the text. The message of the text and the narrative, then become secondary to the text itself.

     Similarly, the second “family” is “Message-Theological” interpretations of Scripture, or M-TIS. This system focuses on the over-arching message of Scripture. Namely, that mankind can be redeemed through God’s grace and the penal substitutionary atoning sacrifice of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. In more common vernacular, the Bible “is more about the man of salvation, than the plan of salvation.” The message is the driving force of exegetical work, finding (and perhaps inventing) a Jesus under every rock.

     Thirdly is “Interest-Theological” interpretation of Scripture, or I-TIS. As one could surmise from the name, here the interpreter focuses on the primary interest of doctrine and theological belief. As Fowler states, “Christians have generally read their scripture to guide, correct, and edify their faith, worship, and practice as part of their ongoing struggle to live faithfully” before their God.

     The family of systems certainly bring strong points as well as a fair share of weaknesses to the table. A few of the benefits that can be seen in the system are the faithfulness to the text and the desire (if not always success) to remove preconceived notions and influence outside sources from the interpretive task. The historical point of allowing “Scripture to interpret Scripture” is validated in TIS. By not allowing commentaries, past theological teachings (even from our favorite preachers) and our own first, logical attempt at seeing the meaning we do service to the original authors intent. And is that not the point? In tangent with that idea, the focus is on finding the true exegesis and not (if I am allowed to borrow the phrase)guessegesis of the text. (From "The Homiletical Bridge" by Tony Guthrie, Preaching Professor at Luther Rice Seminary

     A few of the limitations of TIS are spelled out in the article, and include the sheer “newness” of the system. As with any new proposition, critiques and fine tuning will be needed. For all of the focus on the validity of the text, it would seem that some of the proponents of TIS still advocate bringing their pre-TIS beliefs to the text. While I would readily admit that I did not fully comprehend the article's point on I-TIS, it still read as though the thought process is/was “I look to MY interests and bring that out of the text.” As if the theolog involved in the interpretive work would bring his particular fetish for eschatology out of every Danielian nook and Revelatory cranny. This is no better than many/most homiletical systems of sermon building now in use.

     The article itself was well written and thought provoking. I have enjoyed reading Dr Allison’s previous works, including his latest book of Historical Theology. He brings out a sound and scholarly look at this new theological interpretive system and gives a fair and balanced view that most any theologian could appreciate. He unashamedly brings a conservative and evangelical take on the system, warning how it could veer off course in a non-conservative venue. This is to be expected with the source being the SBJT.

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