Text and Meaning

*This post is actually about 6 months old and has been existing only as a draft since that time. Hopefully its publishing represents and end to the writing drought which has characterized my life recently. 

For some, post-liberals like Lindbeck, the story (the text of the bible) cannot mean on its own – it only becomes meaningful when it is embodied in the practices of those who are reading it. The meaning of the text is then collapsed into the interpretive community. For the Pentateuch, Brueggemann  applies this line of reasoning by claiming that what we have is Israel’s testimony to YHWH – “who God turns out to be in Israel depends on the Israelites or, derivatively, the utterance of the text” (from his Theology of the Old Testament). So the God who is YHWH is ultimately dependent on the case made by the witnesses. In this case, YHWH is not just an idea floating around, YHWH is the concrete practice embodied by Israel. Brueggemann’s point is that we cannot “get behind” the text to see if God is really the way he is outside of the text, which is partly true. But the problem, which is one of a poor theology of scripture, is that this view assumes that the text is only a human testimony and fails to see that God is not just described in the text, he is also the primary communicative agent. God’s speech and action generates Israel’s actions, not the other way around. God speaks and acts, thus we have the text and doctrine, only then do our practices make sense of the text.

As of late, I hear wisps of conversations in postmo, twenty-something, Christian circles which vaguely resemble the thought that meaning only comes from practice and theology is really only a product of the community. I’m afraid that some students of theology come away from their education without a solid theology of the nature of Scripture (among other things) and are prone to buying into the latest trendy movement.

I hope that we don’t forget that God speaks and acts first. I pray that we postmo, twenty-somethings are bold enough to see trendy theological movements with a critical (but no cynical) eye.

Grace and Peace,

Seth

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