Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Question About Methodology

Last month, I finished John Walton's commentary on Genesis in the NIV Application Commentary series. It's an excellent piece of scholarship and his applications are extremely powerful. Having recently lost Andrei, Walton's words on God's charge to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac were deep and encouraging. He has many unique and fresh insights that help the reader look at the Genesis text in a much more meaningful way than is traditionally done.

This, in fact, leads to my question. One of our Thursday Night Theology members had Walton for a class in seminary and remembers him saying that if he didn't have something new or origianl to contribute, then he wouldn't write. I can testify that this is exactly what Walton did in just about the entirety of his Genesis commentary. Not only were original perspectives shared on some of Genesis' toughest issues, but even noncontroversial passages were given a new spin. Only a miniscule number of verses were free from Walton's "new interpretation rampage."

So, is this a good way to do theology? I'm not saying that Walton published ideas as though he believed them when, in fact, he didn't, simply so that he could say something new. But it sure seems like making a prior decision to only contribute something novel could restrict you from affirming some fundamentally sound and universally agreed upon theological conclusions. The truth needs to be restated regularly and such restatements can often be improved upon. This is hard enough to do without the burden of coming up with new interpretations for everything. For all of the value of Walton's insights — and don't misunderstand me, the value is enormous — there were plenty of times when I closed the book shaking my head over why he felt that such-and-such a passage needed another perspective. It seems like this methodology could lead you down a bad road quicky, sidestepping good, right and wise thoughts so that you can arrive at alternatives.

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

1 comment:

Donna said...

Hey Eric, I am finally getting to your post. Thanks for posting. As to the topic, I am trying to sort it out. I resonate with your concerns. Po-moyemu, there seems to be a conceptual difference between passing on the faith and scholarship. Scholarship is always looking to advance the field. But teaching (and preaching) is not scholarship, and should focus on creative but faithful transmission on the tradition. I think we often put an unfair burden on pastors to "come up with something new". This to me has two fallacies: one is a consumer mentality when it comes to church and worship; and secondly, the fallacy that the real problem with our Christian life is that we lack just one more insight to make it all work. Faith is hard and sometimes the right answer is not the one we would like. Well, I don't think I am saying anything controversial. I hope you all are doing well. We miss you. By the way, Donna's name may appear, but Mark made the comment.