Friday, 28 February 2014

Why does the world need another theology blog by a doctoral student?

I suppose it doesn't.  I suppose there are enough not-quite-articulate writers out there offering half-formed ponderings on God that to add one more drop to the pool of ignorance won't hurt.  Perhaps there are even a few folks who might benefit from my particular perspective.  I claim no uniqueness.  I do think, though, that I may be representative of a larger move in my generation of evangelical Christians towards something more traditional and less reductionistic.  Maybe a growing number of us are tired of apologetics, as if sorting out epistemic foundations will compel others to adopt the faith.  Maybe we sense that virtue might in fact have something to do with knowledge, that truth and goodness might be inseparable, that there might be something deeper going on in than Bible than just a record of some ancient people's beliefs.  Anyway I could go on, but I'll just get to the point.  I've named this blog "Figurations" because I'm all about what might dismissively be called "allegory."  That is, a certain kind of approach to the Bible practiced by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church that for various historical reasons fell out of fashion in the Early Modern period, but which is in fact inseparable from orthodoxy.  I won't get too far into it now, but both "conservative" and "liberal" are terrified by the alleged subjectivity of this approach.  This, however, is a red-herring.  There is nothing subjective about figural (aka. allegorical, aka. typological) readings of Scripture.  The suppressed reason many modern Christians don't like this kind of interpretation is because it requires the interpreter to become like the One we study.  It requires that we become Christ-like.  But our churches betray this likeness by the fact that they are "churches" rather than "the Church."  Well, that's enough for now.  I'll just sum up by stating that this is a blog of evangelical, catholic, and ecumenical theology.  It will probably have a lot of sermons and reflections that try to put into practice something approaching figural exegesis of Scripture.

8 comments:

  1. Righteous! But a technical question: you use "allegorical" interchangeably with "figural" and "typological" but I was under the impression that they were different. I wish I could remember where I read this, but I can't. Anyways, a minor point, I think.

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  2. I was just reading George Westerhaver's dissertation on E.B. Pusey yesterday, and apparently the word "typology" only came into English usage in the 1840s. Yet in Pusey's unpublished lectures from the 30's he was already using the term. For him, it did not yet carry the connotations of "the right kind" of spiritual interpretation over against "the wrong kind," allegory. This distinction arose in the later debate between de Lubac and Daniélou and in many people's opinion is rather arbitrary given that scholars don't agree on what makes one spiritual interpretation arbitrary and another not. To my mind this only points to the fact that figural (aka. spiritual, aka patrisic, or whatever you want to call it) interpretation will be convincing to the degree that (1) it is in accordance with the character of the One it unveils, and (2) the reader's character is in accordance with Christ's, which will vary from person to person. So of course there's no "objective" way of judging outside of coming to participate in the life of Christ, which is the whole point of figural interpretation anyway.

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    1. I dunno whether or not I'm on with this since I'm coming at this from a broader literary education than exegesis specifically, but I would differentiate between allegory and typology by saying that allegory uses specific images (archetypes) to represent something more abstract/universal, whereas typology/Christology uses images to refer to something specific (Christ). So with allegory you're moving from specific to broad, and with typology you're moving from broad to specific. They both employ figurative language, but it seems to me that typology would be more loyal to a theological interpretation because allegory is conceptual, whereas typology relies more on the existing, concrete intertextuality between the OT and NT.

      ...I'm not sure if I'm right (-ologies can have different nuances in different disciplines), so I thought I'd ask if you think I'm understanding this terminology in terms of how you meant it.

      - Deirdre (me)

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  3. Ah, yes, OK. That's a good point.

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  4. Hey Deirdre,

    I guess I'm talking about how the word "allegory" has changed for theologians. This of course wasn't a bad word for Paul or the Fathers. And as I mentioned it was only in the 19th century that the word "typology" even came into English at all. Initially it was not set up in opposition to something called allegory, though I think since the 17th century allegory had come to refer to symbolic stories constructed by an author, say, John Bunyan. The older view, however, persisted even up to Coleridge who said that the faculty of imagination discerned real correspondences within nature between things. The poet doesn't just invent symbolic connections (Westerhaver talks about this stuff). Insofar as allegory has come to mean abstracting from particulars (grasping Jungian archetypes, or Bultmann's existential truths or whatever), then I suppose it is a method at odds with Christian particularity. What I am arguing against, however, is throwing the Fathers' and the Apostles' (the NT interpretations of the OT) exegesis in the same boat. One popular characterization of the allegory-typology distinction is to say that typology has to do with events and allegory with objects. And because allegory has to do with the spiritual meaning of objects, this becomes a-historical. I think it is arbitrary, though, to limit Christological analogies and symbols to events because events are populated with objects. Figural exegesis follows from a Christian doctrine of creation. If all objects are created by the Word, and all effects resemble their causes, then all objects and the stuff that happens to them in history are telling us something about the Word. Things are God's words, separated no doubt by spatial and temporal intervals. Everything speaks of Christ if we could but hear. This basic metaphysical claim distinguishes Christian allegorical exegesis from any abstract psychological-mythological-existential hermeneutical method.

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    1. Ah, thank you--that's really helpful. I keep hearing students at Wycliffe talk about allegory, and I was really confused because I thought they were talking about concepts and abstractions. I'm looking forward to seeing what you write about it!

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  5. I'm a dum-dum. It's George Westhaver not Westerhaver.

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  6. I just stumbled onto this conversation and am further convicted of my decision to get back to school. I've always regarded scripture as describing an unfolding of God's reality in our midst, both in human history and Christ, and within the sweep of the rest of natural and cosmic phenomena, God's ecology includes all of it in relation to Incarnation. I think we know God in our limited way as well as we know the intricacies of all life, and particularly in relation to one another. I understand figural exegesis as an interpretation that necessitates faithful connection to life. As we engage the Word of Love and Light we then participate in the ongoing unfolding of creation in order that some will hear, others will see or taste or touch, or sense in ineffable ways.

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