Friday, 17 June 2011

Devotional Exegesis

For the first part of this, see: Devotional Scholarship.

Stephen Fowl in his theological commentary on Philippians notes several elements of a consciously theologically reflective exegesis. I have numbered the points which I will then discuss.

[1] Commenting on Scripture is a theological discipline in that one expects that by attention to the words of Scripture one will hear the voice of God. Of course, listening to God’s voice is the primary activity of prayer, too. [2] Thus, commenting on Scripture can be a form of prayer. At their best, the disciplines of attention which lead to deep and faithful praying also apply to commentary writing as well. Studying… has certainly enhanced my praying. [3] The challenge to me as a writer is to seek to open those benefits up to others. [4] More generally, then, one of the aims of theological commentary must be to allow others to hear God’s voice… [5] At the end of the day, all theological interpretation of Scripture is always directed toward more faithful worship and practice so that we Christians might move toward ever deeper friendship or communion with God and each other.

Stephen Fowl, Philippians, 5-6.

1. Theological interpretation has as its goal hearing the voice of God. It is thus part and parcel of the relationship between the reader and the GOD who has brought about the existence of this text. We may pay careful attention to the peculiarities of the human author, but through this human agent, GOD has spoken, and the reader is to attend to His voice.

2. What the commentator produces comes from the act of hearing, and thus forms a response of writing which comes from a place of prayer. Prayer is the origin of writing. As the reader listens carefully and attentively to the voice of God, he may begin to unpack and declare what he hears in response to GOD. If one is distracted by technical details and neglects or forgets God as the communicator, then the art of reading scripture theologically has failed. At any one time a reader may be engaged in technical details, but this is not where we must remain. Rather, a reader must return to a posture of reverence in the presence of the GOD who speaks.

3. From this communication between reader and GOD, others should benefit. This speaks directly to the reader being affected and directed by hearing the voice of God, but also to the production of the commentary. How will what the commentator has written benefit the people of GOD? If the church is not helped, compelled and challenged by the readers reflections and meditations from his hearing of the voice of GOD, then we must question if the reader has really heard the voice of GOD, or whether he has articulated this helpfully for God’s people. Reading and listening to God’s voice is therefore not an isolated and individual event. God speaks so that others may hear and benefit from his wisdom and love.

4. The community of God’s people must specifically benefit from the readers apprehension and attention to the voice of GOD in such a way so as to clarify and explicate what GOD has said. Thus, the commentator must not hinder others from hearing God’s voice by offering distracting and unnecessary comments or discussions. Commentating on Scripture should be an act of communal prayer, as through the commentators offerings people should still hear “the voice of GOD.”

5. If theological commentary on the event of hearing God’s voice does not affect our worship of God, does not help our practice of fellowship or does not aid our work in God’s mission, then we have failed to adequately comment on hearing God’s voice. Although Fowl does not make explicit the mission of God, I see this as an imperative upon which we must focus. The Scriptures are about worship, fellowship and mission. Failure to appropriately address at least one of these topics, is often a misunderstanding.

What I am advocating here is consciously informed devotional scholarship. This is not something about which we should be ashamed or hide, but rather we should openly and boldly declare that we are those who love GOD and claim to have heard his voice. And thus our comments should reflect such allegiance and reverence to the One who’s voice we have heard. For the benefit of not only ourselves, but also for others, this is the way I trust we should proceed.

Scripture and theological reflection must be a guide to discipleship, a testimony to the actions of the Triune God and his people, and it should be a catalyst to Christian practice. Therefore, practices of biblical interpretation and theological reflection must have as their goal greater knowledge and love of God in devotion to his community and cause. What we need more than ever is God-focused exegesis and reflection that works out implications for how the church is called to live and to read its Bible as we engage in the mission of God, proclaiming the gospel of God, awaiting the final redemption of God, to the glory of God. This is the goal of theological interpretation.

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