Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Evangelical Theology: Witherington Digs Chrysostom

This post is not about the classic book "Evangelical Theology" by Karl Barth (which I wholeheartedly endorse), but rather an interesting interview I came across with the Methodist Biblical scholar Ben Witherington III. Isn't that a great name? Anyway, I quite respect Witherington's scholarship, and he lays it out pretty clearly. If you're at all interested in the relationship of exegesis to dogma, go check it out.

Here's a little snippet:

CT: Naturally, you argue that this requires a fresh approach to reading and interpreting the Bible. Who are some pre-Enlightenment interpreters of the Bible who are models of good exegesis for us today?

Witherington: Some of the Antiochian fathers would be good—Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus, for example. But if there's one person who seems to be in touch with the original Greek and rhetorical ethos of the New Testament and especially Paul, that would be John Chrysostom.

I'm thankful that we've got some wonderful new studies on Chrysostom as an exegete and a theologian (like Margaret Mitchell's The Heavenly Trumpet, which helps us appreciate his numerous homilies on the New Testament). In contrast to the Latin Fathers, like Augustine, he is very much in touch with the living language of the Greek text. He is able to resonate with it, to pick up the rhetorical signals, the cultural signals, and understand the trajectory of the theology and ethics being taught.

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Blogger Eric said...

Interesting. I find it encouraging to see that, after accepting Orthodoxy, you continue to delve into evangelical sources.

Hey, did you know that I have your copy of Evangelical Theology? I feel guilty about having it all these years! While I was packing to move next week I saw it and remembered.


Email me your address, and I will send it to you.


6:29 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Well, I guess you go where the goods are, and you only have to give *Nostra Aetete" a brief reading to grasp that. That particularly book of Barth's it worth it for the Intro. alone, where he talks about his first experience of American culture. Feel free to hang on to it as long as you like, but if you're done you can pass it back (I'll send you my address).


7:44 AM  
Blogger James said...

Hey, Eric, I think we went to UES together!

Sometimes hearing from Matt chills me out a little about my broiling over my Evangelical past, and I appreciate that... though I'm not going to write an article like this in Christianity Today --

I liked Witherington's article. Though I have no sense of nuance so it just confirms my belief that deep down everyone wants to be Orthodox. (Or something Apostolic and Eucharistic and sacramental.)
After a few chats with some truly thoughtful people, I now just keep that to myself, usually.

Chrysostom has made for good bedtime reading in our family. I don't know if I can appreciate him on the exegetical and rhetorical level that real scholars do, but pow, I'll have what he's having.

9:04 AM  
Blogger pasivirta said...

these are all good thoughts! thanks. Matthew, how goes the brothers? I am up to book three now, I got the good translation too. I will give you a call soon, i am in the midst of moving. peace!

1:31 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

James Underwood?

If you're who I think you are, you went to Bible college with one of the Komori brothers? I'm sure if I saw you I would place it.

I also am not a scholar, so I also can't comment on the veracity of Witherington's claims.

The post reminds me a bit of a reference from Balthazar, who said, "If all heresy is a form of one-sidedness, this forces the Church to reply with an emphatically one-sided counterstatement of her own".

Witherington's emphasis on the story-centred and oral culture of the early Christians seems to run the risk of overstating into a one-sided position.

Certainly, Paul was rhetorical and rooted in stories. But, rhetoric and story do not omit logic. Doctrinal development resulted, in part, from the engagement of the rhetorical force of the Bible with reason, forming ideas open to systematic arrangement.

Evidence of the risk of one-sidedness: "Perhaps in a postmodern culture—where image and story are more important than text and didactic argument—the Bible is more relevant than ever."

It's nice to know that the Bible is more relevant than ever.

Keeping attention to words like Balthazar's, I think it is important to keep in mind that we are endowed with reason as a means of understanding truth and exploring it, and, no matter how it was formed in situ, we have the Bible as text.

As far as Orthodoxy, one of the reasons why it is so great, aside from the likes of Chrysostom, is that the liturgy, sacraments, and spiritual devotions are themselves re-enactments and re-tellings of the biblical drama. And it still retains the power of reason in it's dogmatic pronouncements. Between East and West, the East has remembered better how to tell that story in liturgy (many of our masses are comparatively poorly done).

I wish I could read greek. That would be nice.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Margaret Mitchell's The Heavenly Trumpet, which helps us appreciate his numerous homilies on the New Testament

I've not heard of this book, but I'm off to look it up on Amazon.


1:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Yeah, I need to read Balthasar.

3:25 PM  

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