Saturday, October 30, 2004

Reformational Theology

Before I get back to the Psalm 42-43 translation, I thought I'd write a few words about theological process from a burgeoning neo-calvinist view. Listening to Cal Seerveld the other night, it really hit me that I don't know the Bible as well as I make myself look--in fact, my area of expertise (Hebrew and Hebrew Bible) is woefully inadequate. Lately, I've really needed to go back to the beginning to get a fresh start.

One of the most important things Cal said was that we need to read our Bibles in another language that we aren't as fluent in. Since I love Hebrew and it is technically impossible to be fluent in a dead language that nobody really knows the absolute correct pronunciations for, I've chosen to concentrate there. He was right, while Psalms 42-43 may take a total of two minutes to read in English, I've spent over two hours so far getting where I am translationally. There is a lot more in this Psalm set than I first imagined. That, I hope, will come out in the translation and paraphrase.

Another thing that I've come to embrace is a critical-realist epistemology (although, as my friend Sean Purcell warns, I shouldn't make it my ontology), or as Tom Wright puts it, an epistemology of love. However, modernism dies hard. The Giant that Jack (postmodernism) killed is falling faster than Jack can get down the beanstalk. It is hard to break free of positivist restrictions and have the scales fall off the eyes.

What does this all have to do with 'reformational theology'? I think that as I study more and more and try to see things in their original context, the freshness is becoming more and more apparent, while (unfortunately) the un-freshness of historic confessions and such is growing. Rather than giving them up, though, maybe viewing them in the same way that I view the original Biblical texts would be helpful? It is possible that their freshness would blossom once again.

What to do with metaphors is a larger question. Historical development, a favored concept of most neocalvinists that I've met, would seem to say that the metaphors in the ancient world are largely not applicable in the same way today. The Hebrews thought of the heart as the 'seat of the will and intellect', where our culture has the heart being the wellspring of emotions and everything Romantic and Idealistic. However, I'm not so convinced that these rich, God-given metaphors should so easily pass away. If we are to take a Biblical anthropology (for instance) seriously and authoritatively, then these metaphors become vitally important for our own understanding. (Thank goodness that the neocalvinist tradition is rooted in Scripture and not free-floating!) Genesis 2.7 is a case in point. Instead of the reading (paraphrased): God made man out of the dust of the earth, breathed in the breath of life, and Adam become a living soul; we would have: God made Adam out of the soil of the earth, breathed in the Breath of life, and Adam became a living (or moving) throat. Is this important? At least Plato would think so (although he doesn't get out of the cave much anymore).

A Reformational reading of the text would take the metaphors seriously and seriously translate them so that a cultural transformation could take place (which will happen). Our theology, looking back on a chequered past, could push forward--not in the name of 'progress'--but in the name of YHWH, taking every modern and postmodern thought captive.

Well, it seems that I set out to talk about theology and have ended up talking about exegesis (as if they could be separated!). The coherent system (theology) will have to wait till later, I suppose. But watch out for a new idea of systematic theology, which grows out of Biblical theology, take root soon. An organic system, I think, is on the brink of sprouting--to the glory of God.

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