Saturday, April 27, 2013

Biblical Theology: An Immodest Proposal

Reading Biblical Theology: A Proposal by Brevard Childs has given me a cunning plan: constructing a work of theological reflection based on the text of Isaiah. It would not so much be "The Theology of Isaiah" as it would be "Theology", elaborating on the themes of Isaiah in light of Old and New Testament reflections, the history of interpretation, the preoccupations of dogmatic theology, and, most importantly, in the light of the life of the church which has Christ as its head.

Atonement? Let's look again at Isaiah 53

Non-violence? Let's look again at Isaiah 2

Christian Aesthetics? Let's look again at Isaiah 6

Eschatology? Let's look again at Isaiah 11

Justice? Let's look again at Isaiah 58

Christology? Let's look again at the Servant Songs

It is becoming  clear to me that if theology has any desire to be useful to the church -- and if it doesn't, then what exactly is it doing? -- it must be about the task of illuminating the things in Scripture which theology has often hidden. Indeed, what theology often hides these days is Scripture itself, protecting us from its vulgarity, its poetry, its scandalous affirmations, its unshakeable convictions, its diversity, its preferential option for the poor, the oppressed, the aliens.

I recently read a blog post about the song 'Come Now is the Time to Worship'. The author was writing that he cannot sing this song because the last line -- Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now-- seems to imply some kind of universalism.

Using that same logic, I assume this person also refuses to read Colossians 1:15-20, Romans 5, or Philippians 2:6-11, since these text also seem to imply some kind of universalism.

The point isn't that we should all be universalists because the Bible teaches it (which it does and which it doesn't). My contention is that we have done to the Bible was this person has done to the song, except of course we cannot admit to it because that would be heresy.

It is therefore at this precise point that theology requires a Barthian turn, for Barth's theology was nothing if not a reflection on Scripture in the light of the resurrected Christ. Dialectics therefore wasn't so much a method for Barth as it was a natural consequence of taking Scripture seriously.

As much as Pete Rollins may hope for it, congregations around the world will not be carrying a copy of the latest work by Zizek into church with them, nor will preachers be expounding from Caputo. The church has been given the Word, and we have been searching for it ever since, in many languages, in many contexts, but in the same(ish!) Scriptures.

Which brings me back to Isaiah, the herald of the Word of God. He was known by the early church as the first apostle or the fifth evangelist (after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Along with Psalms and Deuteronomy, Isaiah was the book that Paul turned to the most. (Which gives me an idea for another task: a theology based on Deuteronomy (The Law), Isaiah (The Prophets), and Psalms (The Writings.) The church could do with turning to Isaiah again and there discover the Word afresh. Here is one example of such a turning:

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