I began the previous post by saying that the article isn't very flattering to Childs. In this post, it will become clear why I see it that way.
The little texts and the Great Tradition:
First, allow me to juxtapose two of Childs's statements. The point is to demonstrate that Childs's criticism of Brueggemann is unjustified.
|criticism; pp. 230-31||summary; p. 228|
|The biblical editors retained the radical scepticism of the book of Ecclesiastes largely in an unredactored [uncensored] form. But they added in an epilogue a rule for properly interpreting the book, namely, it is to be heard within the framework of Torah (Eccles. 12:13f.). When Brueggemann assigns an independent role to such traditions as counter- testimony, he is running in the very face of Israel's canonical witness.||[Brueggemann's approach] would seek to do justice to the radical unsettlement evoked by the new postmodern epistemological situation with its insistence on pluralism. … Accordingly, interpretation is defined by Brueggemann as an ongoing process of negotiating among the full range of conflictional testimonies which avoids any absolute claims — whether historical or ontological — beyond the court of appeal found in the biblical text itself.|
The criticism of Brueggemann's method, on the left, has already been explored in the previous post. However, I now call your attention to the statement highlighted in yellow. As long as the book of Ecclesiastes is "heard within the framework of Torah", the biblical editors were content to allow the community of faith to study it.
Now consider Childs's summary of Brueggemann's method, on the right. The claims of the various testimonies are to be adjudicated by "the court of appeal found in the biblical text itself."
The biblical editors insisted that we must hear Ecclesiastes within the framework of Torah; Brueggemann is committed to precisely the same thing. Childs's objection appears to be unjustified.
Brueggemann falls into error, according to Childs, when he assigns an independent role to Ecclesiastes (and other such countertestimonial texts). But Brueggemann emphatically denies the charge:
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. I have consistently said that the different testimonies are endlessly in tension with and corrected by other testimony. None is freestanding, none is isolated, none is cut off. (p. 235)I think that's sage advice: attend to the "little texts"; commit to the Great Tradition.
The slight variation between [Professor Childs's] approach and mine I believe to be a more benign variation than his rhetoric suggests. What is at issue is the endlessly tricky relation between 'The Great Tradition' and the 'little texts.' … It is my concern that in future generations, the Church will be able to attend to the 'little texts,' even as it commits to the Great Tradition. (p. 237)
Childs, champion of orthodoxy:
Childs, on the other hand, approves of the subordination of some of the voices found within the biblical text. I am not putting words into his mouth. I quoted his statement to that effect in the previous post: "the biblical editors subordinated [certain] voices", including the radical scepticism of Ecclesiastes (p. 230).
Childs approves of this work of subordination. Brueggemann errs because "he feels free to reconstruct voices on which Israel's authors had already rendered a judgment" (p. 230).
Indeed — and here's the point I have been building up to — Childs attempts to marginalize Brueggemann's voice. Childs makes himself the champion of orthodoxy: he argues that Brueggemann's method tilts carelessly toward heresy.
It may be that one is philosophically justified in characterising Brueggemann's approach as postmodern. However, from a theological perspective the closest analogy is found in the Early Church's struggle with Gnosticism. …By characterizing Brueggemann's method as analogous to Gnosticism, Childs sets out to consign Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament to a place outside the pale of orthodox Christian teaching.
One does not have to look far to discover the striking analogies between Brueggemann's postmodernism and ancient Gnosticism. Both operate within an overarching philosophical system in which [Brueggemann's] 'imaginative construal' closely parallels Gnostic 'speculation' as a means for correcting the received biblical tradition. Both approaches work with a sharply defined dualism between a God of creation who is known and predictable, and one who is hidden, unknown, and capricious.
I submit that Childs's canonical approach has a natural tendency in that direction. If you accept that the biblical editors deliberately subordinated unsettling voices like that of Ecclesiastes, and you regard that subordinating activity as legitimate, inevitably you will be tempted to subordinate unsettling voices like Brueggemann's to your vision of orthodoxy.
The lived reality of the believing Church:
Childs speaks of "an established range of truthful witness". Brueggemann would not disagree with that way of expressing things.
But for Brueggemann, the radical scepticism of Ecclesiastes (and other countertestimonial texts) are within what is, by Childs's admission, a range of truthful witness. Here Brueggemann appeals to the lived reality of the believing Church:
What I have done is to give 'other voices' a serious hearing, for there is no doubt that in Scripture there are voices of witness in profound tension with each other. The issue turns on which witnesses are truthful, but it has been the lived reality of the Church that different witnesses in Scripture have been heard as truthful on different occasions. …Update: I wasn't quite satisfied with the ending of this post last night, but I couldn't think what to add. Here's the point I didn't quite get to.
The silence and absence of God is indeed a lived reality that must be fully taken into account. I have not wanted to let any 'large' ecclesial claims censor the lived reality of the believing Church.
One of the great insights which emerges from Brueggemann's approach is that "postmodern" experiences are not at all new or unprecedented. The silence and absence of God; anomie; alienation; fragmentation; meaninglessness; doubt and confusion — all these postmodern themes were known to the ancient Israelites and reported honestly in scripture.
Brueggemann's approach is explicitly pastoral. He recognizes the immense potential of the "little texts" of scripture to address the distinctive needs of a postmodern people. Hence his determined effort to reclaim these voices in the service of the Church.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
1Scottish Journal of Theology vol. 53, no. 2, 2000, pp. 228-233, with a reply by Brueggemann at pp. 234-238.