Friday, November 07, 2008

The Old and the New: Brevard Childs and Barack Obama

I've enjoyed my year of focusing on mostly older books, "older" meaning the book had to be published before 1968.

Many of my books for this year were written in the early part of the 1900s, not especially old, but earlier than the arbitrary line. It all began with a recommendation from C. S. Lewis, advice I've tried to follow in 2008.

I've cheated a few times. A couple of recent memoirs, a couple of recent novels, etc. But for the most part, it's been older books. For the record, Lewis didn't object to new books. He just thought a good number of old books, real classics, should be a part of anyone's diet.

One of my reads this year doesn't qualify technically, but in another way it does. It's Old Testament Books for Pastor and Teacher by my former professor, the late Brevard S. Childs. Published in 1977, this one is almost entirely about OT scholarship that pre-dates 1968.

Anyway, as I walked through Childs' evaluations of the Old Testament Introductions, his comments on the various OT commentaries, etc., I was again struck by his real appreciation for scholarship from every era of the church. Most biblical scholars and students of our time favor a monopoly of the modern. If it isn't recent, it can't be the best. If it's older, then it might be of interest to the historian, but it has no value for the scholar or preacher.

If anyone had an excuse for entirely focusing on the work and results of modern biblical criticism, it was Childs. He was trained as a biblical scholar in Germany during the the mid-1900s. But to his credit--and this is a major part of his immense influence--Childs saw both the weaknesses of the modern critical approach and the strengths of biblical scholarship as it was practiced before the Enlightenment. Here are a few of his observations about commentaries on the Book of Psalms, classic Childs:

The opinion is widely held that the historical critical approach to the Bible has rendered works on the Psalter prior to the late nineteenth century largely invalid, and that therefore one needs to begin with a critical introduction that sets out the method afforded by modern form criticism before listing the modern critical commentaries. I do not share this opinion. In my judgement, it has resulted in a disastrous reduction for theology, liturgy, and preaching. Rather, I would argue that each period--of course including the modern critical period--has made its peculiar contribution, and that these differing expositions all need to be critically assessed. The real issue is between good and bad interpretation, both of which have been represented throughout the history of the church (p. 60).

Later, along the same lines, he writes,

Probably the gravest indictment against the historical critical method is that it has effectively blocked all access to the richness of pre-critical interpretation of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian. To some extent the church's liturgical use of the Old Testament Psalms has been able to survive the impact of critical exegesis. In my judgment, it is absolutely imperative for the serious and theologically robust use of the Psalms once again to regain this lost heritage. Obviously traditional forms cannot be simply repristinated in the post-critical age, but neither can the great giants of the past be simply ignored without serious impoverishment of the Christian church (62).

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I'm not very old. But I'm old enough to remember a time not so long ago when it would have been unimaginable for anyone but a white man to be elected President of the United States.

I drove to work Wednesday morning, by myself, in silence. Why silence? I wasn't being spiritual. The radio in my 1992 Ford Crown Victoria doesn't work anymore. Unlike most folks, I don't get to drive with an electronic distractor. I've thought about getting the radio fixed. But most days, I like to imagine that I'm better for having to sit there with myself. Anyway, as I drove along in silence, impressed with my humility, I couldn't help thinking that I was living at a real turning point. I did not support the candidacy of Barack Obama. But now that he has been elected President of the United States, I'm proud to have seen the day when this could and did happen. And I pledge myself to pray for President Obama and to be supportive of his administration.

The great William Faulkner considered brutal racism to be the great sin of the United States, one that would for a long, long time haunt our national life. He evidently believed that the U.S., especially the South, would remain under a lingering curse. The past is not in the past, he said. It is not yet present. The sins of the fathers would be visited upon subsequent generations, a common theme of his fiction.

No, not all of what Faulkner saw has been put to rest. Far from it. But Tuesday was a historic day. This is the beginning of a different time in the U.S., I think. Do you think so too?


Arlene Kasselman said...

Frank, I mis-addressed a comment to you on Jim Martin's blog - I did post an apology on there - so please be sure and know I was not directing it to you.

Any you know - I just don't think any of us are going to call the book dating police on you for reading newer material. We all reap the benefit as you unpack it!

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Arlene. Guess I was trying a little too hard to "keep it real."

Arlene Kasselman said...

That's funny!

Jim Martin said...

Frank--very good post! I always appreciate hearing C.S. Lewis' suggestion regarding reading.

Thanks. I enjoy reading your posts.