J. Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Eerdmans, 2010), 235 pages
Billings joins a rising chorus of voices calling for “the theological interpretation of Scripture” (TIS), which “is, in many ways, simply the church’s attempt to read Scripture again after the hubris and polarities of the Enlightenment have begun to fade” (p. 224). TIS is “a multifaceted practice of a community of faith reading the Bible as God’s instrument of self-revelation and saving fellowship. It is not a single, discrete method or discipline; rather, it is a wide range of practices we use toward the goal of knowing God in Christ through Scripture” (p. xii). In the first of six chapters, “Reading Scripture on the Journey of Faith Seeking Understanding,” Billings hopes we can be “unlearning our mastery over the biblical text and releasing it to be an instrument used by God for our transformation on the path of Jesus Christ” (p. 29). He discusses the need for a rule of faith as Christians approach Scripture. This emerges from Scripture (since ultimately the Scripture is its own interpreter) yet is also a lens through which Christians receive Scripture. He critiques the Enlightenment suspicion that “prior commitments are incompatible with knowledge, and that maps merely bias and distort rather than enable knowledge” (p. 27).
In chapter two, “Learning to Read Scripture Closely: A Theological Perspective on General Hermeneutics and Biblical Criticism,” like Augustine, Billings values human learning for biblical studies (knowledge of languages, history, etc.) and yet insists on a special approach since “the Bible is the Spirit’s instrument for leading Christians into a knowledge of the triune god on the path of Jesus Christ” (p. 33). “Critical methods need to be recontextualized within a theological framework; that is, they need to be evaluated and used according to terms that refuse to treat the Bible as nothing more than an object of historical inquiry” (p. 59). He employs Gadamer’s serious concept of play — responding to the text as another subject to which we are vulnerable rather than as an object of control. He dips into Ricoeur’s work on the imaginative power of metaphors and narratives. The Bible provides a possible world for readers to inhabit that leads to a new perspective on our own world.
In chapter three, “Revelation and Scripture Interpretation: Theological Decisions We (Must) Make,” Billings shows how functional theologies of revelation are operative whenever Christians interpret Scripture. Against the concept that the knowledge of God comes from natural reason (and against an anthropological starting point for revelation), Billings sides with Kierkegaard and Barth in affirming that revelation is an act of God through Scripture by the Spirit, a word external to us.
In his fourth chapter, “The Impact of the Reader’s Context: Discerning the Spirit’s Varied yet Bounded Work,” he challenges the idea that the Bible can mean anything you want it to mean (cultural relativism actually silences genuine debate about the meaning of texts and leaves us with a mute God). He argues for an indigenizing work of the Spirit in bringing the gospel to particular peoples (i.e., that Scripture will be received differently in different cultures), but there are doctrinal and ethical limits as we seek to discern the work of the Spirit in a given culture (all of which struggle with idolatry in various forms). We may use a hermeneutics of suspicion toward sinful interpreters, but always with trust toward the Scripture itself as the final standard in all Christian communities.
In Billings’s fifth chapter on “The Value of Premodern Biblical Interpretation,” he writes, “There is much that we can learn from the history of exegesis that we cannot learn simply from exegesis alone” (p. 188). Challenging what may be standard evangelical pulpit practice, he asserts, “To be content with the ‘author’s intended meaning’ as the end to our reading of Scripture is to fail to perceive the church’s own identity (as Christ’s bride, growing in union with Christ), and the purpose of reading Scripture (participation in Christ by the Spirit)” (p. 162). Billings defends a spiritual reading of the OT since “Jesus Christ himself is the reorienting factor for all Christian biblical exegesis” (p. 167).
In the final chapter, “Scriptural Interpretation and Practices: Participation in the Triune Drama of Salvation,” Billings suggests, “Biblical interpretation for Christians involves nothing less than a worshipful consecration of our practical lives to participate in the triune God’s work, so that we may be mastered by the living Christ who speaks through Scripture” (p. 197). Our engagement with Scripture in meditation and in worship forms us deeper into the gospel.
Having taken an OT scholar for a wife during their doctoral studies at Harvard, the theologian Billings lives and writes for the marriage of dogmatics and biblical studies. Secular biblical scholars may find this proposal for a Trinitarian-shaped hermeneutic a narrow imposition of theological categories on exegesis. But Billings makes a compelling plea to Christian interpreters to remember who they are as disciples. Many evangelical readers would probably consider his hesitancy to identify God’s word directly with the text of Scripture as one of the very few weaknesses of the work. I suspect it was inherited from Barth, whose strengths are well-employed here. Billings covers a vast amount of ground, but clearly and engagingly. This book makes an excellent and popularizing contribution to the field. His views are in broad sympathy with those of Kevin Vanhoozer and John Webster. “For Further Reading” sections are rich and inviting. Billings draws on his missionary and congregational experience to good and penetrating effect. I hope this Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture receives a wide reception, especially in college and seminary classrooms. Billings wants to engage not only our thinking, but our hands and hearts as we read Scripture to meet with the triune God, having our loves transformed.
빌링즈 다운 글입니다. 지금도 아프리카 지역에 가서 선교적 정신으로 싱학 강의를 감당하기도 하는 빌링즈의 열심이 나타나고, 또 한편으로는 웨스턴 신학교가 항상 바르트 사상을 상당히 적극적으로 수용하는데 역시 여기서도 그런 모습이 드러납니다. 성경을 하나님 말씀으로 그대로 받아들이는 일이 점점 더 많아져서 바르트주의적 생각을 극복할 수 있었으면 합니다.
넓은 의미의 복음주의 신학이 케빈 반후저와 존 웹스터를 중심으로 가장 뛰어난 활동으로 하고 있다면 그 작업에 (칼빈의 성찬에 대한 하바드 박사 학위논문 단행본 출판을 계기로 템플턴 상을 수여받았던) 상당히 촉망 받는 젊은 학자가 가담하는 것으로 생각할 수 있을 것입니다.
하바드에서 공부할 때 구약학을 공부하던 학자를 부인으로 맞으셨다는 것을 처음으로 알았습니다.
토드 빌링즈는 눈여겨 볼, 그러나 안타까운 마음을 조금 가질 학자입니다.
Originally published in Themelios Volume 36, Issue 1, May 2011