Thursday, November 04, 2010

Confession Time

So, I've been hard at work writing my dissertation since sometime in late June. This does not mean that I've been writing every day - in fact, there have been some periods of intense reading sprinkled around in there as well. But, the point is that I've been directly concerned with getting my dissertation on paper over the past months. Those of you who hang around here know that I'm a theologian by trade, and that is why this confession may shock some of you. Brace yourself while I try to convince myself to go through with this...

...OK, here it comes...

I LOVE doing scriptural exegesis!

There, I've said it. Everything is out in the open. I have no more secrets (OK, I may have one or two...or more...that's not important) - I am a theologian who loves to exposit Scripture. Some of my most enjoyable periods in writing my dissertation have been working on some extended exegetical excurses. In fact, that's what I'm doing right now. And boy, is it fun.

Now that I've put my cards on the table, I can't resit throwing an elbow:

I love doing exegesis, but reading exegetes can be incredibly frustrating.

Why? (you may ask)

Because, as a theologian, the theological presuppositions that they bring to the exegetical task are incredibly obvious. This is not what bothers me. I expect people to bring such presuppositions to the text. The problem is that, by and large, exegetes don't acknowledge that this is the case. Instead, they write their commentaries, discuss various grammatical and other questions, and pronounce upon "proper readings" of various passages without stopping to think explicitly about what theological reasons might be pushing them to read that "kai" one was as opposed to another.

OK, writing break is over. Back to work!

14 comments:

Barbara said...

You're such a Wheatie.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Ah, yes, that is annoying. But, a theologian who likes exegesis? Barth would be pleased.

Anonymous said...

Hi Travis,

I just discovered your blog and have had a great time reading it and wanted to say thanks. I was entertained and I learnt things.

anton

Benson said...

Most Theologians save this for the end of their career. I dig it.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks, all. Benson, I'm sure I'll return to it later on. ;-)

Bobby Grow said...

I knew there was a reason I liked you :-).

Bobby Grow said...

Your elbow is exactly what pushed me from being a pure "Biblical exegete" to a theologian. It was as I was doing some of my Greek exegetical classes that I realized that what you are saying is true. We make interpretive decisions, even at the translation level; and then of course the question is: "what's informing my interpretive question/decision?"

I think you're right, most exegetes don't stop and ask this all important question. Which for me, is why learning how to answer 'that' question is just as important (if not more)as is knowing the difference between an objective and subjective genitive ;-).

W. Travis McMaken said...

It is also a frank assessment of how language works - the difference between an objective and a subjective genitive is how you read / understand the sentence, not how the sentence is written.

Bobby Grow said...

Yep.

Jon Coutts said...

Amen on both accounts.

rob haskell said...

Greeting Travis - Exegetes themselves will be happy to agree that exegesis is not an objective science. Literary theory hit us first because, well, exegesis is about literature. No news there. It comes down to a dialectic between text and theology. We have to be as self conscious as possible about both. In conservative circles at least, theologians are way behind the ball on this. Exegetes are conscious of the subjectivities of textual analysis, translation and historically embedded meaning and thus are less dogmatic about many theological positions. Theologians continue merrily theologizing based on a naive epistemology. Present company excluded, no doubt! :0)

Bobby Grow said...

@Rob,

What do you mean by "naive epistemology"?

robhaskell@gmail.com said...

Hi Bobby - I've seen the term used in various discussions about knowledge, to describe an approach in which the subjectivity of knowledge (personal predisposition and history, cultural influence, historical location, etc.) is completely ignored. Maybe it's not enough of a coined phrase to just bandy about...

Bobby Grow said...

Thanks, Rob.

Wasn't sure where you were coming from with that, so thanks.

Yes, I think the "post-conservatives" fall prey to this quite frequently (like Stan Grenz's trajectory et al).