What is the relationship between divine and human agency in the interpretation of Scripture? Differing schools of thought often fail to address this key question, overemphasizing or ignoring one or the other. When the divine inspiration of Scripture is overemphasized, the varied roles of human authors tend to become muted in our approach the text. Conversely, when we think of the Bible almost entirely in terms of its human authorship, Scripture’s character as the word of God tends to play little role in our theological reasoning. The tendency is to choose either an academic or a spiritual approach to interpretation.
In Rendering the Word in Theological Hermeneutics, Mark Bowald asserts that this is a false dichotomy. We need not emphasize the human qualities of Scripture to the detriment of the divine, nor the other way around. We must rather approach Scripture as equally human and divine in origin and character, and we must read it with both critical rigor and openness to the leading of God’s Spirit now and in the historic life of the church.
From this perspective, Bowald also offers a fruitful analysis of the hermeneutical methods of George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, Kevin Vanhoozer, Francis Watson, Stephen Fowl, David Kelsey, Werner Jeanrond, Karl Barth, James K.A. Smith, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Rendering the Word is one of the most astute treatments of scriptural hermeneutics in recent years. It is a work of considerable theological perception, most of all in its clear-minded and penetrating analysis of the place and significance of divine agency in the interpretation of Scripture.
—John Webster, professor of divinity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland
Theological hermeneutics has no more avid cartographer than Mark Bowald. Readers who are still wondering what theological interpretation of Scripture is would do well to orient themselves to the discussion by consulting Bowald's charts. Bowald does more than map out this strange new continent, however; he makes a constructive dogmatic claim about the role of divine agency. This is intelligent theological mapmaking, a book to take up and read to find one's way through the issue of God's presence and activity in biblical interpretation.
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“It will be argued that certain developments in Enlightenment epistemology contributed to create an obscurity in the perception of the ideal act of discerning knowledge, of which reading books, including Scripture, has been treated as a subset.” (Page 7)
“The ultimate goal is to lay bare in a more comprehensive manner the basic dynamics of the reading of Scripture that underwrite any and all hermeneutical proposals. It asserts that any conscientious hermeneutical theory of reading the Bible must account for both dynamics: between the text and readers and between the divine and human agents.” (Page 3)
“The first effect is that we recognize that all readings of Scripture are theologically invested, including our own” (Page 244)
“The character of the speaker, their reputation in the community, the knowledge, authority and linguistic skill they indicate in the speech itself; all these things play a determinate role in the shape of the speech itself (logos) as well as the way that the speech is received and appropriated in the response of the hearer (pathos).” (Page 239)
“Once God’s antecedent agency is set aside as an improper imposition on Scripture’s reading, there is a vacuum formed from the traditional or precritical perception of the task. Formerly, it was God’s supervenance and guidance that accompanied and administered the reading. Once God’s instructive role is diminished, denied, or lost, there arises a need to account for whom or what is controlling or animating the act of reading Scripture.” (Page 27)
Studies in Historical and Systematic Theology is a peer-reviewed series of contemporary monographs exploring key figures, themes, and issues in historical and systematic theology from an evangelical perspective.
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Mark Bowald is Assistant Professor of Religion and Theology at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada.