Packing and trying to read two books does not make for an easy time. In fact, I’ve only managed one book in two weeks. Its rather disappointing, but then again I have no employment lined up for immediately after we move so in the midst of submitting additional job applications I’m sure I’ll find some time to catch up.
The Scripture Principle. I found this book, to be completely honest, boring. I was hoping for heresy and suspense, or at least something demonstrably liberal in the circles I walk. To my great disappointment, nothing of the kind emerged. Clark Pinnock made some good points in the book. One of the things he stressed was understanding the text in relationship to genre. He basically encouraged conservatives to avoid becoming so dogmatic in their hermeneutics that they don’t take genre into consideration. He also constantly pointed out that we need to allow the Bible to judge us. I agree with this, even if he is a little less interested in critical studies than I am as a result of this philosophy. When Pinnock talks about what the book is supposed to be on (a middle position between verbal inerrancy and a sort of “the bible is only a human book that is good for nothing” approach) he is engaging and, I think, worthwhile.
When he veers off of this path onto any other number of topics he gets bogged down. In some instances he says things that I have to wonder if he really meant to say. One example of this is,
We also need to keep an eye on wholeness, so as not to take a passage out of its canonical context. Biblical study has often focused too much on small units in the text and failed to examine the meaning of them in relation to the broader picture. Jonah, for instance, should not be read as an isolated book, but be viewed in relation to the later New Testament Scriptures that reflect on its meaning as a prophecy of Christ.
It is entirely possible that some readers may have no problem with what Pinnock says here. But to use this as an example of keeping a book in its canonical context? A horrible usage, to be sure! I agree that Jonah should not be read as an isolated text. However, to say that it should instead be read in light of the later New Testament authors is ridiculous. It should be read in the context it was written to inhabit. Jonah is not about Jesus. Jonah is not, in the original canonical context, a <em>prophecy</em> about Jesus. Jonah is about a patriotic Israelite who puts a mysterious, merciful God in a box. Reading the book, a person will quickly find that Pinnock favors a Christological interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. I much prefer to see Jesus coming out of the Hebrew Bible, but to avoid reading him back into it. The Rabbi has written an excellent, albeit brief, post on this very topic. As he points out, in hindsight Jesus really does make sense, but the authors of the Hebrew Bible really did not know what we sometimes imply they knew. To be fair, Pinnock is not saying the writer of Jonah knew about Jesus, or somehow foresaw such a Messiah. Nevertheless, I think it is important to read the Hebrew Bible on its own terms and to learn the story without references to Jesus so that, coming out on the other side, we can see Jesus in hindsight and, I think, have a better appreciation for the story that the Bible unfolds before our eyes.
Pinnock also has a little blurb on not allowing contradictions. I feel like I have been critical enough of the book, but it bears saying that he feels the church cannot consistently allow contradiction in the Bible since it might overthrow his Scripture Principle. I, on the other hand, have little problem with contradiction in the text – if indeed it is there and not made up by people trying to be stupid.
In conclusion, I would most likely not recommend this book to someone who has already digested Peter Enns’ wonderful primer on the subject, Inspiration and Incarnation. Of course Enns too wants to view the Hebrew Bible through the lens of what he terms Christotelic hermeneutics. This has little bearing on the first three sections of the book, however. One could stop reading when one arrives at the section on how the New Testament authors read the Hebrew Bible and be perfectly satisfied with the price they paid for the book – provided they are new to the subject. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more verbose study on inspiration and the theology of an inspired Bible, from an evangelical perspective, Pinnock’s book does have some value. I do not regret reading it, I simply wish that he stayed a bit more on topic and did not favor a Christological view of the Old Testament.
- Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright. It is entirely possible that I am a glutton for punishment reading this book so soon after Pinnock’s. I picked this book up just today because I have been told that he views Jesus as coming out of the Old Testament but avoids reading Jesus back into the text. We will see what the verdict is at the end. You’ll notice that I haven’t read Dunn’s book on Jesus, which I had planned to do. I’ve decided to go with C. Wright’s book instead, because I am interested in this topic of how people see Jesus interacting with the Old Testament. Do we as Christians view the Old Testament as somehow less important to us (Pinnock gets close to this)? I’m interested in how people are dealing with that question. So, hopefully I’ll finish Knowing Jesus by next week. In all seriousness though, I doubt I will. Packing is top priority right now.