Over the course of the past few years, IVP-Academic has taken to producing a series of books under the banner of Spectrum Multiview, seeking to engage a wide range of viewpoints on important topics of the day – well, important to Christians at least. In this latest offering, the difficult question of how to interpret the bible comes into view, heralded by some of the largest names in their respective fields today. Edited by Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, five different viewpoints are explored.
In chapter one, Craig Blomberg introduces us to the historical-critical method. Now, this method, from the name of it and the hype generally given in opposition to the historical-critical method may scare off a few of the readers, but the editors have wisely chosen to place this chapter first, and not in the least, I suspect, because Blomberg diplomatically allows for the placement of all five views in the reader’s hands. His emphasis on the historical context, sans theological development, is important, and often lacking in the other viewpoints, but he does maintain a deeply Evangelical connection to Scripture, something that should allow the skeptical reader some access into considering the historical-critical viewpoint as a valid reading tool of Scripture.
Following this is Scott Spencer‘s Literary/Post-modern viewpoint. I am quite happy to see this as well as Merold Westphal‘s philosophical/theological (chapter three) essays included in this book. While the literary/post-modern viewpoint is not so easily accepted (as Blomberg points out in his response, several literary critics tend to dwell more in the post-modern viewpoint than the literary side), reading Scripture in the light of a scientific literary theory along with a nice dose of the philosophical will help in developing a certain appreciation for the application of Scripture to our daily lives (practical theology). While I tend to lean, almost to the point of falling over, towards these two viewpoints, I found that they were lacking in application themselves, something pointed out by the responders in Part Two of this book. I would encourage any reader to take these two chapters as a starting point and not all encompassing into these two highly important reading strategies.
The final two hermeneutics, Richard Gaffin‘s Redemptive/Historical view and Robert Walls‘ Canonical view are perhaps the furtherest from me, or perhaps I am the furtherest from them. Both take an extremely (what we consider today) conservative viewpoint. Gaffin follows Princeton’s Vos while Wall follows Yale’s Childs, both devout Christian theological scholars who paved the way for what many consider a “biblical” theology. They are nearly the same in my view, with neither really moving past a plain sense reading nor a scripture interprets scripture mindset. Both of these are deeply concerned with preserving Evangelical theology and seem to really shy away from the historical-critical approach beyond that of the lower criticism. They are well-written, but the basis of their arguments are nevertheless faulty.
Except for Spencer’s essay, each author explains his viewpoint and then tackles a text from Matthew 2 in relation to how their reading strategy would explain it. They tend to all say the same thing, actually, with little or no different between them except for how they approach it. Following Part One, each essayist takes a short space to respond to each viewpoint, doing so graciously. One of the only lacking areas in this book is the focus on a single passage. What would have been more helpful is to allow each other to take a different passage so that the responses could provide some insight into how a different hermeneutical strategy would develop it. For instance, Spencer and Westphal’s take on nearly any passage from Revelation would provide Gaffin and Wall a very interesting response, I suspect.
This book, and others in this series, are not just important to the current Christian, but essential in developing the critical mind of the theologian. And, if Barth is right, we are all theologians. Each of the essayists are accomplished in their respective fields, each provide insight not into just their own viewpoint, but also the viewpoints of others; but most importantly, how each viewpoint can dovetail into another’s. This book is highly recommended.