Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology -- By: Andreas J. Köstenberger

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 15:2 (Spring 1998)
Article: Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology
Author: Andreas J. Köstenberger

Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse?
An Assessment of Narrative Theology

Andreas J. Köstenberger

Professor of New Testament
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

Quite unawares of the origins of some of these thoughts, many pastors and church members may find themselves increasingly confronted with ideas like “story preaching” or “reading the Bible as literature.”1 Harmless as it may seem at first—after all, have “story preaching” and “reading the Bible as literature” not been practiced with good success and enjoyment for a long, long time?2 —these phrases in fact conceal trends of which the unsuspecting pastor, churchgoer, or Bible student may not be aware.3 In the end, we will still be able to enjoy a good sermon illustration or appreciate the literary quality of, say, John’s Gospel. But we will understand the unfortunate dichotomy between history and literature modern biblical studies have inherited as well as come to terms with the recent pendulum swing to the literary side of the biblical text. We will be able to discern and assess the influence of one of the most seminal narrative-theological thinkers, Hans W. Frei. And last but not least, we will be in a position to reconsider and fine-tune our own way of studying Scripture, making sure that our hermeneutical method properly balances historical, literary, and theological concerns.

I. “Aesthetic Theology” and the “New Yale Theology”

Kevin Vanhoozer has ably traced the “aesthetic turn” in modern theology and biblical studies.4 He argues that “the eighteenth century was enamored with reason, the nineteenth century discovered history, and the twentieth century is preoccupied with language.”5 The most recent development in modern theology Vanhoozer terms “aesthetic theology.” This kind of thought can be defined as “a theology which focuses on the Bible’s literary form or shape to the [partial or complete] exclusion of the author and historical context.”6

However, while the psalmist considered God’s Word to be “a lamp to my feet” (Ps. 119:105), modern scholarship views all language as a labyrinth that

leads nowhere. The aesthetic object (i.e., the text) is autonomous, cut off from its author and its author’s authority. Aesthetic l...

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