Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
WTJ 57:2 (Fall 1995) p. 475
Francis Watson: Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994. vii, 366. $34.99.
Watson’s book develops a synchronic, canonical, and theological approach to interpreting the Bible. Historical-critical study of the Bible does not provide satisfaction, and in fact is reaching a kind of dead end: it just multiplies possibilities without ever coming to rest (pp. 52-53, 58, 225). Hence, we need specifically theological interpretation. The book is intelligent, creative, and sensitive to nuance. As such it represents something of the ‘‘state of the art’’ in modern theology, at the same time that it pushes the boundaries forward.
The book interacts creatively with a host of key ideas in hermeneutics. It takes its start from Hans Frei and Brevard Childs, both of whom express principial dissatisfaction with the cul-de-sac into which the historical-critical method has led. But the book rightly complains that both Frei and Childs fail to provide a fully satisfactory alternative. For Frei the text remains a literarily self-contained object that interacts with neither church nor world (pp. 19-29). Childs through his canonical emphasis begins to set the text in the context of the church, but the church is still conceived ideally. Canonical interpretation is pictured unproblematically, as if it were not subject to both internal and external conflicts (pp. 44-45). Watson’s book wants to engender a kind of canonical interpretation that takes seriously the canon as a literary unity, but that is also not afraid on this basis to engage a full spectrum of modern issues, political, economic, social, and sexual.
Watson then goes on to interact further not only with the historical-critical tradition but with various strands of deconstruction, postmodernist views of meaning and truth, and feminist interpretation. He shows that he can use methodological tools from these traditions, but in the end he finds deficiencies as well. Using Jürgen Habermas and Alistair McFadyen as a starting point, he develops a view of human beings as communicators, not merely as captives of a language system (pp. 107-23). Genesis 1 can then be understood in the light of this communicative capacity. Postmodernism, in viewing truth claims as merely relative to particular communities, is at odds with the universal claims of Christian truth underlined in Genesis 1. God, not human beings, created a world through language. God’s language, and the things made by him, form a stable reference point countering the relativism of postmodernist approaches (p. 151).
The book then wrestles with the f...
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