Friday, November 27, 2009

What Makes a Good Commentary?

A few different bloggers (see, e.g., Michael Bird's post at Euangelizomai) have mentioned something about Tremper Longman's recent paper on the writing of commentaries.  I didn't hear and haven't read the paper myself, but Bird's post outlines Longman's reasons for biblical scholars to continue the practice of producing commentaries even in the midst of a landscape seemingly saturated with them.  All that to say, this prodded me to ask what qualities make a good commentary good.  I doubt any of us could begin to answer this question in a purely theoretical manner, but, after engaging in exegetical study of different passages with the help of different commentaries, perhaps it's possible for us to extrapolate some rules of thumb.  Here are a few of mine in no particular order:

1) sensitivity to the Bible as literature, as a library of literary works employing literary devices that demand explanation and appreciation

2) recognition of the continuity between the two testaments, OT commentaries unpacking the forward-looking dimension of the OT and NT commentaries honoring the OT backdrop for the NT

3) commitment to the authority of Scripture, even when it challenges modern sensibilities

4) treatment of the grammatico-logical connections between words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and so on

5) specification and fair-minded consideration of interpretive options for difficult passages (both well-worn and newly proposed options)

6) respect for theological integration with a view to shaping the mind of the church

Any you would add?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Weinandy Waxes Eloquent

Thomas Weinandy's Does God Suffer? has been, for me, a gem on the doctrine of God.  Here are some of his reflections on the teaching of the OT:

"The Old Testament never conceives of God's transcendence in opposition to his immanence, as if that which makes God wholly other is different from that which allows him to be a personal God who lovingly acts in time and history.  For the Bible, transcendence and immanence do not describe two divine modes of being or two sets of distinguishing qualities - one as God is apart from the created order and another as he is in relation to the created order.  For God to be transcendent in the biblical understanding means that he is wholly other than the created order but not apart from the created order.  That which makes him divine, and thus wholly other and so transcendent, is that which equally allows him to be active within the created order and so be immanent.  There is no opposition between God's transcendent being and his immanent activity" (p. 56).  

I may post something on Weinandy's take on impassibility itself, but any thoughts for now?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When to Partake: Or The Lord's Supper and the Gift of Objectivity

Lately I've been reflecting on a phenomenon that's consistently been a part of the church settings in which I've been involved.  At times, though I don't know if it's most of the time, the pastor leading the congregation in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, once the elements have been distributed, will give us the chance to partake "in our own time."  In other words, the people are expected to have a time of individual (and silent) confession and prayer and, when each is ready, they eat the bread and drink the cup on their own with a worship song in the background.  

My question is this: do we lose something when we do things this way?  In light of Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians, I wouldn't say that individual examination is out of place.  Even so, I've begun to think that we do risk missing something here.  Most of us journey through the week operating in a sort of self-contained spirituality.  We have to engineer the content and structure for our devotional practices and we have to work at reminding ourselves of the gospel.  Perhaps partaking simultaneously with others as the minister instructs us, guides us, reiterates the gospel 1) releases us from having always to contrive an individualized approach to God (this is church, after all!), 2) more readily catches us up in the grander narrative of the church in redemptive history, 3) mercifully reminds us that the gospel comes from without and doesn't depend upon our ability to develop in the moment a manageable way to connect ourselves with God.  (Though I've lived and moved in churches of a Baptist orientation, this line of thinking reflects a desire somehow to appropriate the Reformed insistence on the sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant, divine confirmations from without meant to strengthen our faith.)  

Any thoughts on this?