Interpreting the Truth: Changing the Paradigm of Biblical Studies

Article excerpt

Interpreting the Truth: Changing the Paradigm of Biblical Studies. By L. William Countryman. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2003. ix + 245 pp. $24.95 (paper).

This hook calls for a change in the practice of biblical interpretation. For Countryman, the problem is twofold. First, biblical studies are increasingly fragmented into specialized methods that have little to say to one another. second, the discipline s lack of anything coherent to say exposes the problem inherent in the modern division of labor, which relegated "criticism" to the academy and "application" to faith communities. Academic criticism in itself has never meant much to faith communities. Although some biblical scholars have been adept at popularizing academic criticism, faith communities have not found this very satisfying and have continued to do their own thing with Scripture. And yet, the interpreters who live in both worlds tacitly know that criticism done in the academy is potentially relevant to the way Scripture informs the life of faith. Countryman seeks to redefine the task of biblical interpretation so that the basis for this relevance will be made explicit, fostering greater coherence in the discourse of academic criticism and greater affinity with similar interpretive discourse in faith communities.

For Countryman, biblical interpretation involves the interpreter in a respectful conversation with the text on behalf of a community. As a community representative, the interpreter undertakes this conversation in order to find out things that are crucial for their common life. "Reality" is the frame of reference, in the sense that the conversation is about the real concerns of the community. "Truth" is the goal, in the sense that the interpreter aims to discover insights that will truly benefit the community. Because the conversation is ongoing, the sense of reality and the truths discovered along the way will necessarily be conditional and incomplete. The emerging dimensions of reality and the truths to be discovered are always new and different. The conversation is inevitably complex and surprising, but if conducted with due respect for the text and recognition of the interpreter's responsibility to the community, it will prove to be conclusive enough. …