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Discipleship According to the Sermon on the Mount

By Turner, David L. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Discipleship According to the Sermon on the Mount


Turner, David L., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Discipleship according to the Sermon on the Mount. By Daniel Patte. Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1996, xiii + 416 pp., $30.00 paper.

Those familiar with the previous publications of Patte (Vanderbilt University) on structuralism and Biblical studies are aware that his works tend to be methodologically oriented. This boc,k is no exception. Patte's goals are bound up in the subtitle: "Four Legitimate Readings, Four Plausible Views of Discipleship, and Their Relative Values." He wishes to provide an interpretation of four male European-American approaches, an interpretation he styles as androcritical and multidimensional. Patte seems to believe that any reading of the Biblical text is as legitimate or plausible as another. His own views are read with the others, not read to them, in order to assess the relative value of the interpretations, not to demonstrate which interpretation is correct, or even most likely to be correct. For Patte, all Biblical scholarship is advocacy scholarship and is pro me/nobis. Each interpreter's reading is authentic for that interpreter in his or her culture. Patte does not want his readers to adopt his reading of the sermon on the mount but to assume responsibility for their own interpretations and be accountable to them. Needless to say, this is not a tome that exemplifies the literary theory of E. D. Hirsch!

The process of reading with African-American, feminist and "two-thirds world" scholars has enabled Pal;te to do his own androcritical study. He does not wish to deny the legitimacy of his own androcentric, Eurocentric reading of the sermon on the mount but neither does he wish to put it forth as the correct interpretation. In his view there is simply no such thing as a Biblical exegesis that results in universal, objective interpretation. There are only specific, subjective interpretations that can be assessed in their relative appropriateness for their adherents. Patte's study is multidimensional in that it involves a threefold agenda. First come legitimacy conclusions about what a text says (abbreviated by Patte as CAWs), then epistemology judgments leading to conclusions about the teaching of a text (abbreviated by Patte as CATs), and finally value judgments leading to conclusions about the relative value of the interpretations (abbreviated by Patte as CARVs). Patte wishes to "decenter" representative androcentric European-American approaches, which he views as plausible though unidimensional, by means of his own androcritical multidimensional approach. In this endeavor the present volume serves as an example of the agenda Patte laid out in his previous book, The Ethics of Biblical Interpretation: A Reevaluation (Westminster/John Knox, 1995). Here Patte concluded that it is ethically problematic to put forth one's own interpretation competitively as the single meaning of a text because such action requires other readers to dismiss their own interpretations as illegitimate.

The four approaches with which Patte reads are (1) redaction critical, focusing on the historical dimensions of the sermon on the mount, (2) narrative critical, focusing on the plot dimensions cf the sermon on the mount, (3) history of traditions, focusing on figurative dimensions and (4) structural critical, focusing on thematic dimensions. Patte defines discipleship as ethical practice that can be construed as the implementation of previously held Christian beliefs (cognitive) or as intuitive behavior that is only later conceptualized. The former is construed in a deontological ethical system and the latter in a consequentialist or utilitarian scheme. Here Patte depends on the work of Thomas Ogletree. Either approach is plausible and legitimate. Patte's own approach is structural critical and involves discerning the thematic dimensions of the sermon on the mount, which are found especially in its beginning and end. Inverted parallelisms express the theme in terms of the semantic opposition of actions which are either appropriate or inappropriate for the disciple.

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