Another Lifeline: Brevard Childs

Brevard Childs, who died in 2007, was Sterling Professor of Divinity at Yale University, and to my mind one of the great Biblical interpreters of his generation.  He provided many pastors and teachers in the church with the interpretive tools needed to do their work, and he bravely challenged the ruling canons of his guild as to how biblical studies should proceed.

I was trained in biblical studies in a day when form criticism and its various offspring ruled the day.  Exegesis often reminded me of taking a bicycle apart,  which is not hard to do, but putting it back together so that you can ride it takes knowledge and skill.  Child’s canonical approach allowed you to take the text seriously as scripture, rather than the starting point for a host of other questions from various disciplines.

In an interviewhe once said this about biblical interpretation:

“By defining one’s task as an understanding of the Bible as the sacred Scriptures of the church, one establishes from the outset the context and point-of-standing of the reader within the received tradition of a community of faith and practice. Likewise, Scripture is also confessed to be the vehicle of God’s self-disclosure which continues to confront the church and the world in a living fashion. In sum, its content is not merely a literary deposit moored in the past, but a living and active text addressing each new generation of believer, both Jew and Christian. Of course, the Bible is also a human work written as a testimony to God’s coercion of a historical people, and extended and developed through generations of Israel’s wrestling with its God. Biblical interpretation is a critical enterprise requiring exact handling of the language, history, and cultures of its recipients. The crucial hermeneutical issue turns on how one uses all this wealth of information. The goals of interpretation can be defined in countless different ways, but for those confessing its role as sacred Scripture the goal is to penetrate deeply into its content, to be illuminated theologically by its Word, and to be shaped and transformed by its gracious disclosure which witness is continually made alive by its divine communicator. The divine and human dimensions of Scripture can never be separated as if there were a kernel and a husk, but the heart of the Bible lies in the mystery of how a fully time-conditioned writing, written by fragile human authors, can continually become the means of hearing the very Word of God, fresh and powerful, to recipients open to faithful response.”

Child’s books still have a  prominent place on my bookshelf, and he remains one of my lifelines.

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