Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Brevard Childs, Biblical Theologian, Book Review (Shorter | SBJT)

Title: Brevard Childs, Biblical Theologian: For the Church's One Bible
Author: Daniel R. Driver
Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2010
Price: € 69,00 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 328
In this revised version of his doctoral thesis completed at the University of St. Andrews, Daniel R. Driver seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of Childs’ oeuvre and to uncover the inner workings of his brand of biblical theology.

After surveying Childs’ life and the history of the canon debate, Driver divides his analysis into three main parts. In part one, Driver gives a sort of reception history of Childs’ work both in English and German contexts. In part two, he exposits Childs’ canonical approach itself and examines its internal coherence. According to Driver, Childs makes two major shifts or turns in his career. The first is Childs’ movement from a focus on “form” to a focus on “final form.”

In part three, Driver examines the second major shift in Childs’ career, which relates to his reflection on the relationship between the Testaments. Childs’ concern in this area is to affirm that Christ is the subject (the res) that both the Old and New Testaments witness to in their own discrete voices. After providing a test case for the issues raised throughout his discussion (on the scope of Psalm 102), Driver concludes with an epilogue that surveys recent work on the canon and suggests its relevance to Childs’ approach.

One of the consistent criticisms of Childs is that he is inconsistent and that his approach is in need of reconstructive surgery. This perception was encouraged by James Barr’s biting criticism of Childs throughout his career. According to Driver, this critique in particular has helped generate a “bi-polar Childs” in much secondary literature (36-50). On the one hand, Childs champions a focus on the final form of the text, but on the other he engages in various forms of historical criticism in his treatment of biblical material. Many critical biblical scholars would decry a privileging of a final form, which they view as arbitrary, and many evangelical biblical scholars would balk at the use of critical methodology, which they view as dangerous.

For Driver, what is missing in the contemporary discussion is the historical Childs, or better, the canonical Childs. Though one might surely still take issue with elements of Childs’ work, Driver maintains the importance of recognizing that for Childs, there is an internal logic to his version of the canonical approach. Driver points out that the “missing link” many critics neglect is the notion of canon-consciousness (71, 144ff) and that Childs sees an integral connection between the “pre-canonical” forms of texts and traditions and the shape they take in the canon as part of the church’s Scripture.

Driver’s articulation of Childs’ “career thesis” is that “the historically shaped canon of scripture, in its two discrete witnesses, is a Christological rule of faith that in the church, by the action of the Holy Spirit, accrues textual authority” (4). Driver’s overall contention is that Childs’ approach is complex but ultimately coherent.

Evangelical and historical-critical scholars alike who are wary of all things "canonical" would do well to situate Childs in his academic context. Driver demonstrates that throughout his career, Childs reflected on the relationship between historical-critical and biblical-theological methods and assumptions. And there are important differences between his application of these critical tools and “business as usual” in the scholarly guilds.

In a sense, the burden of Driver’s volume is to answer thoroughly the question, “What happens if Childs’ work proves to have a logic of its own, even if it is a logic one finally chooses not to enter?” (59). It is this suggestive yet balanced approach that makes Driver’s volume an instructive hermeneutical guide for reading Childs.

See also,
  • My overly garrulous more developed review/interaction with Driver's volume (and a few relevant links)
  • This shorter version also appears in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15.3 (Fall 2011): 97.

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I also occasionally post annotations that I make as I read Cormac McCarthy at "Reading Cormac McCarthy."

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