Convergences: Canon and Catholicity | Book Review

Title: Convergences: Canon and Catholicity
Author: Christopher R. Seitz
Publisher: Baylor University Press, 2020
Price: $34.99 (amz)  
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 199
In The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, Trinity (Baylor, 2018), Christopher Seitz synthesized major elements of his canonical approach to reading the Bible as Christian Scripture. In this follow-up volume, Seitz continues this program and seeks to highlight the way that a canonical approach resonates with emphases found in certain strands of historical-critical readings and also in contemporary Catholic scholarship. 

In a variety of ways, this volume is warmly ecumenical as Seitz seeks to maximize the overlapping concerns of Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. Though he does not address the fundamental theological issues at the heart of the disagreement (e.g., justification by faith), his more modest claim is that there is a convergence in some of the ways that Catholic and Protestant churches prioritize the meaning and scope of the Scriptures. He also accounts for his own current social location in France, where he has recently lived for family health reasons and where he has taught, written, and attended services among the French Catholic community (see pp. 1–8, 169–72). In this context, he was introduced through a colleague to the work of Paul Beauchamp, a French Old Testament professor in the Catholic tradition. Teaching Childs, reading Beauchamp, and participating in the liturgy of the Catholic church in a local parish prompted a series of reflections on the points of convergence between these traditions in scholarship and in practice. 

The heart of this book is Seitz’s attempt to account for these shared but often unacknowledged commitments. As he summarizes, “In the canonical approach of Brevard Childs one can see a catholic concern for the prior history of interpretation, while in the Catholic world of post-Vatican II, there is an appreciation for the final form of the text as a productive and stable reality” (12). More specifically, Seitz’s thesis is that a “canonical approach to reading the Scripture is in fact a natural outcome of diachronic methods as these were maturing in the last third of the previous century” (14). With Childs and Beauchamp, Seitz seeks to explore this thesis in the works of a Reformed Protestant and a Catholic Jesuit scholar. For Seitz, the overlapping concerns and complementary analysis in their work represents “something like a hermeneutical or canonical catholicity” (14). 

In the first two chapters, Seitz grapples with the legacy of historical-critical approaches to biblical studies. A canonical approach draws upon some of the results of diachronic investigation but triages the conclusions of these studies. A focus on the final form of the biblical texts avoids the hypothetical messiness of a historical-critical construal of an author’s intention. Seitz points out that scholars like Martin Noth and Gerhard Von Rad began late in their careers to reckon with the meaningful effect that combined sources had in a final shape of the canonical text (29–41). The tensions felt between discrete sources in the tradition-building process were freshly contextualized by “the canonical force of the way the words go” (39). This particular strand of historical-critical analysis resonates with the direction both Childs and Beauchamp develop from their respective intellectual contexts.

In the center of the book, Seitz compares and contrasts the focused work of Childs and Beauchamp. Beauchamp extensively developed the nature of typology and figuration as a way of highlighting the complex unity between strategic biblical events and narrative portrayals (43–65). Childs engaged the discipline of biblical theology and relentlessly attended to the relationship between the testaments and the theological subject matter of all Scripture (67–82). These two major figures worked in the same academic arena, interacted with many of the same dialogue partners, and came to complementary conclusions, all the while not drawing directly upon one another’s work. For Seitz, this convergence of approach and emphasis shows that their salient insights are not localized within a single interpretive tradition. Rather, they organically unfold from a prior commitment to engage the two-testament witness as a complex whole and to confess Jesus Christ as its subject matter. 

In the final two chapters, Seitz examines several post-Vatican II official Roman catholic pronouncements on the nature of biblical interpretation (e.g., Dei Verbum, 1965; and Verbum Domini, 2010). Among other things, these documents aim to account for contemporary historical-critical work on the Scriptures as well as the “living tradition” of the church. Though he recognizes that “this kind of ‘catholicity’ may not be what the documents under review had specifically in mind,” Seitz concludes that it would be “hard to declare such incapable of significant convergence all the same” (117). “The ecumenical hopefulness of Vatican II” would find in the canonical approach “a hand reaching into its midst and sharing its concerns, all the while emphasizing the centrality of sacred Scripture as the primary source of the church’s authority” (117–18). 

In practice, another ecumenical point of convergence is found in the Revised Common Lectionary that pairs a series of readings from both Old Testament and New Testament. Both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations utilize these lectionary readings each week. Reading these passages together in this manner also shows some expected and some surprising associations that span the testaments. Significant here is that this three-year reading cycle represents “a revised system of hearing sacred scripture” that emphasizes “its centrality, full scope, and figurally associative character” (126). In this manner, the lectionary is an “on-the-ground reality” for many churches and is “an important piece of biblical theological fact” (134–35). 

This small volume attempts the outsized task of articulating and bringing into dialogue key features of historical-critical study, the contribution of the biblical canon, developments in the Roman Catholic tradition, the vagaries of reception history, and the logic of the lectionary. 

Through his careful comparative delineation, Seitz demonstrates that a canonical approach to reading the Scriptures is distinctive but not idiosyncratic. These features make Convergences a fitting follow-up volume to Elder Testament and an instructive study in its own right.

Book Review
July 6, 2021


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