You are on page 1of 5

Review MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible FrD Mar 14

Book Review Dale Martin, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal.

Dale Martin introduces Pedagogy of the Bible: An analysis and Proposal very much as his own book1, a single mans effort, containing his own perspectives and thoughts about the education of future Protestant Christian leaders across the United States of America. In this book Martin sets out to analyse the current trends in theological education at seminaries paying particular attention to how Biblical interpretation is approached and taught. Consequently, the author offers a proposal again, very personal in nature for curricular changes with a double aim in mind. First, Martin wants to provide a suggestion, a tentative blueprint, which could start the conversation about ministerial formation as something centred on Biblical interpretation. Secondly, the author aims to redirect the current educational trends towards a more comprehensive curriculum which would provide the students with a versatile and varied range of interpretative skills that will prove useful tools in on-thejob interpretations of the Bible. Although Pedagogy of the Bible is inspired by the authors own vision for more imaginative Biblical hermeneutics, this book also benefits from Martins research among various training institutions that provided him with valuable opinions from those actively engaged in ministerial formation.

After the brief introduction where Martin presents the perceived problem at hand and his research method, in chapter one the author moves on to outline his concerns about both the use and the interpretation of the Bible in theological education. For Martin the predominant interpretative method employed in seminaries is historical criticism or the historical-critical approach whose hegemony has grown, particularly in Protestant institutions, at the expense of other interpretative methods. Broadly, the historical-critical approach emphasises the historical consciousness of modern readers, highlighting the differences between the present human condition and the life at the time of the redaction of the Biblical books. Thus, this method seeks to be impartial, striving to find the original meaning of Biblical texts which sometimes may seem buried deep underneath layers of denominational biases. However, because of the wide and sometimes multifaceted usage of this approach, the author spends a few pages

Dale B. MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal (2008) x


1

Review MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible FrD Mar 14

to identify more precisely what strand of historical criticism he is trying to dethrone2 through his work. Later in the chapter Martin also outlines other possible interpretative models which could be taught more widely envisaging them as equal working partners to historical criticism. This is a varied and not necessarily exhaustive assortment in which one finds literary, feminist, social-scientific, reader-response, and theological approaches. It is to the latter two models that Martin dedicates more time thus opening the way for his curricular considerations in later chapters. In chapter two, Readers and Texts, Martin furthers his argument for the deposition of the historical-critical regime in favour of a more theological and imaginative way of interpreting the Bible. The chapter opens with some general considerations about reading texts and interpretation as a social product3 thus revealing the unsustainability of any claims about impartiality attached to historical criticism. After this, the author proposes some reflections about reading Biblical texts in a Christian way that is, theologically. Martin examines the example of Psalm 22, a key text for the faith-based interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus, which is mostly read by Christians in a Christological sense that does not reflect original Jewish meaning interpreted using historical criticism. Through these considerations Martin reinforces his thesis about the historical-critical approach; it is useful and it allows the readers to understand various aspects of the text whilst distancing themselves enough to obtain a clearer picture, but it is not strictly necessary for understanding, Christianly, the foundational event of Christianity4 contained in Bible. Finally, the author argues that a theological reading of the Bible would be better served by learning from premodern interpretations of Scripture, rather than by historical-critical readings. In chapter three, Premodern Biblical Interpretation, Martin moves on to examine selected examples of theological interpretation which predate the introduction of the historical-critical method. These seem rather arbitrarily selected and drawn from a very limited number of writers; Origen, Augustine, Bede, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas Aquinas. Jesus, in a sense, should also be included in this list5. However, they demonstrate clearly the point that Martin is trying to make; seminaries should rediscover the wealth of Biblical interpretation which has been accumulated in the eighteen centuries predating the introduction of historical criticism. Moreover, theological colleges should foster the same approaches to the Bible shown in the sample writes e.g. allegorical and theological methods as useful interpretative tools. In chapter four, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, Martin puts forward the theological model as the fundamental interpretative tool to be used by future Christian leaders on a day-to-day basis. The author constructs this argument first by examining the meaning of Scripture and subsequently by putting forward certain ground rules about the theological method; these will set the framework for theological interpretation and provide the student with the skills necessary to improvise Biblical hermeneutics once leaving the seminary. Its worth noting that the guidelines given here are drawn from three other writers: Walter Wilson, Charles Cosgrove, and Jack Rogers.
ibid. 3 ibid. 38 4 ibid. 42 5 ibid. 48
2 3

Review MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible FrD Mar 14

The fifth and last chapter, Curricular Dreams, provides the reader with the blueprint for the radical curricular restructure promised in the introduction of Pedagogy of the Bible. The chapter opens with mild suggestions for curricular changes gathered by Martin in his research among Biblical scholars. However, on the whole these reveal themselves not quite as ground-breaking as the author would have expected them to be6 all perhaps except Luke Timothy Johnsons which seems more concerned about the physical structures and the life of prayer of seminaries, than their curricula; a concern that, shared also by Martin, complements well the strictly academic proposition of his blueprint. In his proposal, Martin envisages a curriculum centred on Scripture. The students at his dream seminary would be taught historical criticism as well as a varied selection of interpretative approaches. The teaching of several methods of interpretation in an environment where Christian reading of the Bible is paramount should teach students to adopt an interpretative approach that is both critical and theological. Martins practical suggestions however, do not appear to be greatly revolutionary. The dream curriculum is organised in three units be these years or semesters with four modules taught in each unit. The first unit comprises the teaching of historical criticism and other interpretative approaches, theory of the text, the theology of Scripture, and the Christian reading to the Old Testament. The second unit comprises the historical introduction to the New Testament and early Christianity, patristic and early Christian literature, medieval and early modern Christian and Biblical interpretation, and interestingly, an entire module on Biblical interpretation through art, literature and music. The third unit comprises the study of medieval and modern theologians, Scripture in liturgy and preaching (from a purely theoretical viewpoint?), Scripture in relation to other religions, and finally, ministerial matters.

Dale Martins Pedagogy of the Bible has been reviewed several times since it was first published in 2008 with mixed feelings. Renate V. Hood calls it a bold, daring, and timely7 work, however Timothy Lim only affirms that the book is worthy of some attention8, raising important questions about the only allegedly radical character of Martins proposed curricular changes. This review would like to draw the readers attention to a further couple of issues surrounding Pedagogy of the Bible. First, Martins analysis is drawn both from the authors own perception of ministerial education as well as on his research work conducted with the support of Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. The research sample contains forty-eight teachers and fifty postgraduate students from ten theological schools across the USA; a reasonable sample, but according the Martin himself, a modest survey9. However, at times Martin seems to slip
ibid. 93 Renate V. HOOD, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal By Dale B. Martin (2009) 8 Timothy LIM, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal By Dale B. Martin, (2010)72 9 Dale B. MARTIN (2008) xi
6 7

Review MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible FrD Mar 14

into generalization about the prominence of historical-criticism in ministerial education a prominence that some of his interviewees do not recognise10 and that other academics consider a thing of the past11. Therefore, even though Martin is ready to acknowledge insufficient data-gathering of his research12, one ought to question the validity of his claims about historical criticism and so also about the suitability of his analysis. Secondly, a further question about the value of Martins contributions should be raised due to the authors lack of experience in practical aspects of ministry13. The curricular proposal contained in Pedagogy of the Bible relegates homiletics, counselling, and other everyday elements of ministry to the last part of a dream curriculum. Undoubtedly, Martin does not want to underestimate these important parts of ministerial life, but would like to see them thoroughly grounded in years of Biblical studies which is a comforting thought in itself. However, this restriction placed on preaching seems to counter the authors argument about theological interpretation of the Bible as something that necessarily requires practice in order to achieve better standards14. Indeed, the example of St Bernard of Clairvaux cited in chapter three reveals that Biblical interpretation is done through homiletics. Homiletics as an imaginative and practical approach to hermeneutics should be taught, engaged with, and assessed earlier than Martin suggests; thus giving the possibility to students to experiment in a safe environment with one of the most important parts of their future ministerial life.

Pedagogy of the Bible is a short but difficult book to assess fully probably because of its personal character. On the one hand it appears unclear both in its definition of Church and in providing valuable and bespoke reflections for such a vast target audience. On the other hand, it is a sincere and thoughtful effort to direct ministerial education towards a more theological and imaginative approach to Biblical interpretation. Pedagogy of the Bible possesses a voice that sounds genuinely concerned about the state of ministerial education even beyond the USA and Protestantism. It may sound vaguely Congregationalist in its ecclesiology, but it speaks to Christians across denominations inviting them to reassess the role of Scripture in the training of those individuals who will be entrusted with the teaching and handing-on of the faith contained in the sacred texts. In this sense, Pedagogy of the Bible appears to unknowingly echo the Council

E.g. Stan Saunders in Dale B. MARTIN (2008) 10 E.g. Historical criticism [] was the dominant approach in the academic study of the Bible from the mid-nineteenth century until a generation ago. First sentence of John BARTON, Historical-Critical Approaches, in John BARTON (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (1998) 9 (bold type mine) 12 Dale B. MARTIN (2008) xi 13 ibid. 104 14 ibid. 91
10 11

Review MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible FrD Mar 14

Decree on ministerial formation of 1965 which affirmed that students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, [] the soul of all theology15. Ultimately, Dale Martins underlying desire for a comprehensive revaluation of ministerial education could reveal itself as the lasting legacy of Pedagogy of the Bible and a further contribution to interdenominational dialogues about the centrality of Scripture.

Bibliography Dale Basil MARTIN, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal, Westminster John Knox (Louisville, 2008)

John BARTON (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, CUP (Cambridge, 1998) Renate Viveen HOOD, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal By Dale B. Martin, REVIEW OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE (2009), text accessed via www.bookreviews.org/pdf/6609_7161.pdf (November 2013) Timothy LIM, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal By Dale B. Martin, REVIEWS IN RELIGION AND THEOLOGY, Vol. 17, No. 1, (2010 First published online December 2009)

also Decree on Priestly Training, Optatam Totius (1965), text accessed via www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vatii_decree_19651028_optatam-totius_en.html (November 2013)

15

Decree on Priestly Training, Optatam Totius (1965) #16


5