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Journal of Theological Interpretation i.

i (2007) 117-128

REVIEW ARTICLE

A "Seamless Garment" Approach


to Biblical Interpretation?

M I C H A E L J. G O R M A N
ST. MARY'S SEMINARY AND UNIVERSITY

Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Van-


hoozer. Grand Rapids, Ml: Baker Academic / London: SPCK, 2005.
Pp. 896. ISBN 0-8010-2694-6. $54.99.
The Dictionaryfor Theological Interpretation of the Bible, like this journal,
gives voice to a growing sentiment among biblical scholars and theologians
alike: a desire to explore and articulate ways of biblical interpretation
that attend primarily to the biblical text as theological text, as a vehicle of
divine revelation and address. To many outside the theological guild but
inside the church (and perhaps even outside it), this focus will seem al
together self-evident and natural. To those of us inside the guild, after
years of exposure to nontheological interpretation, we know better, and we
are aware of the challenges before us as we attempt to move forward in the
appropriately theological task of biblical interpretation.
Thus this dictionary is both overdue and timely, and we must thank
the publishers, contributors, and editors. I have been happy to recom
mend it to colleagues and students. Its contributors include some of the
best theologians and theological interpreters of Scripture in the world,
such as Ellen Charry, Joel Green, Larry Hurtado, Howard Marshall, Alls
ter McGrath, R. R. Reno, Christopher Rowland, Christopher Seitz, An
thony Thiselton, Geoffrey Wainwright, and . T. Wright. The dictionary
treats in one place the kinds of topics one would normally find in at least
three different places: a traditional Bible dictionary, a general theological
dictionary, and a handbook of biblical interpretation. Moreover, nearly ev
ery articlewhether biblical, theological, or hermeneuticalseems to be
governed by a desire on the part of the author to say something more
theological and/or more biblical than one normally finds in traditional dic
tionaries and handbooks. This dictionary should therefore become a stan
dard reference work for both novice and veteran interpreters of Scripture.
ii8 Journal of Theological Interpretation i.i (looj)

Thus the comments I make in this review essay should be taken less as
criticisms of the project than as concerns, suggestions, and questions for
all of us who are committed to theological interpretation. After this intro-
ductory section, this essay is divided into three major parts: the first more
general, the second more specific to my own field of N T studies, and the
third more speculative about some directions to which this dictionary
may be pointing usperhaps unknowingly. I write of course from a par-
ticular perspective, so I end this introduction by locating myself as a re-
viewer in order to contextualize the review.
Despite my general abhorrence of labels, I consider myself a pro-
gressive evangelical who is part of a "mainline" denomination (The United
Methodist Church). I am employed by America's oldest Roman Catholic
Seminary (founded in 1791), where I teach in both of its academic divisions,
the Catholic seminary itself and the Ecumenical Institute of Theology, of
which I am also Dean. About one-fourth of our Catholic seminarians are
international students. For instance, in my recent seminar called "Romans
as Christian Theology," of 11 students, there were 2 priests from Africa and
a young student from India. Their perspectives greatly enhanced my own
and the class's reading of Romans. Moreover, in our Ecumenical Institute
of Theology, two-thirds of the students are women, and one-third African-
American. Catholics, Protestants, the Orthodox, and others read Scripture
and do theology together. Their diverse voices enhance one another and
the faculty. To me, therefore, the theological interpretation of Scripture is
an inherently ecumenical and multicultural practice.

GENERAL REMARKS

It may be useful to begin with a simple question: What are the objec-
tives of this dictionary? In a helpful six-page introduction, General Editor
Kevin Vanhoozer describes the vision for the dictionary as "a resource that
combines an interest in the academic study of the Bible with a passionate
commitment to making this scholarship of use to the church" (19). He
then provides (19-23) a description of what theological interpretation is
not (for example, the imposition of a confessional system onto the biblical
text), why it is needed (to overcome the gap between exegesis and theol-
ogy and the postmodern tendency to turn exegesis into ideology), and
what it is: the "joint responsibility of all theological disciplines and of the
whole people of God" to interpret Scripture "with a governing interest in
God" and a "broad ecclesial concern" (21-22). These three shared premises
come to expression in various ways, as Vanhoozer briefly but admirably
demonstrates in the introduction. In sum, Vanhoover says, theological in-
terpretation is "reading to know God," the God revealed in Israel and
Jesus (24).
GORMAN: A "Seamless Garment" Approach to Interpretation? 119

Vanhoozer notes that the dictionary seeks to achieve its goal through
four basic kinds of articles: (1) articles on texts (biblical books), which em-
phasize their theological message and contribution to Christian theology;
(2) articles on hermeneutics, including historical, philosophical, and literary
approaches and their "suitability" for theological interpretation; (3) specific
interpreters and interpretive communities; and (4) doctrines and themes
that arise from and/or impact biblical interpretation (23-24). There are 170
contributors and nearly 300 articles, with approximately 100 on biblical
texts and related topics, 70 on hermeneutics and interpretive methods, 77
on doctrines and themes, and 37 on specific interpreters and communities.
There is a topical index as well as a Scripture index and a "List of Articles
by Category."
The articles in the dictionary are nearly all well researched, well writ-
ten, and highly instructive. 1 Many will give readers insights that they need
for theological interpretation but perhaps do not know they need, supple-
menting the more narrowly historical and literary perspectives present in
traditional Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and introductory texts on
the Bible and its interpretation. Because space does not permit a review of
every aspect of the dictionary, it will have to suffice to mention some of
the most outstanding contributions (apart from those on the biblical
texts): "Canon" and "Karl Barth" by John Webster; "Canonical Approach"
by Christopher Seitz; "Intertextuality" by Paul Kloptak; and "Jewish Exe-
gesis" by Craig Evans.
Inevitably, readers of the dictionary will argue with the selection of
topics. Particularly odd is the absence of an article on peace; instead, the
reader is instructed to turn to the article on violence.2 Apart from the
problem of which books the dictionary considers canonical (and thus wor-
thy of an article)to which we will return belowthe greatest criticism
will likely be about the selection of specific interpreters to whom articles
are devoted: Augustine, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Luther, Ricoeur, and
Aquinas. Although these are certainly appropriately included, the absence
of fathers such as Origen and John Chrysostom is difficult to understand.
Moreover, the lack of articles on recent great biblical scholars (e.g., Schlat-
ter, Bultmann, von Rad, Brueggemann) whose work was or is clearly theo-
logical and widely influential is a lacuna.

1. There are occasional articles that seem dismissive of perspectives other than their
own, whether past (such as allegorical interpretation) or present, or else overly polemical or
apologetic in tone (for example, the articles 'Anti-Semitism" and on "Ancient Near Eastern
Background Studies").
2. This oddity makes the new book by Willard M. Swartley all the more important:
Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 2006).
I20 Journal of Theological Interpretation i.i (200j)

INCLUS I VITY

Vanhoozer's introduction refers in a couple of places to inclusivity, an


admirable but difficult goal. To be sure, there is diversity with respect to
denomination and interpretive approach. Nevertheless, the first major
general observation I would make is that we must be careful not to allow
"theological interpretation" to be construed too narrowly with respect to
voice. To be more specific, the dictionary's contributors are primarily
white Protestant males from the West. Most would be broadly classified as
evangelical scholars by virtue of reputation and/or academic affiliation
and/or publishing venue. In a few articles, there is a polemical edge against
all so-called "liberal" interpretation, and the existence of an article on
"Liberal Biblical Interpretation" (but not on "Conservative") may send an
implicit message that this is a dictionary of conservative biblical interpre-
tation. It is not right or wise to equate the adjective "theological" in "theo-
logical interpretation" with conservative or even evangelical, even in a
dictionary from an evangelical publisher.
The absence of certain contributors often associated with less conser-
vative but nonetheless theological interpretation may perpetuate this per-
ception about what theological interpretation is. One cannot of course
have everyone contribute to a dictionary. But it should at least be noted
that only 5 of the approximately 100 authors of main articles in the last
five years of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology are represented
in the dictionary, 3 and only n of the 85 presenters and respondents in re-
cent issues of Ex Auditu: An International Journal of Theological Interpreta-
tion of Scripture are represented.
Approximately 10 percent of the dictionary's 170 contributors and
editors are women. At the beginning of the 21st century, this under-
represents the reality of theological scholarship. It may also negatively af-
fect the perception and impact of both the movement toward theological
interpretation and this dictionary itself. 4 Theological interpretation does,
and must, include the work of women theologians and biblical scholars.
Furthermore, although I do not know all of the contributors, very few
appear to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and very few appear to be
African-American or African, Asian, or Latino/Latina. To be sure, there
are articles on African and on Asian biblical interpretation (though not on

3. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am a veteran reader of Interpre-
tation, a regular contributor of book reviews (though not articles), and a member of the jour-
nal's editorial council.
4. It should also be noted, unfortunately, that a few articles use gender-exclusive lan-
guage such as "he" (rather than "he or she") and "modern man."
GORMAN: A "Seamless Garment" Approach to Interpretation? 121

African-American interpretation, which is a particularly glaring lacuna in


the American context),* but the existence of these articles in a dictionary
with few contributors from those traditions makes those traditions into
objects to be studied more than voices to be heard. As theological inter-
preters who are part of a universal church, we should be at least as inter-
ested in icaxiimgfrom our brothers and sisters in Africa, for example, as in
learning about them. The dictionary (unlike some commentary series) does
not explicitly claim to be "international," and it does include some non-
Western voices. But if theological interpretation is to be truly ecclesial, it
must become more global. The excellent article on African biblical inter-
pretation by Grant LeMarquand, for example, demonstrates the need for
greater diversity in actual theological interpretation. The church has
much to lose if it forgets that one of its marks is catholicity, and much to
gain if it allows that catholicity to affect its theological interpretation of
Scripture.
African-American biblical interpretation is particularly germane to
the future of theological interpretation, at least in the American context
(and probably beyond), in at least two respects. First, in African-American
biblical interpretation (especially in preaching but also in scholarship),
there is no fissure between Scripture as ancient text and Scripture as con-
temporary text. Scripture is not an ancient document to be analyzed but a
divine story to be heard, embraced, and entered into. Second, in African-
American biblical interpretation, there is no fissure between political and
theological interpretation of Scripture. The Bible is rightly seen as a theo-
political book that speaks to and about life in the public realmabout jus-
tice, liberation, speaking truth to power, and so on. 6
For examples of theological exegesis with these two emphases, we
may look to black theologians like J. Deotis Roberts and James H. Cone.
Although their approaches and conclusions are hardly identical, they
share the two common commitments noted above. Their theological in-
terpretations as theologians do not seem to be on the radar screen of most
contributors to the dictionary, yet both the theological method and the

5. In the book Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), edited by the present reviewer, there are three chapters
on the interpretation of the Bible in various traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Or-
thodox, and African-American. Although African-American Christians are of course part of
all three of the great streams of Christianity, there are African-American approaches to bib-
lical interpretation rooted in common historical experiences that transcend current religious
affiliation.
6. By theopolitical, I mean that the fundamental biblical affirmations of yhweh's king-
ship and Jesus' lordship make implicit claims on the public and political dimensions of hu-
man existence and call forth an assembly (the people of God, the body of Christ) that
embodies a distinctive way of being in the world that is rooted in these affirmations.
122 Journal of Theological Interpretation 1.1 (2007)

impact of Cone's God of the Oppressed\7 for example, seem relevant to the
pursuit of theological interpretation in our day. As many of us work to
make theological interpretation more faithful to the character of Scrip-
ture itself, which is a theopolitical book from beginning to end, we cannot
ignore the methods and results of African-American biblical interpreta-
tion. 8 If space permitted, we could make similar observations about mod-
els of biblical interpretation from around the world.

INCLUSIVITY AS ECUMENICITY

The temptation to narrowness in theological interpretation is per-


haps most serious in the ecumenical realm. It is inherent, unfortunately, in
the dictionary's understanding of what the Bible we are interpreting con-
tains. There is an article devoted to every book of the common Christian,
or Protestant, canon but not a single article devoted to any book unique to
the Catholic and/or Orthodox canons. For instance, there is no article on
the Wisdom of Solomon, which is Scripture to many of the world's Chris-
tians. The list of abbreviations in the front matter places the Wisdom of
Solomon in the category of Apocrypha, though the index places it and the
other deuterocanonical/apocryphal books in the Scripture index but after
Malachinot where the books appear in their canons. The entries for the
Wisdom of Solomon or 1 Maccabees or Sirach in the Scripture index usu-
ally take us to articles such as the Apocrypha" or the "Jewish Context of
the New Testament" or to something like the "Kingdom of God"as an il-
lustration of "later Jewish literature" or "intertestamental writings." There
has thus been an editorial decision about what truly constitutes Scripture
that assumes and reinforces a Protestant canon, but this is nowhere ex-
plicitly stated. 9
This is especially ironic given the theological character especially of
Orthodox interpretation as evidenced in the article on that topic by The-
odore Stylianopouloswhich is an excellent introduction to theological
interpretation. Orthodox biblical interpretation, he argues, is character-
ized by fidelity to tradition, critical study, and the Holy Spirit. 10 In many
ways, the spirit of the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible is

7 James H Cone, God of the Oppressed (New York Seabury, 1975)


8 In addition to the theologians already mentioned, we may add contemporary bibli-
cal scholars such as Cain Hope Felder, Brian Blount, and Brad Braxton
9 In his helpful article on the Apocrypha, David deSilva recognizes the apocryphal
books' canonical status for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and he encourages Protes-
tants to engage them for a variety of reasons But the article clearly implies an overall Prot-
estant perspective and readership for the dictionary
10 See also the valuable essay by Bishop Kalhstos (Timothy) Ware, "How to Read the
Bible" (in The Orthodox Study Bible New Testament and Psalms {Nashville Thomas Nelson,
993} 762-70); Ware emphasizes the guidance of the fathers and the liturgy in Orthodoxy's
chnstocentnc and "synthetic" (as opposed to merely analytical) hermeneutic
GORMAN: A "Seamless Garment" Approach to Interpretation? 123

the spirit of the Orthodox hermeneutic. (One might even say that we are
attempting to reinvent the wheel.) We should not, therefore, treat "Or
thodox biblical interpretation" as a long footnote but rather as a sub
stantive model of what theological interpretation looks like. Similarly,
Protestants need to take seriously not only medieval discussions of the
"spiritual sense" of Scripture but also recent Roman Catholic reflection on
it ("the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read, under the influ
ence of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the paschal mystery of Christ
{the cross and resurrection}, and of the new life that flows from it") and on
the related "fuller sense" (sensusplenior).11
To summarize: as theological interpreters of Scripture, we need to be
more inclusive readers, willing to hear God's voice in and through the
church universal, male and female, African and African-American, Catho
lic and Orthodox, and so on. This Pauline allusion takes us next to some
comments about the N T articles.

ARTICLES ON T H E N E W TESTAMENT

As noted above, every N T book is treated in a dictionary article, as


are other topical subjects in the N T or related to N T studies. On the
whole, there is much to commend in nearly every article. There are some
wonderful topical articles (including some primarily on the N T that are
classified by the editors with the articles on "doctrines and themes"), in
cluding, for example, insightful and beautifully written entries on "New
Creation" by Edith Humphrey and on "Ascension" by Douglas Farrow. Ex
cellent articles on "Parables" by Stephen Wright, "Passion Narratives" by
Christopher Bryan, and "Roman Empire" by . T. Wright should also be
noted. Also particularly well done is Christopher Rowland's crisp, clear,
helpful, and nonpolemical treatment of "Apocalyptic." However, in the
space we have here we will focus primarily on articles on N T books.
It is clear that the editors gave the contributors a general outline for
the articles on biblical books, even if it was not always followed: brief in
troduction; history of interpretation; theological message (sometimes a
linear approach, sometimes a thematic approach); relation to the canon;
theology or theological significance; and bibliography. The inclusion of
at least some history of interpretation for almost every biblical book

11. The quotation in parentheses is from the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical
Commission, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church II.B.2. For further discussion with helpful
references to relevant works, see Carolyn Osiek, "Catholic or catholic? Biblical Scholarship
at the Center," JBL125 (2006): 5-22; and, more polemically, Luke Timothy Johnson and Wil
liam S. Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).
The dictionary has helpful articles on "Catholic Biblical Interpretation" and on "Spiritual
Sense" (though not sensus plenior), but these approaches are not incorporated as such into the
dictionary.
124 Journal of Theological Interpretation i.i (2007)

("1 Corinthians" by David Garland has none)though the length and


depth of analysis vary greatlyalone makes this dictionary stand apart and
justifies the price of admission, especially if we believe that theological in-
terpretation is one dimension of the communion of the saints.
The specific task of theological interpretation so understood and out-
lined is executed in different ways with varying degrees of success. For ex-
ample, we may consider the role of the history of interpretation in these
articles. In one case ("Galatians" byJohn Riches), we find a brilliant history
of interpretation and analysis of the book's place in the canon, but unfor-
tunately no analysis of the text's theological message or its contemporary
significance, and there is no recent commentary in the bibliography. On
the other hand, the temptation for history of interpretation to devolve
into a summary primarily of historical-critical approaches (and thus the
last 200 years) can be seen occasionally elsewhere. One article ("1 Peter" by
Peter Rodgers) treats only "recent interpretation" and then discusses not
the book's theology as a whole but only the hermeneutics of its use of the
OTan important but not sufficient analysis of a book's theology. Howard
Marshall's succinct and insightful interpretation of 1 John has an introduc-
tory section labeled "the history of interpretation," but it focuses instead
on the chief issues he sees addressed by the letter, with some discussion of
critical issues raised by modern study. Some additional history of interpre-
tation appears later under the rubric "First John and Theology."
All this is simply to say that the task of theological interpretation, and
specifically the meaning and role of the history of interpretation in theo-
logical interpretation, is understood and executed in quite different ways
by the various contributors. Do these differences reveal a young discipline
in search of identity and methodology; do they bear witness to a mature
and appropriate permanent diversity; or do they simply reflect the normal
idiosyncrasies of contributors to a multiauthor work?
There are many book-specific articles in which the multidimensional
assignment is carried out extraordinarily well and some in which it is done
with brilliance. In the latter category may be mentioned S. A. Cummins on
the Gospel of John. The history of interpretation is deep, broad, and in-
teresting; the analysis of John as a two-part drama is creative and compel-
ling. Similarly comprehensive and insightful on both the history of
interpretation and the document's theology is the article on Hebrews by
Jon Laansma. The essay on James by William Baker is a specimen of vivid
writing, with an innovative, canonical approach. Sylvia Keesmaat on Co-
lossians is concise, insightful, and cutting edge, similar in tone to her co-
authored Colossians Remixed.12 Max Turner on Ephesians writes a fine

12. Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004).
GORMAN: A "Seamless Garment" Approach to Interpretation? 125

article with a thematic approach to the message that is nonpolemical


regarding the authorship issue. And Peter Davids on 2 Peter finds more
theological relevance than one might expect in that letter.
Finally, we should consider the article that appears to tie for the long-
est in the dictionary (along with "Sexuality"): "Pauline Epistles." It treats
three aspects of Paul as theologiantheologian of grace, of the cross, and
of the new age in Christ. The actual content is superb. Unfortunately, the
article is unsigned. x3 More importantly, the unnamed author(s) treat(s) the
three parts differently. The section on grace is largely a history of interpre-
tation; the section on the cross is more analytical of the topic and its sub-
topics, with special reference to modern interpretations; and the section
on the new age is a theological analysis with much emphasis on Paul's his-
torical context but almost no reference to the history of interpretation.
It is tempting for someone schooled in the historical-critical method
to suggest that there were three sources that were not so well redacted.
But this article's approach to the three subtopics of Pauline Epistles is a
microcosm of the question of theological interpretation: "What is it?" (as a
friend of mine who actually edits a theological journal recently asked).
How do we do it? Do we always have to do everything that appears in the
Ur-outline presupposed by these articles? What are our parameters and
goals? What is our primary context to consider? Is context, as Daniel
Treirer says in his article on the doctrine of Jesus Christ, "our ordinary and
sacramental Christian communication" (371), or is it the case, as Dan Har-
low says in his article on the Jewish context of the NT, that all interpreta-
tion must first of all consider the text's historical and literary context
(379)? Or is it both? This exemplifies the interesting tension that is the na-
ture of theological interpretation.
So, this new dictionary gives us many aids and answers, but it also
raises, in a good way, many questions.

N E W DIRECTIONS?

Perhaps one effect of this dictionary (as in the case of any text, not
necessarily intended by the authors or editors) will be the pursuit of new
directions and the realization of unexpected convergences in the theolog-
ical interpretation of Scripture. Three possibilities come to mind for new
directions.
First, this dictionary points ahead to a broadening of the theological
conversation about theological interpretation and of the practice of theo-
logical interpretation itself. Many of the contributors to this volume are
often in conversation with one another, but we must work toward bridging

13. In a private communication, General Editor Kevin Vanhoozer indicated to me that


he hoped that this situation would be rectified in a second printing.
I2 Journal of Theological Interpretation i.i (looj)

the gap not only between biblical scholars and theologians but also be-
tween Protestants (especially evangelical Protestants) and non-Protestants
committed to theological interpretation. This gap is reflected in our major
professional biblical societies, the Society of Biblical Literature and the
Catholic Biblical Association, despite some overlap of membership. But
the conversation about and the practice of theological interpretation take
tremendous risks if they ignore the Orthodox voices mentioned earlier or
Catholic voices such as John Donahue, Luke Johnson, Francis Moloney,
Sandra Schneiders, and others. Further, we must also bridge the gap be-
tween North and South, to include more voices from Latin America, Af-
rica, and Asia, where the Christian faith is exploding.
Second, this dictionary points ahead to the task of refining our under-
standing and practice of theological interpretation. One way to trace the
history of theological interpretation in the last few generations of West-
ern/Northern scholarship and to think about its future is by considering
the Interpreter's Bible (1952-57) and the New Interpreter's Bible (1994-2002)
along with the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (even
though the dictionary is obviously a different genre from the other two
works). In the Interpreter's Bible, there was "exegesis" and "exposition" by
two different contributors, and the connection between the two was not
always apparent. Theological interpretation consisted of two separate and
separated tasks. In the New Interpreter's Bible, the "commentary" and "re-
flections" are by the same author, and the connections are nearly always
evident. But theological interpretation is still two separate, though now
less-separated, tasks. Is this a natural division between analytical and ana-
logical thinking that allows the "bridging of horizons," as we are fond of
saying, or is this separation an unnatural bifurcation? Would not the ex-
ample of many of the great interpreters, whether patristic, reformation, or
African-American, suggest that these two tasks, the analytical and the an-
alogical, need to become more unified? Can we imagine postmodern,
theological interpretation in which "commentary" and "reflection" are one
task? What might the format of the next Interpreter's Bible look like?
The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible suggests that
theological interpretation actually consists of several separate but interre-
lated tasks (tracing history of interpretation, analyzing theological mes-
sage, determining canonical function, and reflecting on contemporary
significance), at least one of which (history of interpretation) requires ex-
pertise in which many biblical interpreters have not been trained. The ex-
pansion of theological interpretation into, say, four tasks rather than two
creates the possibility, if the dictionary is any indication, that theologi-
cal interpretation might become less integrated into a holistic process.
Can we imagine postmodern, theological interpretation in which all four
aspects of theological interpretation are executed as one? Is this not
GORMAN: A "Seamless Garment" Approach to Interpretation? 127

what patristic exegesis and rabbinic exegesis, for example, are, each in its
own way?
If someone were to say, as I might, that we can maintain a unified ap
proach to theological interpretation but still, for heuristic or pedagogical
or other practical reasons, divide the task into several components, is
there a way to execute the several components as a unified task that we
might call the "seamless garment" approach to biblical interpretation?
This garment of theological commentary would contain the interwoven
threads of the argument and theology of the text, aspects of the history of
its interpretation, its role in the canon, and reflection on its theological
and spiritual significance. If we attempt to do so, are we making the task
so arduous that even the best professional theological scholars cannot ex
ecute it? . Wright's article on Philippians in the dictionary approaches
this kind of unity in method, but it definitely pays more attention to theo
logical analysis than to contemporary significance and canonical function,
and it says very little about history of interpretation. *4 Still, Wright's ar
ticle may point us toward a unified approach of this sort.
Third and finally, this dictionary points ahead, more by what it omits
than what it includes, to a unified theological hermeneutic that expands it
self to be both theopolitical and missional. The inherently theopolitical
character of the Bible and hence of theological biblical interpretation has
already been suggested above. What also needs to be part of any theologi
cal approach is recognition of the Bible's inherently missional character
and hence the inherently missional character of theological interpretation.
Within the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Reli
gion, and other professional theological societies, some theologians, missi-
ologists, and biblical scholars are working to develop a truly missional
hermeneutic for the 21st century. x5 However, this movement, for lack of a
better term, does not seem to be reflected in the dictionary. The word mis
sion appears on the appropriate page of the dictionary, but there is no ar
ticle. Rather, the reader is referred at that page (and in the index) to
articles on the "Church," "Culture and Hermeneutics," and the "Trinity"
all of which are helpful essays but not focused on mission. The distin
guished missiologist Samuel Escobar contributes an article, not on mission
per se, but on liberation theologies and hermeneutics. And the already-
mentioned absence of an article on peace seems almost tragic today.

14. Interestingly, Wright's article also lacks the subheadings used in most of the articles
to delineate the various parts.
15. See, for example, James Brownson, Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Re
sources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 1998). Scholars
developing a missional hermeneutic have been meeting for several years in conjunction with
SBL/AAR.
128 Journal of Theological Interpretation . (looj)

This omission of sensitivity to a missional hermeneutic is especially


surprising in a dictionary that is evangelical in origin and tone. But it may
be related to the relative (though not complete) lack of sensitivity to the
theopolitical character of Scripture previously noted. 1 6 Theological inter
pretation must retain, or regain, its focus on the missional purpose of
scriptural interpretation if it is to be truly ecclesial. Nothing is more fun
damental to theological interpretation than its connection to the missio dei.

CONCLUSION

Wherever and however the Spirit leads the church forward in a more
catholic, holistic, and missional theological interpretation, this excellent
resourcein spite of and perhaps even because of its lacunaewill be
among the tools the Spirit uses (along with the gifted editors and contrib
utors who created it) to "guide us into all the truth" (John 16:13). It pro
vides a wealth of information and perspectives on texts, hermeneutical
strategies, interpreters, and theological topics. For this, we should all
be grateful.

16. Relevant articles that do show sensitivity include the articles on justice, kingdom of
God, political theology, and prophets such as Amos and Habakkuk.
^ s
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