This is the second of my posts to my friend in response to an email he sent me, and the exegetical questions he is facing in regards to the Calvinist concept of Limited Atonement. You can read my introductory post here. I am going to change my approach to answering the question from my friend, and actually jump into prolegomena issues; and highlight how an exegete’s theological methodology, a priori, will impact and shape his/her exegetical decisions and conclusions. In that vein, I am going to talk about why it is so important, if we are going to do Christian exegesis, to start with the Christian God’s own specification; which is triune. In my recent reading (of just a few minutes ago), I just came across some helpful words from Eberhard Jüngel, as he interprets the way that Karl Barth approached this very issue. That is, how does God as triune impinge upon how we think from him; both, then, theologically (in its truest sense), and exegetically. I just want to lay this out a bit in order to clear ground for later, when I actually try to answer my friend’s questions in specifics, in regards to the passages of Scripture that he has provided in support of a classic Calvinist understanding of a Limited Atonement. Here is what Jüngel has to say about Barth and the significance of God as triune should have on theological and exegetical work:
[B]ecause revelation concerns the being of God, since it is God who reveals himself there, the doctrine of the Trinity is ‘a constituent part, the decisive part, of the doctrine of God’. This part is decisive because the doctrine of the Trinity makes a fundamental distinction between ‘the Christian doctrine of God as Christian’ and ‘the Christian concept of revelation as Christian, in contrast to all other possible doctrines of God or concepts of revelation’. Because for Barth the ‘problem of the doctrine of the Trinity’ necessarily arises from our encounter with the Bible, then we ask after the being of God with ‘the question put to the Bible about revelation’, the solution of this problem is also decisive for the Christian concept of revelation and thereby for the understanding of the being of God. Hence Barth places the doctrine of the Trinity at the beginning of his Dogmatics in order that ‘its content be decisive and controlling for the whole of dogmatics’.
This location, which lets the doctrine of the Trinity stand at the entrance of the Church Dogmatics as a whole, is a hermeneutical decision of the greatest relevance. This is already seen formally in the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the prolegomena, that is, at exactly the place where the treatment of hermeneutical problems is expected. For Barth also hermeneutical problems are — despite other misleading statements — in no way merely more or less unpleasant preliminary questions. It is more that Barth’s insight that, without ‘anticipating material dogmas’, neither a doctrine of Scripture nor, even less, a doctrine of the Word of God can be formulated, may provide evidence that, at the point where he decides hermeneutically about the path of the Dogmatics (both formally and materially), he sees himself compelled to decide about the hermeneutic by which he is deciding. The placing of the doctrine of the Trinity at the beginning of the Church Dogmatics is therefore a hermeneutical decision of the greatest relevance because, on the one hand, the whole Church Dogmatics finds its hermeneutical foundation here, and, on the other hand, with this decision hermeneutics itself finds its own starting-point. . . . [Eberhard Jüngel, God’s Being Is in Becoming, trans. by John Webster, 16-17]
It is this principle that becomes hermeneutically important. That is, if we are going to follow God, and his lead into the ‘Far Country’ (as Jüngel says), we must start with his lead! If his chosen lead is his self-Revelation, his so called ‘self-interpreting-Word’ (cf. Jn. 1.18); then as Christians we need to honor that in our theological method, and hermeneutical prowess. Meaning, as Jüngel says above, that, in principle (de jure) Jesus as the Son of the Father in communion by the Spirit, needs to shape the questions that serve to explicate what he wants to reveal about himself. So in a sense, everything I am trying to say is: that we need to jump back quite a bit and consider our hermeneutical moorings (theologically), before we dive head first into passages of Scripture which ‘seem’ to correlate with particular ‘theological’ assessments that purport to come from the ‘Text’ itself.
So then, these are the questions we are faced with:
- What does the ‘Text’ of Scripture presuppose, theologically?
- Does the Arminian and Calvinist (classic) grammar present the only viable theological paradigm through which to interpret Scripture?
- Is the TULIP theology itself actually Christian Theology? Does it take shape by following God’s lead, or does it follow another leader (like ‘nature’)?
- Doesn’t it seem that Theological concerns precede and impinge upon hermeneutical concerns, so that what hermeneutics purport to explain actually correspond back to and signify its inner-theological ground?
- Should we follow a more ‘Theological Exegetical’ approach or a Literal, Grammatical, Historical approach to biblical interpretation?
There are definitely more questions to be broached, but I wanted to stop with 5 😉 . I don’t really plan on developing or answering all of the above questions in detail, but at least I intend to broach them at some level. How we understand Divine speech, acts, and works will directly shape our hermeneutical approach, and exegetical conclusions. And so, this is why I think it is important to move forward in this way. I am sure I have only really created more questions than answers. Isn’t that the joy of knowing God; isn’t this the source of worship and thus the form of Theology!