Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Exegesis as Hope in God's Words

An excerpt from a recent essay by my doctoral supervisor, Professor John Webster, in the 2010 book Christology and Ethics:

"Part of the discipline of dogmatic and moral theology is coming to terms -- often after some struggle against our own sophistication -- with the fact that [exegesis is a crucial activity]: that we will not get very far unless moral reason is disciplined by the divine self-declaration encountered through the prophets and apostles, and that, as we do so govern moral reason, we are granted illumination. Exegesis -- indeed, the theological enterprise in its entirety, including moral theology, is calling upon God: 'I cry to thee, save me, that I may observe thy testimonies. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in thy words.' (Ps. 119:146-47). Patiently pursued, as a work in which theological reason is quickened by the Spirit, exegesis is an act of hope in God's words."
(John Webster, "Where Christ Is," Christology and Ethics, 2010, p. 32)

I have had the difficult but enjoyable privilege of doing both hard theological study and exegetical readings of biblical texts in sermon preparation and, while I can hardly imagine one without the other, I am reminded often of the supremacy of the latter and of the living Word that continues to breathe through the biblical text in a way unique to it alone. Attentiveness to the words of Scripture is rarely without its surprises. Theological reading can help notice them and to grapple with their ramifications, but it is no replacement for exegesis itself, which is (I like the way he puts it) an act of hope in God's words. Time and time again I have found that to ring true. The reminder makes me look forward to my next preaching date at the end of November.

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