OT Theology – Reformation


My first post was a summary of Brueggemann’s survey of OT scholarship in Theology of the Old Testament (here). I’m going to try to summarize some of these different sections in greater detail.

Brueggemann chooses the Reformation as the appropriate beginning of OT scholarship, providing three reasons for this decision (p. 2).

  1. OT Theology, in its modern context, has been almost entirely an enterprise of Protestant Christianity, at least until recently.
  2. The Reformation sought to free the Bible from reductionist interpretations by the (Catholic) Church, and this emancipated text has become the subject of OT Theology.
  3. After the Reformation, there arose huge changes in philosophy and epistemology that has provided the framework for OT Theology.

Luther46c

Portrait of Luther by Lucas Cranach dem Älteren

From here, Brueggemann provides a brief overview of what was accomplished during the Reformation. This important period in church history called for radical changes in the church. The text of Scripture had been reduced and encumbered by self-serving and political interests of the Church. The author illustrates this point with the following quote about Luther.

Luther asserted that the “evangelical substance” of biblical faith is not and cannot be contained in the habituated, accustomed, and reductionist reading of church theology that made God simply an integral part of a church-administered system of salvation (p. 2).

The text had become muzzled and less than effective, but the Reformers wanted to restore the Scripture back to its proper place. Giving the Bible its true voice and allowing it to speak on its own terms would help bring back vitality in the church. Luther’s position on justification by faith is well known, but Brueggemann highlights his interpretive move to recognize the Bible as the revelation of God by allowing it to speak in an unencumbered manner.

This focus on the Scriptures was seen in others like John Calvin. His Institutes of the Christian Religion were not a stand-alone systematic theology. It was intended as “a guide for the reading of the Scripture evangelically.”

The Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church’s attempt to stem the tide of the Protestants. The Council of Trent affirmed that Christian truth is founded upon two sources of authority: Scripture and tradition (the church’s teaching passed down through time). Brueggemann says this was the correct formulation, although it could not be accepted in its practiced form.

It is nonetheless the case that Scripture cannot be understood apart from the ongoing role of communal tradition (p. 4).

The author also notes that biblical interpretation within Protestant circles became hardened into a closed system of orthodoxy that rivaled Trent. As different denominational groups were formed, demanding allegiance from its adherents, there came a greater focus on creedal statements and a movement away from the oddity of Scripture.

This period leads into the Enlightenment and modernity, where the rise of science vastly changed the way that people thought. A struggle arose for who would control the interpretation of the Scripture consisting of three groups:

  1. The orthodox looked to the Bible to establish doctrine within the church.
  2. The rationalists looked to autonomous reason to establish truth, ultimately resulting in Deism.
  3. The pietists avoided both extremes found in hardened orthodoxy and autonomous reason.

These three strands will become major players in the future periods of OT studies.

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