I have been slowly reading through Brevard S. Childs’ The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction. It has been stretching my thinking forcing me to ask if there is multiple approaches to reading Scripture as well as if there is any way to reconcile the historical-critical approach with a parallel approach to Scripture that uses the canonical context as the locus from which the church draws her doctrine. In the third chapter of this book, which is titeled “The Rational of a Canonical Approach”, Childs provides reasons for why he thinks a canonical reading should be taken seriously. Let me share them and then you can tell me what you think.

First, Childs criticizes the idea that the historical-critical approach is “suitable, indeed, mandatory for every correct reading of the Bible.” He insists that “different uses of the text require different approaches”. In Childs opinion the historical-critical approach cannot be universal. (p. 35) It is implicit here that there may be another more suitable way to read Scripture as Scripture when it comes to the life of the church.

Second, Childs points out that the there is no real uniform “historical-referential reading” of the text. (p. 36) Many introductions to the New Testament would seem to indicate this. It is important in his estimation that we let “secular historicism and ecclesiastical dogmatism” participate in a “subtle dialectical approach”. It seems to me that he sees the truth as lying somewhere in between these two.

Third, Childs is skeptical that the text “means” only what it meant in its historical origin. Sometimes the journey to find the authorial intent in the historical context brings forth fruitful insights. At other times it may actually hinder accurate interpretation.

Fourth, Childs argues that this approach from either liberal or conservative groups doesn’t do justice to “the New Testament in its function as authoritative, canonical literature of both an historical and a contemporary Christian community of faith and practice.”

For Childs the “meaning of the text” cannot be found by trying to separate what it “meant” to its audience and what it “means” now. Childs argues that “what is needed is a new vision of the biblical text which does justice not only to the demands of a thoroughly post-Enlightenment age, but also to the confessional stance of the Christian faith for which the sacred scriptures provide a true and faithful vehicle for understanding the will of God.” The theological issues that he sees as being at stake is “the Christian church’s claim for the integrity of a special reading which interprets the Bible within an established theological context and toward a particular end”. (p. 37)

Tomorrow I will say more on where he goes from here but for now let me ask two questions: (1) Do you share Childs’ concern that the historical-critical approach is both (a) not sufficient for church doctrine and life an (b) not an approach that allows the Bible to be the unique property of the church? (2) Do you think there is any way to approach Scripture with two different colored shades? The first being historical-critical, asking the questions historians ask and the second being a canonical-theological, taking Scripture seriously as the book of the church through which God speaks even now?