Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Radner, Briefly

Via facebook, Dan Brinkmann, the good man who married Cathleen and I, noticed my posted copy of Ephraim Radner's comments on the nature of biblical types. He thought to probe a bit, asking:
Can you sum this up in your own words?
And what does it mean to you personally?
How does it impact you emotionally?
How do you apply it practically?
All worthwhile questions, I took a little time between building legos and grocery shopping to give him a fairly lengthy answer.
In my own words, what Radner is addressing is a very popular, well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided approach to typological interpretation of the Old Testament. I share in his frustration as it becomes very tiresome to hear over and over that each sort of sacrifice in Leviticus ultimately pictures "the wretchedness of sin" or "its bloody consequences" or "the wrath of God that Christ suffered on the Cross for us." It's not that these things are wrong, per se; but it makes reading the vague figures of the Old Testament rather redundant in light of the relative clarity of the New Testament. Even the most bizarre typological readings of Leviticus (Radner gives us some good examples) stem from the same interpretive principle: That the Old Testament says in shadowy images what the New Testament says quite clearly. Ultimately, this makes it fairly challenging to defend spending much time reading the Old Testament literature, save for the possible historical material it may provide.

Radner's point is that, while it is certainly defensible to inform our readings of Leviticus by the events of the Gospel Narratives, it is equally important for us to read our Gospels in light of the details of Leviticus (though this obviously applies to far more than just the book of Leviticus). There is a complex interplay between the themes and content of the Old Testament and the themes and content of the New Testament. While it is encouraging to see people eager to see Christ in the pages of the Old Testament, it would be even more exciting to see a people eager to see things like Exodus patterns, Paschal imagery, and Tabernacle-Temple allusions in the New. Understanding the Exodus, for example, (and its various repetitions throughout the Old Testament!) teaches us important things about Baptism. Things like this are what Radner's after.

Personally, it means a lot. For one, seeing it in publication by a reputable publisher is encouraging because it affirms sentiments that I have already been persuaded by. Also, applying what Radner says to my own Bible reading forces me to really slow down. I spend a lot more time attending to every detail of OT narrative, knowing full well that, with every reading, there is something I haven't seen yet. It assures me that reading the Bible is hardly something I can do lazily.

Additionally, I should note that seeking to find harmony between the Old and the New Testament has been a quest of mine for many years now. It's something that has played a significant role in preventing my apostasy during the university years, and it's something that, as a result of its importance to my faith, has had a great deal to do with my theological and spiritual development. (The details are boring.)

Emotionally, in addition to the warm feelings of affirmation, it has made Bible study something that I get very excited about. Practically, I do this by, well, doing it. I try my darndest to be fair to Scripture, making a very concerted effort to hear it on its own terms rather than importing what are often unhelpful (unhelpful because they mask more than they reveal) biases into the text. This may from time to time leave me unsatisfied with a passage. I have come across things before that, for the life of me, I could not make sense of in a way that cohered with the fullness of the context - but I'm thankful for these times. I'd rather walk away from Scripture befuddled by it than do violence to it for the sake of making my life easier.

Hope I fairly answered your questions, Dan. I'd love to hear some feedback.