Professor Christopher Seitz self-consciously follows the canonical approach of Brevard Childs while also engaging in a theological interpretation of Scripture. In this way, Childs reads Scripture theologically and critically. This methodological mixture draws together two often competing ways of interpreting Scripture.
To slightly exaggerate the case, Interpreters privilege either theological or critical tools depending on their social location (the church or the academy). Seitz attempts to do both. This attempt alone makes The Elder Testament an interesting and somewhat provocative read.
I say “somewhat” because recent scholarship has made similar attempts. Seitz’s attempt, however, to my knowledge, most clearly builds on Brevard Childs’ canonical approach for the sake of theological understanding.
Seitz discusses canon, theology, and the Trinity which corresponds to the three parts of his work. Part one summarizes Seitz’s canonical approach in conversation with contemporary scholarship.
Part two looks at the elder testament—a term he prefers over the Old Testament because of its connotations. Here, he theologically reads the elder testament by, for example, examining the name of God or the canonical order of books.
The last part investigates trinitarian themes that lend themself to theological readings of the elder testament.
Theological readers should appreciate Seitz for his bold theological exegesis of scripture that attempts to integrate the best of critical study. One underlying theme he builds is the idea of pressure. He argues that the Old Testament itself provides a sort of pressure that leads to the idea of the Trinity as for example in the story of Genesis 18 (e.g., 117).
Anyone familiar with Seitz’s work will find measure theological descriptions and affirmations matched by an attentive reading of certain critical literature. In these ways, Seitz has advanced and continued the theological tradition of Childs in fitting ways.
While I appreciated the work overall, some areas of the work should be critiqued. For example, Seitz speaks of divine intentionality which seems to mean something like canonical intent (160). While I understand why a work contributing to critical study of the elder testament would not focus on divine intent or various metaphysical and ontological notions, an explicitly theological work such as this could have expanded on the idea of inspiration, divine intentionality, and the role of the canon with greater clarity.
I understand the tension. If Seitz wants to reach a broad and academic audience, he needs to front-load the evidence and argument he makes rather than using declarative theology. But for readers who have theological interests and convictions, they will want a fuller and more detailed explanation of the interchange between individual authors, the canon, and divine intentionality.
Second, his writing style can be awkward and full of jargon. For example, he writes, “From beginning to end Hebrews demonstrates a thick reliance on / deployment of the Old Testament” (244). While the sentence makes sense, it carries an odd sort of structure and jargon. Obviously, readers prefer different sorts of styles, and perhaps some readers will find the style helpful. I found that it obscured the arguments that Seitz makes because it made me less engaged and willing to dig into the argument.
Third, the editing of the work itself has some peculiarities. For example, citations do not follow expected patterns. In at least one case, Seitz quotes a book without citing it (264). While not a major problem, it seems odd in academic work in which sources play a major role. Elsewhere we learn that the text of a verse in Psalm 40 “has its own interesting history of interpretation” (254n14). Although he provides this footnote, Seitz offers no further explanation. What is the interesting history of interpretation? Why note it if no further discussion follows it?
With that said, readers should expect an intriguing and generally helpful model for reading the Elder Testament (as he calls it) theologically according to a canonical approach.
The publisher provided me with a review copy.
Mark Matthias says
“…an explicitly theological work such as this could have expanded on the idea of inspiration, divine intentionality, and the role of the canon with greater clarity.”
That notion would appear to be a precise way to comprehend Scripture and become personally imbued by the Spirit. The most important thing initially is the knowledge of the Scripture which has life in it…1 Peter 2:2; and good for every single human being, 1 Cor. 10:3. It seems to me the theology follows to further mature believers conceptually. Yet, since the Bible has life it makes sense that the disciples were being taught the Word and their experience was astoundingly spiritual at the same time — here in John 1:51, Jesus celebrated Nathanael’s faith having been given so comparatively little information — “Then He declared, “Truly, truly, I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus is theology.