[K:JNWTS 26/3 (2011):23-24]

Book Review

Joel B. Green, Practicing Theological Interpretation: Engaging Biblical Texts for Faith and Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011. 160pp. Paper. ISBN: 978-0-8010-3963-8. $21.99.

Professor Joel Green holds a Ph.D. from Aberdeen University, has taught for ten years at Asbury Theological Seminary and is now the Associate Dean of the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.  Of the four chapters in this book, the first three originated as the Earle Lectures on Biblical Literature, presented at Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO. The fourth chapter was added to show how the principle he is expounding was applied by John Wesley.

In this book, Dr. Green is defending the use of theological interpretation of the Bible versus historical-critical interpretation.  In his opinion, historical-critical study renders the Bible useless because it has only an historical perspective and says nothing with respect to our lives today.  Therefore, we must take the Bible as transmitted in its present form and understand it in terms of the ecumenical creeds and their message for the church in all ages.  He states it this way: “I claim that theological interpretation has no room for Historical Criticism, that theological interpretation is interested in Historical Criticism only insofar as it might serve rhetorical interests, and that theological interpretation is very much hospitable toward and dependent on Historical Criticism” (45).

In this last statement, Dr. Green shows the foundation of his whole problem.  The minute that you accept higher criticism and its conclusions, you cannot claim that the Bible is the final and authoritative word of God.  You are forced to make a choice between the historicity of Scripture and the validity of its message.  You cannot accept what the Bible says about itself: i.e., that it is “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3;16); that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).   

To properly deal with the Bible as the Word of God, you must study it in its historic context and understand it as God has delivered it.  You must always ask yourself, “What does it say?”  The more you know about its background, who wrote it, to whom it was addressed, what its message is, how one portion of Scripture compares with another part of Scripture, etc., the better you can apply its teaching to our lives today.  You don’t drive a wedge between history and theology.  You take yourself back into the Bible to understand the theology.  In this way, you learn how God communicates his truth to us today.

Furthermore, Dr. Green is put in an untenable position regarding where his final authority for faith lies.  He says, “It will not do, I have suggested, simply to make Scripture the foundation on which to build the creed, or to make the creed in some sense the foundation for rendering the meaning of Scripture.  My sense is that the best way to characterize their relationship is in terms of dialectic or, perhaps better, mutual influence” (95).

If there is mutual influence, then which creeds do you choose to follow?  We have a good idea where Dr. Green stands since he is of the Wesleyan tradition and in chapter four he uses John Wesley’s diatribe against predestination to illustrate how his “Theological Interpretation” is to be put into practice.  No, we are in a bind if we make the church or its creeds of equal authority with the Scriptures.  God speaks in his Word and only in his Word as the final authority.  Don’t waste your time reading this book.

—J. Peter Vosteen