Friday, December 7, 2007

Watson, I Presume!

Stop me if you have heard this before, "there are as many Jesus' and or Paul's as there are their interpreters." Ever wonder why so many disagreements over the Historical Jesus, or all the debate that rages over what the center of Paul's theology may be? Do disagreements wear on you as a reader? Do you wish everyone got along, held hands and sang 'kum baya'? Sometimes these thoughts cross my mind when I see scholars getting snippy with one another, making an interpretive disagreement into a personal dislike for the other. I think this kind of rhetoric imbued with a thinly-veiled disgust on the part of some towards the likes of those like N.T. Wright (I'm particularly thinking of Reformed perspectives vs. anyone who holds to a form of the so-called New Perspective on Paul in particular) does more harm than good.

Don't get me wrong, disagreements should be vigorously discussed, but it is the spirit of these so-called conversations that I at times question. Thinking about this post reminded of a great quote from Francis Watson who views disagreements from a much healthier perspective:

Disagreement is a familiar social practice in which it is difficult not to engage on a regular basis. It arises from the fact that humans live not in solitude but in community, and that from time to time their respective norms, projects or goals come into conflict. Since interpreting texts is an extension of the interpretative activity that permeates all human interpersonal relations, it is hardly to be expected that the specialized activity will be immune from the disagreements endemic to the wider field. Indeed, the possibilty of disagreement is inherent in the practice of textual interpretation: for if a text needs to be interpreted at all, its meaning is not self-evident and there is always room for more than one account of what that meaning is. If it is possible to interpret, then it is also possible to misinterpret; and to claim that misinterpretation has taken place is to engage in the practice of interpretative disagreement. In itself, disagreement is an ethically neutral act. It does not necessarily imply that one party is doing violence to the other, that a human right to freedom of speech is under attack, or that there has been a failure to understand the other's point of view. The ethical risks that accompany disagreement are perhaps no greater than those attending other practices, such as the avoidance of conflict. Disagreement is always an act rather than just an occurrence, and those who engage in it do so on the basis of means and ends they regard as appropriate and rational. Most important of all, disagreement presupposes a shared concern and thus an acknowledgment of community rather than a retreat into isolation. It always intends its own resolution, even if this can only be attained in the form of a negotiated compromise or an agreement to differ.
(Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, pp.24-25)

Remember, one can disagree without being disagreeable. It is also good to remember why and for whom we are engaged in this scholarly enterprise.

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