I’ve been wondering about the insatiable desire to say something new, especially in the Christian academic and publishing worlds.
If you want to get a PhD, for example, you probably want to discover something new, or at least present a fresh angle. Likewise, if you want to get noticed as an author or academic. Sometimes, it seems to me, this sort of drive leads to the kind of hyperbole which can come across as self-parody. At other times it can lead to biblical scholars presenting work which could have been presented as another helpful angle, instead as the solution to the Church’s last 2000 years of bumbling about in the dark. (I think of N.T. Wright here, who’s work I otherwise enjoy).
I’m reading Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament at the moment, and I’m finding it really worthwhile. But, I did just come across this paragraph (on page 199), where Hays responds to the suggestion that his ethical framing of the New Testament is “dependent on the mainstream Christian tradition of canonical reading that goes back to Irenaeus”. You can almost hear the huffing and puffing when Hays responds.
“Second, my readings and my proposed synthesis are not merely repetitions of a traditional perspective. They offer a new interpretive ‘performance,’ the product of a fresh encounter with the texts that poses questions not necessarily asked by the tradition.”
In other words, this is not merely the same stuff you’ve heard before. This is new. Isn’t that interesting?
Of course, every generation of Christians faces the challenge of translating the gospel for their culture. Innovation and creativity in doing that can be a really good thing. Not to mention, as children of the Reformation, it would be a bit hypocritical to pretend that God might not shed fresh light on his Word. These things are always going to sit in a kind of tension with holding to the “faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).
I suppose I am simply suggesting that when considering the latest solution to all the Church’s woes, we take some time to question the impulse for the new, and give a little more credence to the fact that the Holy Spirit may actually have been at work in the Christians who have wrestled with these things for 2000 years.