Monday, January 2, 2006

Current Reading

I'm working my way through two books at the moment. John Dominic Crossan's Who Killed Jesus? and George Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine. Crossan's book is an exegetical polemic that takes issue with Raymond Brown's reading of the passion narratives in his The Death of the Messiah. Crossan is more skeptical about the historicity of the narratives, seeing them more as "prophecy historicized" than "history remembered." His is particularly concerned with the anti-Jewish polemic in the passion narratives, and the way they have been used to justify the long and sad history of Christian violence against Jews. Whether or not one agrees with Crossan, his accessible way of laying out the major interpretive options is invaluable. This is must reading before Holy Week.

Lindbeck's book has been around for more than twenty years, and inspired a whole theological movement. He tries to move theology from the modern "turn to the self" represented by "experiential-expressive" theories of religion and doctrine (which understand religions as diverse expressions of a core human religious experience), to a postmodern "turn to language" represented by a "cultural-linguistic" theory that understands religions as analogous to languages with different grammars. Doctrine functions as the grammar, the rules governing the use of the language. His work is heavy-going with respect to the philosophical arguments, but is a fascinating framework for thinking about such issues as interfaith and ecumenical dialogue and the role of catechesis. In particular, I find his discussion of doctrinal statements as performative truth (rather than propositional truth) provocative. It calls to mind the Johannine notion of "doing the truth."

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