This collaborative effort consists of five chapters by Luke Timothy Johnson, followed by a brief response by Fr. William Kurz, S.J.; then five chapters by Kurz and a response by Johnson. Finally, in a third par, both Johnson and Kurz respond to ten questions (e.g. "Is it important to claim a distinctive Catholic identity in biblical scholarship?") to "open a conversation" concerning the areas that have already been treated by each author.
For those who have followed Luke Timothy Johnson's work or the discussion of the historical Jesus surrounding the Jesus Seminar, this work restates and greatly expands Johnson's opposition to historical reconstruction of the "real Jesus" outside the Jesus of faith.
Johnson's expansions include a clear and forceful challenge to the whole direction of recent biblical scholarship—Catholic or otherwise—as well as a highly coherent plea for a new project that would include the insights of early "pre-critical" patristic exegesis. Fr. William Kurz adds to the new project concrete examples of how to integrate the Gospel of John with sacramental practices and Church life generally.
Johnson's vision for the future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship will already be known to members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America since his first chapter is an expanded version of his Plenary Address to the CBA in 1997. It includes a historical look at when and how the historical method replaced the Catholic Church's traditional exegesis, a suggestion that the Protestant "either-or" has been part of this diversion, and a demonstration of how this has impoverished biblical studies.
The other chapters then plea for a renewed interest in patristic exegesis. This includes a brief, but convincing summary of Origen's work, then another of Augustine's. These pre-critical masters have valuable insights into biblical interpretation and deserve renewed attention today-even critical attention. Augustine, especially, provides an example of keeping biblical exegesis at the center of church life. Johnson's purpose in using these two masters of early biblical theology isn't to recommend a return to a pre- critical attitude, but rather to demonstrate what truly "Catholic" scholarship consists in. Johnson also claims that the insights of post-modernism into imagination as an essential ingredient to the composition of texts point to a similar inclusiveness.
Kurz, though he shares Johnson's concerns, starts from a different perspectiv, -which he attributes to his work at a large Catholic university (Marquette) in relation to Johnson's position in (former) Christian Protestant, or secular universities. But Kurz's style, seen in "Reading John's Prologue as Catholics" (chapter 7), is also more technical than Johnson's expansive, sweeping views. For example, Kurz's discussion of ho theos (and theos) in John's prologue requires great concentration, especially to see how this is important for understanding the prologue in relation to the rest of the gospel.
Chapter 8, "Voices in the Church: Pe-understandings in applying Scripture," however, will be of broader interest, since it presents scriptural arguments concerning abortion,as an example of the different voices. Kurz shows how the Protestant voice of Richard Hays (Moral Vision of the New Testament—-that rejects the absolute pro-life position in some cases (since "life is not a right but a gift from God," p.189)—depends on his Protestant "either-or" pre-understanding. In Kurz's view, this ends up limiting Scripture's message and is different from the Catholic "voice",that includes moral reasoning along with Scripture.
Kurz's other chapters include a demonstration that John 6, seen as the basis for Catholic Eucharistic understanding of bread, is a legitimate application of a critical reading of bread as "life." Kurz uses "intertextuality" (introducing Isaiah 55 a propos to John 6) to show how Catholic application of life to the Eucharistic bread does not contradict the text's references to drinking. Another chapter on John 20 (forgiveness of sins) shows how the scholar can safely and fruitfully use the Catechism of the Catholic Church to integrate John 20 (Christ's resurrection appearance that brings peace and forgiveness) with the Church's practice and ideas on the sacrament of reconciliation today.
After the sometimes technical discussions of each author's individual chapters, the final chapter is admirably direct and clear. The ten questions progress through obvious questions from the basic problem mentioned above (Why Catholic biblical scholarship?) to practical problems such as how to change the way the bible is used today (relation to liturgy and preaching,and the empowerment of the laity as readers). As a generalist college teacher of Scripture (not a member of the Catholic Biblical Association) who has taught the historical-critical method, along with other methods such as canonical criticism and reader-oriented criticism for many years, I found this work to be a valuable critique of the limits of the historical-critical method and a vision of how to integrate biblical interpretation with church life. Johnson spells out the challenge. Kurz offers concrete case studies of individual biblical texts.