D. Christopher SPINKS, The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning. Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. New York: T & T Clark, 2007. pp. 180. $132.00 hb. ISBN 10-0567032108.
Reviewed by Alice L. LAFFEY, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610

In the Acknowledgments that precede the body of Spinks’ volume, he credits several churches that helped to shape his “notions of theological interpretation” (p. ix). These include four Baptist churches in Texas and a Mennonite church in California. Spinks “acknowledges” that one’s social location and the convictions of the community or social group to which one belongs affect interpretation. This reviewer acknowledges from the outset that as a Roman Catholic, she also has a social location and faith community that have shaped her notions of theological interpretation, one different from Spinks’ though there are clearly points of agreement.

In his Introduction, Spinks asserts that “theological interpretation wrestles with hermeneutical questions from an explicit position of faith,” seeking “to guide reading practices in a way that puts the readers in a position to live with and know God and fellow believers” (p. 1). Immediately following this statement is the comment that “the task of guiding the practices of reading communities is a highly contested one,” particularly with respect to the concept of meaning. Five chapters follow. “Scripture, Community and the Crisis of Meaning” affirms the believing community as the appropriate reader of the sacred text that is Scripture, suggests that interpretation that transcends modern or postmodern methods is called for, and that understanding the competing concepts of meaning is critical to theological interpretation.

The titles of Chapters Two and Three indicate their content. The first, ”From Meanings to Interests” presents “Stephen Fowl’s Critique of Concepts of Meaning and Its Implications for Theological Interpretation.” The chapter also identifies Fowl’s own operational concept of meaning and critiques Fowl’s critique. Chapter Three, “From Interests to Meanings,” presents “Kevin Vanhoozer’s Defence of Authorial Intention and Its Implications for Theological Interpretation.” The chapter concludes with Spinks’ questions and challenges to Vanhoozer’s position, what Spinks considers Vanhoozer’s simplistic rendering of postmodern interpreters, his less than effective use of speech-act theory, and his, albeit restricted, understanding of authorial intention as the meaning of Scripture. Though admittedly with nuance, Fowl represents the postmodern, pluralistic and relativistic side of the spectrum whereas Vanhoozen represents the modern and more determinative one.

In Chapter Four Spinks attempts to combine the models set forth by Fowl and Vanhoozer, that is, he “ventures to understand meaning more holistically than either Fowl or Vanhoozer, “allowing the theological interpreter to maintain the necessity for authorial intention with Vanhoozer and the reading community with Fowl” (p. 1). In the final chapter Spinks suggests the meaning of Scripture can be found in the reading of Scripture together as “participants in a conversation where meaning is understood as mediation” (p. 1). Affirming the “superabundance of meaning” in Scripture (sensus plenior), Spinks calls biblical scholars to conversation with theologians and theologians to conversation with biblical scholars; he calls both to conversation with the believing community in a contemporary world.

As a member of the Catholic Biblical Association for more than thirty years, I have heard these approaches to biblical interpretation many times before. Does the meaning(s) of a text lie with the intention of the author or with the social location of the interpreter or with a hermeneutic that includes both? Spinks’ particular contribution is that he presents both the strengths and weaknesses of modern and postmodern assumptions and methods for theological interpretation, examines their respective understandings of the meaning of meaning, and proposes a “conversation” to transcend the limitations of both. Theological interpretation must necessarily include God (faith), authorial intent, the text, and the believing community. The volume serves a function for Baptists and others similar to what the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document, Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, does for Roman Catholics.


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