*This post is from a school assignment*

An Overview of Aesthetic Theology

Aesthetic theology, an approach to interpreting Scripture exclusively by its literary aspects, produces great harm in biblical interpretation. As one article describes this method, “Like philosophical aesthetics, theological aesthetics is a study of mak­ing and meaning. In both disciplines, the event of making is considered a combination of human skills and production, with the ungraspable moments of talent, inspiration and intuition, be they divine or not. As a study of meaning, each discipline explores subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality.”[1]

The Dangers of Aesthetic Theology

One can readily note many difficulties with this approach to interpretation. First, there is a failure to consider the historical setting of the Scriptures. As Kostenberger and Patterson remark, “Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism or various other forms of literary criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again.”[2] This refusal to interact with the historical setting, which refuses to interact with the inspired text as given. Duvall and Hays counter this dangerous ejection, “Since God spoke his message in specific, historical situations…we should take the ancient historical-cultural situation seriously. The bottom line is that we cannot simply ignore ‘those people living back then’ and then jump directly to what God wants to say to us.”[3]

 

Duvall and Hays’ last comment provides insight to another danger of the aesthetic approach to biblical interpretation: it is subjective. In a review article, Kostenberger acknowledges this subjective theme, writing, “Once isolated from its historical grounding and its authoritative position, a text yields a limitless number of meaning possibilities. Radical pluralism and relativity in interpretation are the results, and authoritative biblical preaching degenerates into mere storytelling.”[4] Because aesthetic theology divorces itself from the anchor of history, it frees the interpreter to determine what he or she desires. Noting this, the anonymous reviewers of The Art of Theology conclude, “The result is a view on the human ability to be a creator in one’s own right as a given possibility to respond to the Creator. To actualise [sic] this possibility means becoming a co-creator who mediates the truth of creation.”[5] This danger allows for a variety of misinterpretations, up to and even including the creation of cults.[6]

 

A third danger with aesthetical theology is the reliance on the human interpreter. The anonymous authors state, “For in Chris­tian theology, the subjective responses to the givenness [sic] of reality are not only regarded as generating meaning, but also as participating in the meaning of divine creation.”[7] One immediately acknowledges the human interpreter as the essential need for interpretation. Biblically speaking, the individual human being is dependent upon: 1) the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16), and 2) the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 2:27). With aesthetic theology, however, one only needs to be able to understand literary genres, sentence structures, and grammar.[8]

The Antidote to Aesthetic Theology 

The primary difficulty with aesthetic theology is not that is utilizes narrative, nor is it because it incorporates literary studies in its interpretation. The primary issue is that it uses the tool of literature alone. The cure for such imbalance is the conduct the necessary historical research into the original setting.[9]

As Kostenberger and Patterson rightly observe, “In order for the interpretation of Scripture to be properly grounded, it is vital to explore the historical setting of a scriptural passage, including any cultural background features.”[10] By conducting the necessary research, the interpreter is able to grasp the context in which the original authors wrote. This prevents subjective interpretation, which is not biblically ethical.[11] It prevents aesthetic theology from overemphasizing the literary aspects of the text, working within a balanced framework from which to interpret the Scriptures properly.[12]

Additionally, after conducting the necessary background research of the historical context, interpreters must also be mindful of the theological ramifications. That is, interpretations are not divulged in a theological vacuum. There is a need to observe the theological cohesiveness of the canon of Scripture, and the means to operate within this spectrum are found within biblical theology as it relates to the interpretation of Scripture. “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible,” says Vos. Within this framework, the interpreter is protected from teachings foreign to the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the best interpreters of Scripture.[14]

Without divorcing the sacred text of its literary composition, biblical hermeneutics, aimed at “teaching the message of truth accurately,” investigates the original context in which the Scriptures were given, while observing their movement in the greater narrative of the Bible.[15]

_____________

[1] WorldTrade.Com, “Review of The Art of Theology Theological: Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics and the Foundations of Faith,” Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technological Books in the Humanities & Sciences, https://www.wordtrade.com/religion/christianity/balthasar1R.htm, accessed 22 May 2020.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2011), 77.

[3] J Scott Duvall and J. Daniels Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 116-117.

[4] Andreas Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology—Blessing or Curse? An Assessment of Narrative Theology,” Faith and Mission, vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 28.

[5] WorldTrade.Com.

[6] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 61-62.

[7] WorldTrade.Com.

[8] See Kostenberger, “Aesthetic Theology,” 30; see also Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth 3rd Edition  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 27-28.

[9] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 116; Fee and Stuart, How to Read, 26-27.

[10] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 93.

[11] See Kostenberger and Patterson’s warnings, Invitation, 58.

[12] Kostenberger and Patterson refer to this as “the hermeneutical triad,” Invitation, 66-68; Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 2015), 5.

[14] Kostenberger and Patterson, Invitation, 74; see also London Baptist Confession of Faith, I:9.

[15] 2 Timothy 2:15, New English Translation; see Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019) for an excellent treatment of this hermeneutical approach.

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