J. Todd Billings, in The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture , is seeking to explain how to read the Bible according to a theological method.
This approach is against what can be called primitivism, and I’m persuaded that most Bible scholars are primitivists and I’m also convinced many in the church like primitivist readings. So what is it?
Here Billings quotes from Jamie Smith: “Primitivism retains the most minimal commitment to God’s action in history (in the life of Christ and usually in the first century of apostolic activity) and then seeks to make only this first-century ‘New Testament church’ normative for contemporary practice” (50).
Does the primitivist approach deny and annul the theological interpretation of Scripture? What do you see as the problem with this approach? Now the big one: Do you think the primitivist approach is the only way to get at the author’s intention? Do you think the author’s intention is all that is needed for theological interpretation?
Billings big problem here is that the primitive denies the work of the Spirit in the Church. And here’s a big one for us: Does acceptance of the “I believe in the Church” entail a commitment to the Church’s interpretation? Or, put the other way around, Does a primitivist approach deny the work of the Spirit in the Church?
Quite the questions, so I think. Primitivism, in both its conservative form (he picks, rather oddly I think, on dispensationalism) and the Jesus Seminar (a good example), is an assault on preunderstanding’s value and against tradition as of value. Billings sees this as Enlightenment understandings.
Billings argues strenuously for historical work on the text; but the historical must be “recontextualized within a theological framework” (59). Reading the Bible is more than just historical work.