Chapter 4 of Green's book is on "Methods" to read the Bible as Christian Scripture. This chapter gets a little more specific and concrete about what exactly we are looking at when we are looking at Scriptural reading, Green style. Further, some of our suspicions are confirmed.
I found p. 125 most revealing: "[N]o particular method can be identified as the correct one, nor can any method ensure a faithful reading of the Bible as Scripture. We are dealing here with a mysterious alchemy for which the biblical text serves as the single stable factor in an otherwise shifting equation. We can say, though, that any and all methods must be tamed in relation to the theological aims of Scripture and the ecclesial context within which the Bible is read as Scripture."
I largely agree with this statement, although I still suspect some differences between my thoughts and Green's. However, let me use the paragraph above to summarize chapter 4.
1. "the biblical text serves as the single stable factor in an otherwise shifting equation"
Over half of this chapter discusses the nature and limitations of the well known rubric "the world behind the text," "the world in the text," and "the world in front of the text" (see Randolph Tate's book on Biblical Interpretation that we use in our master's course at IWU).
The world behind the text is the historical background of the text. My sense has always been that Green is a little more pessimistic about our ability to identify the original intent of a text than I am. But he is correct that any appraisal of the world behind the text will be partial and affected by the perspective of the interpreter. Also he is correct to say that "it will often be easier to determine those interpretations that are insupportable or outside the boundaries than to authenticate or accredit another" (137).
The world in front of the text is the world of the reader. Green mentions some of the more vigorous reader oriented approaches and correctly indicates that these have no control to keep them from becoming pure mirror readings of the values of those reading the text. He prefers the kinds of reader-response approaches typified by Umberto Eco and Wolfgang Iser. The former looks for a reader who will sympathize with the author as they read. The second is known for his treatment of gaps in the text that the reader must fill in.
But Green opts for the text itself as the centerpiece of a Scriptural hermeneutic, "the single most stable factor." However, he makes it clear that the text alone does not constitute Scripture. Texts do not contain within themselves everything needed for their interpretation. For example, they often have a referential quality that requires us to look into the world behind them. But they are the starting point for interpretation: "The center of the interpretive process is the text, but the text is never alone" (123).
Green also reiterates some of what he has already said about Scriptural reading being a "ruled reading":
-- "a reading of the Bible as Christian Scripture cannot be sundered from the doctrine by which the church has its identity"
-- "a decision to read a biblical text as a constituent of the canon of Scripture predetermines the range of possible readings of that text" (122).
I have argued something very similar. My question for Green is whether he is setting limits for the appropriation of biblical texts or for what they meant originally. For example, it seems unlikely grammatically and especially in terms of the world behind the Genesis texts, that Genesis 1:1-2 implied ex nihilo creation, even though it is certainly possible to read the text alone in terms of ex nihilo.
So is Green arguing that despite what "Moses" might have had in mind, we need to appropriate these verses in terms of ex nihilo creation (as I do)? Or is he saying that by faith we must believe that ex nihilo creation was in fact the original intent? Or perhaps he is arguing something I could also accept, namely, that while "Moses" surely was not thinking about ex nihilo creation when he wrote this, God was.
2. Green gets a little more specific about method in the second half of the chapter. On a funny side note, I was having flashbacks of my interview at Asbury last year as I was thinking about the chart Green has on pp. 127-28. I was asked about my method of getting from text to sermon, and I said something about having all the tools at a conference table with each speaking as seemed appropriate to the topic at hand. I know that some found this answer rather vague, maybe even hermeneutically unsophisticated.
But it is not unlike the flavor of this chapter, which resists the sense that you can plug all the data into a methodological equation and arrive at a "tame" answer, like Osborne's Spiral that speaks of the sermon with the points to preach on the basis of a complex method.
Green discusses the tools of the interpreter in terms of text, cotext, context, and intertext. Items of concern with regard to the text include textual criticism, genre, limits of a passage, train of thought, and what the text is about in summary. Items of cotext have to do with the broader literary context in the book, important words and motifs that extend beyond the specific text before you, and the generation of interpretive possibilities.
The context for Green engages the world behind the text: socio-historical setting, cultural background, areas where the text stands in tension with its historical context. Finally, by intertext Green refers to citations and echoes of other literature, relationships with other books in the canon, and the relationship between the text and the creeds.
I still remain unclear as to whether Green thinks attention to such things will always result in a reading that does not stand in tension with other readings of Scripture. I did not find his section, "Criteria for Assessing Interpretations," very helpful when it comes to downright difficult passages. Perhaps he will shed further light in the last chapter.