Biblical Catechesis Needed

A blogging catechist takes a shot:

Historical-Critical methodology has been adopted as the sole prism through which to explain and teach Scripture – the Church, as usual, about 100 years behind the Protestants.

Well … I think–I hope–this isn’t specifically about one study method. The so-called “Historical-Critical methodology” is actually a catch-all term for much of modern Scripture scholarship. If anyone has invented a rational approach to studying the Bible over the past century or two, it will get lumped in under the heading of historical (sometimes “higher”) criticism.

If you want to know what I mean by this critique – and we have talked about this quite a bit on this blog – just consider how the Scriptures are often preached in your parish. If a homily on the Sermon on the Mount is centered on explaining how different Matthew and Luke’s settings of the beatitudes are, and then ends with a general exhortation to have hope when you are sad…there you go. If your kids come out of high school religion class knowing their letters: J,P,D and Q – and unable to talk about the scope of salvation history and what it has to do with them, today…there you go. For once it all just literary business, who cares?

My understanding is that these are examples of source-criticism, one of several techniques used in advanced Scripture study. Others would be form criticism (analysis by genre or writing idiom), or redaction criticism (attempts to reconstruct the author’s theology, tradition, or other data), or something like word study (examining a larger work for particular themes, for example the Holy Spirit in Luke and Acts).

If one wants to make an argument that many preachers don’t know how to handle Biblical criticism as a homiletic tool, I’m all ears. Religion catechists, too? I’m a believer. But I think the modern criticism2 movement has it aimed all wrong. It’s like watching people trying to saw wood with a screwdriver, then saying we should outlaw screwdrivers because a few people are misusing them.

Meanwhile, the bishops continue their synod in Rome. Don’t forget to catch the daily posts on the “Bible Blog” at CNS. Check out ideas on homiletics from some of the attending bishops.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Biblical Catechesis Needed

  1. Liam says:

    It seems you are arguing against a straw man. I don’t read Amy or B16 trying to outlaw HC. The misuse (often over-reliance) of HC in homiletics and catechesis is the target from what I read, and I am all on board with that. There are way too many people (and even academics) who are rather stuck in an HC vision that has been superseded by other developments in scholarship (not just deconstruction, which has laid waste to many biases that often obtained in the various HC methods, but also archeology and paleography, et cet.)

  2. Todd says:

    I don’t think so, Liam. I certainly don’t read the pope or the synodal bishops having a problem with biblical scholarship. I think Amy’s case against it is a bit exaggerated. It is one tool in the box. I don’t have a problem with some biblical scholars adopting a certain expertness in one or other of these forms.

    My experience on the graduate school end of study paints a remarkably different pose than Amy attempts here. My professor was well-versed in most modern methods, but he was always clear about the place for the Bible in liturgy as an aspect of God’s revelation, as well as the locus for encounter in prayer.

    I’m just providing a bit of corrective as I see it. I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve heard homilies as starkly bad as Amy presents them (perhaps the real straw you’re sniffing at here). I know, for example, whenever a feeding miracle pops up in the Sunday Lectionary, what post will result the day before or the day after is as predictable as rain after dark skies and thunder.

    That said, I think I was also critical of the abuse of Scripture study methods in the wrong place. I’ve been a consistent blogger on that point. My hope is that other critical bloggers would approach their own arguments with something less of their own personal bias. A bad homily is usually never farther away than the next pastoral reassignment by the bishop.

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