Peter Leithart’s article today at First Things prompted (provoked?) me to jot down some thoughts regarding the ends of retrieval. Here are five theses.
To what end retrieval?
1. Retrieval rests on a twofold judgment: (1) that all is not well in contemporary theology and biblical studies and (2) that the help we need might be found in the tradition, i.e., in those who have “handed on” the faith to us.
2. In retrieval, the scholar upends the modern relationship between scholar and historical sources, recognizing those sources as teachers (rather than artifacts) and taking the stance of student (rather than judge). (Typically, this also assumes a certain kind of historical attention to those sources. See Lewis Ayres’ most recent article in Modern Theology.)
3. The initial end of retrieval, especially on Protestant grounds, is to acquire a better approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Regarding traditional sources as teachers of Christian theology’s primary text, Holy Scripture, is a primary animating interest. (Bobby Jamieson and Tyler Wittman’s forthcoming book offers a fantastic example of this.)
4. The ultimate end of retrieval is the cultivation of a certain mindset (“phronema”) that Scripture and tradition commend: a way of seeing God and all things in relation to God, a way of being that is Godward in orientation: the life of reverence, faith, hope, and love.
5. Retrieval is therefore anything but a program of repristination. It is a program for the renewing of the mind, for the formation of a renewed contemplative and practical judgment, which, in a situation as theologically and morally stale as ours, is sorely needed. In retrieval, the “givens” of Scripture and tradition are received as “gifts” that hold the promise, by the Spirit’s power, of animating new thoughts, new actions, new ways of being in the world. Retrieval is for the sake of renewal.