Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

What is ‘Critical’?

Posted by NT Wrong on September 15, 2008

What is a ‘critical’ approach? What are the minimum requirements?

Is it enough, in order to be ‘critical’, to simply explain your approach. That is, are you being critical if you merely make explicit your interpretive choices? If you merely elucidate your method?

… or, in order to be ‘critical’, must you do something more? Must you also evaluate your results? Should a properly ‘critical’ approach always seek to determine whether it has made the best interpretation of evidence? I’m not asking whether one should ignore the situatedness of one’s approach, or claim any illusory value-neutral position. But I’m wondering whether an approach can be quite ‘critical’ if it only sets out its method, without attempting some evaluation of the position thereby reached — an attempt admittedly limited by subjective biases, although, perhaps not so limited by one’s known and unknown biases so that one is forced to conclude that every interpretation is equal.

Or … are Daniel Patte and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza right or wrong?

“My reading of Rom 1:26-27 as presented above is critical, not because it argues that it is the only legitimate reading of this text, but rather because it acknowledges its autobiographical character, its analytical, hermeneutical-theological, and contextual choices. Yet, these became apparent only because I compared it with other readings of this text, and because I viewed these readings as other autobiographical interpretations, based on equally legitimate and plausible, though different, interpretive choices.”
– ‘Can One Be Critical Without Being Autobiographical?: The Case of Romans 1:26-27’ in Ingrid Rosa Kitszberger, ed. Autobiographical Biblical Criticism: Academic Border Crossings – A Hermeneutical Challenge. (Leiden: Deo Publishing, 2002), pp. 34-59.

“competing interpretations of texts are not simply right or wrong, but they constitute different ways of reading and constructing historical meaning. Not detached value-neutrality but an explicit articulation of one’s rhetorical strategies, interested perspectives, ethical criteria, theoretical frameworks, religious presuppositions, and sociopolitical locations for critical public discussion are appropriate in … a rhetorical paradigm of biblical scholarship.”
– Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Presidential Address

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