Friday, August 05, 2005

Coherence and Contingency

Christiaan Beker proposes a two-part model for understanding the authority of the NT: Coherence-Contingency, and Catalytic. [1]

In the first part he posits that Scripture can be understood as containing elements of “coherence” and “contingency”. The coherent are the “normative elements of the gospel, which focus on the apocalyptic-eschatological interpretation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ”. [2] The contingent “concerns those elements of Scripture that comprise the time-bound, culturally specific situations into and for which the gospel is addressed”. [3] There is a “dynamic interrelation” between the coherent and the contingent, and this is a necessary aspect of the gospel itself, “it is the very essence of the gospel that it inserts itself into the particularities of every human situation”. [4] As the nature of the gospel, this provides the key to how Scripture should act authoritatively. “The Word of Scripture can only be a lively word, a word on target, when we realize that its central message must speak to us within the particularity of our diverse situations”, [5] hence “Scripture is only authoritative when we obey its command to engage in the same risks of interpreting the gospel that it is itself engaged in all its parts”. [6] Scripture thus serves a “catalytic” function, the second part of the model. The Biblical text must undergo a “transferal” to our time, but in doing we must remain faithful to the normative coherence of he gospel. [7]

While Beker develops this model with the New Testament in mind (although to conclude his article he suggests how it could be extended to cover the entirety of Scripture, I do not follow him in how he does so), I believe that his proposal can helpfully be extended to the whole of Scripture by positing the grand narrative as the coherent factor. This can be done because the gospel is a part of and only makes sense within this grand narrative. Contingency is then extended to include not only cultural and historical specificity, but specificity within stages of the grand narrative. It’s catalytic function works in the same way, but now with the extra qualification found in contingent.

[1] Beker, J C. ‘The Authority of Scripture: Normative or Incidental?’ Theology Today 49.3 (1992), pp.376-382. This model of ‘coherence and contingency’ was originally developed inregard to Paul’s hermeneutic. See his Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980).
[2] Beker, ‘Authority’, p.81
[3] ibid.
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid., p.82
[6] ibid., p.81
[7] ibid., p.82

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