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John Peckham, summary of Chapter 2, “Toward Addressing the Conflict: A Canonical Approach,” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Jeff Dickson

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Having delineated the disjunction and subsequent impasse between the transcendent-voluntarist and immanent-experientialist models of divine love in chapter one, Peckham continues his work by describing the means by which he has arrived at his canonical alternative. Instead of presupposing a robust ontology and moving toward an understanding of love, the author instead presupposes a sophisticated view of Scripture and then considers what it elucidates about divine love in light of Scripture’s principal character—Christ.

As in any argument, the canonical approach employed for understanding divine love (as endorsed by Peckham) is well within its epistemic rights to select its starting point a priori. Taking advantage of what is allowed on epistemic grounds, the canonical approach in this work endorses the following foundation: (1) a robust view of revelation, (2) a dual-authorship understanding of the produced text, and (3) a primarily grammatical-historical hermeneutic (although Peckham’s iteration of this concept is sympathetic to how any one text fits into the entire Canon). These endorsements reveal that the canonical approach promulgated in this work desires to uncover what about divine love is depicted in the text. Additionally, what is sought is not what any one passage has to offer on the matter, but what the Canon reveals as a whole.

This decision is in keeping with what is encouraged by many hermeneutical scholars who believe that much of what is reached on an interpretive level depends on context. Reaching a responsible understanding of a passage/topic requires an investigation of the immediate context (i.e. the passages that surround the verse/idea in question) for anything that might offer aid in interpretation. Better, continue the analysis by observing how the verse/topic fits into the argument of the book in which it is placed. What is even better is exploring how a verse or passage comports with other passages in the Canon that deal with the same concept or contain similar language. Investigating a topic as broad as the love of God merits (and even demands) an approach that extends this kind of contextual analysis Canon-wide because it is only in the purview of the entire Scriptural account that something as pervasive and significant as God’s affections can be properly informed and elucidated.

Peckham’s canonical approach assumes that in spite of its plurality of authors and contexts, Scripture was written in a single vein that informed, guided, and even corrected the human participants in the writing process.  In other words, the Canon itself has a direction and objectivity to it that is greater than the sum of all of its parts.

Additionally, Peckham’s program is sympathetic to hermeneutical critical realism (i.e. that meaning exists before interpretation). However, his hermeneutic pushes exegesis beyond any specific text and toward an interpretation of the entire Canon. Such an approach is able to appreciate both the rich nuance of any text along with its meaningful relationship to the rest of Scripture and its history. Put another way, the canonical approach described above is characteristic of both phenomenological exegesis (considering interpretations which mean something on both a specific and canonical level) and hermeneutical exegesis (considering the philological and historical dimensions of the exegetical method).

These commitments keep Peckham from missing the forest for the trees and losing the trees among the forest. As much as possible, Peckham is trying to understand love by means of applicable texts (bottom up), while simultaneously analyzing these texts alongside each other given their relationship to canonical and historical considerations (top-down).

Although while interpreting data exegetes and theologians are encouraged to cancel out all previously inherited theories and/or presuppositions that could in some way color the text, the canonical approach delineated here is honest about its commitment to an orthodox view of revelation, authorship, and a singularly focused canonical framework that is only fully appreciated when both phenomenological and hermeneutical investigations are allowed to transpire. Peckham chooses to presuppose this over and above a sophisticated ontology. Instead of beginning in the realm of systematic theology and understanding Scripture in light of well-organized systems, he chooses to begin with the raw data, correctly interpreted, and then proceeds to build a canonically sound view of divine love.

One of the concessions that Peckham makes before proceeding is that this work is not prepared to report an exhaustive analysis of every passage on divine love along with its meaning and relationship to the entire Canon. Therefore, the analysis will be in large part feature a report of the trends discovered following a more exhaustive exercise conducted before this work was produced. One of the means by which the raw data was limited for the purposes of this project involved delimiting God’s love to his concern for the world. This naturally establishes Jesus Christ as a special subject worth careful consideration as he is the very incarnation of God in general and God’s love in particular.

For Peckham, it is not just the Canon, but the Christ of the Canon that reveals God primarily and his love especially. Therefore, with the Canon as the body of data and Christ as the example par excellence discovered therein, this canonical approach is able to yield an understanding of the love of God that is more sophisticated than both the transcendental-voluntarist model and the immanent-experientialist model.

In a preview of coming attractions, Peckham concludes this chapter by outlining several specific attributes of God’s love resulting from the canonical approach described in this chapter: (1) volition, (2) evaluation, (3) emotion, (4) forecondition, and (5) reciprocity. These will be delineated in future summaries.

Find the other chapter summaries here.


Image:”The Last Supper” by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

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