Review of John C. Peckham’s “Canonical Theology”

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Calling all theology nerds: Keep a look out for this dude. This scholar is so, so legit. As far as I can tell, his name hasn’t hit the veritable vernacular of wanna-be scholars like myself but it’s only now a matter of time. With endorsements from Vanhoozer and the Foreword by Bartholomew, apparently the big-timers are already talking.  It’s us ordinary folk who hadn’t got the hint until now. For sure: His stuff is furrealz. Fortunately, it’s not too late to cue in. After recently reading his previous book, “The Love of God: A Canonical Model” (my blog review here) I was floored – hook, line and sinker and I immediately set my sights on his latest work, which is this one. It just came out a few days ago and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve finished it already! :)

Peckham’s work is in my mind, one of a kind. He is one of the few writers I am looking for not just for the information (which, ps: think “erudite to the max”). But more so, I am getting my hand on Peckham’s work because I desperately want to figure out how he does what he does because his results show such originality that I’m all but obliged to prod into his behind-the-scenes process. If I were ever to a level that I could even dream of doing the quality of work he is doing (which I’m not and never will be), I’d want to “do theology” just like he does. While the subject matter of the book is interesting, I bought it primarily because in the last chapter Peckham lays out for all to see his process in detail which he is calling, the “Canonical Model.” This is what I wanted to read and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s real, real good. So are the results, but that may not be as important.

Summarized, Peckham’s process is the following:

  1. Identify the issues and engage the ongoing scholarly conversation by way of a careful literature review of theological perspectives…so as to highlight crucial theological questions at the center of the conflict. [In his footnote, “it is crucial first to read to understand and only thereafter to critically analyze the secondary material” (p247)]
  2. Then conduct an inductive reading of the entire canon of Scripture, isolating any texts that even slightly impinged on such issues – with care to avoid selecting passages based on my predispositions (insofar as is achievable).
  3. Attempt to then table my presuppositions and subjecting them to the test of the canonical data. This requires a commitment to self-examination, self-criticism, and willingness to follow the canonical data wherever it leads.
  4. The large amount of data is then extracted and analyzed and grouped in an ongoing spiral, which includes both narrowing and expansion of the data when themes become more or less significant than originally thought throughout the ongoing analysis.
  5. Look for patterns. Do lots of semantic analysis. More than he thought he’d have to.
  6. Now, engage sources from a broad spectrum. In his study on God’s love, he engaged major commentary series and selected commentaries from across the spectrum of exegetical approaches (Including but not limited to: Anchor, ICC, Hermeneia, JPS, Word, Interpreter’s, NICOT/NICNT, NAC as well as standalone volumes and exegetical works on concepts, words, topics, etc.).
  7. Construct a minimal model from the data (leading to “many facts that I would not have anticipated at the outset of my study” and to “other delightful surprises” (254) as he wondered what would happen in the end to the “apparent tensions.”
  8. Conclude with a discernible, demonstrable and defensible conception

All the while, seeking to:

  1. Approach the canon humbly
  2. Read ethically
  3. Derive from the canon minimally that which can be held with confidence as discernible, demonstrable and defensible
  4. Move in a disciplined, delimited fashion from the particulars of divine revelation to universal (metaphysical) conceptions
  5. Refrain from premature conclusions and overreaching extrapolations by restricting conclusions to minimal sound inferences that are also discernible, demonstrable and defensible

As stunning as all of this is, one of his last lines was the most exciting:

“…My hope is to implement this approach on a number of other topics in the future.” (page 257)

To which I say, YIPEEEE! I can’t wait to read more!

Signed: MP: “Your biggest fan!”

***Full Disclosure: I did not buy this book, my GMA surprise bought it for me, for which I am eternally grateful, not least because of how good the book was, but because of how cool she is. I’m just saying, it’s cool to have a cool GMA.***

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