For five hundred years, the church in the West has split into multiple identities, each claiming to be the best representation of the church established by Christ. New methods of scriptural interpretation have often accompanied and supported such theological claims. Rarely, however, has an exploration been undertaken to test the impact of this ecclesiological division on the reading of the Bible. A Darkened Reading explores the specific case of the nineteenth-century Church of England and competing interpretations of the book of the prophet Isaiah – a book of great importance in theological history – as a parable of the existential anguish the church has experienced because of internal division.
Introduction: The Problem of Exegesis in a Divided Church
1. The Scriptural Hermeneutic of Early Anglicanism: A Touchstone
2. The Breakdown of Uniformity: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Competing Intra-Anglican Scriptural Visions
3. Robert Payne Smith: Rescuing Isaiah from Its Opponents
4. The Politics of Division: Christopher Wordsworth and the High Church Exegesis of Isaiah
5. Skepticism Is the “Truest Piety”: Thomas Kelly Cheyne and the Broad Church Exegesis of Isaiah
6. English Roman Catholicism and Isaiah: Exegetical Minimalism in a State of Siege
7. Conclusion: The Despair of Ecclesial Biblical Retrieval
Endorsements and Reviews
Robert L. Knetsch’s account of nineteenth-century biblical interpretation forces us to attend to the ways that a divided church distorts our reading of holy Scripture. Even those who are not convinced by all of his arguments will find contemplating them time well spent. A Darkened Reading is a jeremiad that laments how a house divided turns the house of the interpreter into a bleak house. This is a haunting, provocative book.
Timothy Larsen, McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College, Illinois