I’ve written in the past about theologians. I want to start calling out the idea of what these people do as what it actually is: literary criticism with a narrow focus.
Whereas most literary critics will have focuses on relatively broad topics – periods in time, styles of writing, etc – theologians focus merely on single books. Granted, the books are often relatively large, but so is War and Peace.
Now, theologians do deserve slightly more credit than I’ve given them. They do have some background on the history of the cultures and societies in which their texts originated. But if that’s what one wants, then why not turn to textual critics? These are people who actually understand what authors (and scribes) were intending while also having a grasp on the history of the cultures and societies.
Theologians enjoy an elevated status in our society. But do they deserve it any more than literary critics of Shakespeare? The answer must be ‘no’.
I’ve taken far too many English courses in my time. I have constantly found myself encountering papers that are wide-open to interpretation. Hell, I made an argument that Utopia was about setting up a true hellhole, not anything glorious. It got an “A”. The argument itself was probably wrong, but Sir Thomas More isn’t around to say otherwise, is he? Theologians take the same liberties. They are free to interpret meaning and intention as they see fit. Is it any surprise that theology moves in conjuction with cultures and societal movements (even if it usually lags)?
In short, theology is certainly nothing more than literary criticism. What’s more, literary criticism shouldn’t enjoy an elevated status, especially when it is so narrowly focused. We can all interpret passages. Theologians are just the literate among us with more (narrow) dedication.