I have greatly enjoyed the introduction to Jason Byassee’s Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine. I’m still working on the rest of the book, but the intro itself deserves to be read as we think about how we interpret the Bible. Byasee does not suggest the Fathers got it all right, but argues that our modern approaches have weaknesses which need supplementing from the Fathers. The Fathers had weaknesses which modern tools can help. In essence he is calling for us to read the Bible along with the church through the ages.
Here are a few quotes where I think he correctly points out some weaknesses in much of typical modern interpretation and identifies the key strength of Augustine and other church fathers.
“This book was born out of the experience of leading a congregation. As a preacher I spent a great deal of fruitless time seeking biblical commentaries to help me read scripture well for the sake of the church. I have found modern commentary helpful for certain things – in clarifying historical events or linguistic problems with greater confidence than ancient commentators could, for example. Yet I found ancient commentators more helpful in doing the most important thing that Christian preaching and teaching must do: drawing the church to Christ.” 1
“Now, Augustine’s ability to translate is legendarily limited, and he himself laments it. His hermeneutics and his actual exegetical leaps often call for mockery among modern students of biblical hermeneutics. And yet, for all that, his exegesis itself is lovely, and it is more precisely aimed at the church’s goal of reshaping persons in the image of Christ than ours tends to be.” 1
“I am convinced that the fathers generally and Augustine specifically have been almost entirely excluded from modern conversations about exegesis and from its actual conduct in seminaries and churches. While the fathers have their exegetical faults, they also have much to teach us. Most importantly, their telos in exegesis is often right, precisely where ours is frequently wrong.” 3
“Yet its [the patristic tradition's]attempt to progress toward a specifically Christian goal, to conduct exegesis with this telos in mind, is a great improvement on exegesis done with no such eschatological orientation. Augustine does exegesis as though Jesus is head of the body of the church, and we who are doing the exegesis are members of the body united under this head. Christians should be hard-pressed to disagree.” 3