Vernon does call it a method: "Socio-rhetorical criticism is a textually-based
method that uses programmatic strategies to invite social, cultural,
historical, psychological, aesthetic, ideological and theological information
into a context of minute exegetical activity" ("Socio-Rhetorical Criticism," in
McKnight & Malbon, NEW LITERARY CRITICISM, 164.) Whew!
This, it seems to me, would more appropriately be regarded as a meta-
perspective than as a method. Why? And who cares? A method is suited for the
examination of a particular facet of a phenomenon--thus form, redaction, and
narrative criticisms. Methods cannot explain everything.
What Vernon seems to be proposing is a model (method?) for employing various
methods in our critical work. His approach reminds me of cultural criticism as
it works in criticism of art and literature. In cultural criticism one employs
many methods from a broader critical perspective.
One possible problem with using socio-rhetorical criticism as a method is that
its results are likely to suffer from serious internal tensions. For example,
the innertexture of Luke 21 suggests an apocalyptic perspective. Jesus
admonishes his disciples to stay geared up in light of the parousia. But Luke
21's intertexture (i.e., its use of Mark 13) minimizes the speech's
eschatological urgency. Two methods (narrative and redaction), two readings.
How might one adjudicate between them? (See Brian Blount, CULTURAL
INTERPRETATION, for a sociolinguistic argument about the possible conflicts
created by diverse reading strategies.)
But seen as a meta-perspective, socio-rhetorical criticism is extremely
valuable. It alerts us to the multi-textured status of early Christian and
other literature, even as it begins to explore how textures fit together. And
it offers an integrated means of exploring these boundaries.
Department of Religious Studies
Memphis, TN 38112 USA